Thursday, November 14, 2019

Teaching Children to Sew, Part 1 - General Overview

My Mom taught me to sew when I was little, and it's been a love of mine ever since.  Naturally, when my children were around 4 or 5, they expressed interest in learning how to sew themselves.  Quite natural, when they see Mom doing it all the time, right? 

Of course I was thrilled, but when I thought about where to start, and what to teach them first, I felt all thumbs.  Over the past 10 years I've taught all 5 of my kids to sew (to some degree or another), and I am also a quilting leader with 4H, where I've taught girls how to quilt.  When I began teaching children, I rented every book I could from my local library, and searched their pages for guidance!  Out of all the books I read, there were two that I knew I wanted to have here at home to keep - they were that good. (I'll tell you about them both further down)

Today I'm going to share with you the general progression I use to introduce my littles to the art of creating with needle and thread.  First we began with hand-stitching, and then we moved on to a sewing machine.
(Please remember: There's no right or wrong method for teaching children to sew, this is just what I've found works very well.)


I always start young children with hand-stitching.  This introduces them to fabric, thread, needles, scissors, and a lot of eye-hand coordination working with the brain.   I think it's good for them to learn and appreciate hand-stitching before they jump to a machine.  Warning: It also involves patience on your end - lots of untangling thread knots, and re-threading that new color on their needle.  But just remember: you are teaching the next generation the art of creating, and letting them experience the satisfaction of making something with their hands. 

You will be the best person to determine what your child is capable of.  If my child was very young (around 4-6), or this was a first attempt at hand-stitching, I let them choose a simple design (like a star, heart, etc), and then I drew the outline, using dash-marks the size of their stitches - so they knew exactly where to come UP with the needle and to go back DOWN. For this, they used the most basic of stitches: the running stitch. (like the photo on the right, of my son with his star.)
Once they finished that design, I let them progress to using these iron-on transfers
I also started with these if I was teaching an older child, say 8 year or up. I would teach them either a running stitch or a back stich, and they could jump right in.

[Note: At this point you can also teach them how to thread a needle.  But usually I did it for them, so they could focus on learning to love embroidery, and not get too bogged down with the details.  They'll get it later!]

My children did MANY of these embroidery creations, one after another.  It's an especially great activity during the long, cold winter months! Once they finished one, we turned it into a small pillow or framed art.  We have also given them as gifts to grandparents or cousins.  And when they out-grow them as decorations for themselves, I tuck them into their "memory bins" for later.

Small Projects
Small hand-sewn projects are the best!  They're usually items that can be finished in one sitting, and give that instant gratification and encouragement that a child needs!  My kids made and stuffed many pint-sized pillows... too small for really anything.  But they MADE something!
The first book I purchased (and wished I had found sooner) is called Sewing School

It has clear instructions to take you from the very beginning of hand-sewing.  It teaches basic
stitches (with lots of good photos), and has quite a few fun easy projects they can make.  It also transitions into machine sewing, which you'll want later.  Many older children could use this book to make all the projects completely on their own!


To introduce the sewing machine, I always begin my children stitching on lined paper with a bare needle (no thread).  This teaches them 2 things: eye-hand coordination and pressing the foot pedal.  First they work at following the straight lines, with the needle poking holes on the line.  Then I downloaded more practice sheets for them (here) - and they practiced curved lines, zig-zag lines where they learned to put the needle down and pivot, etc.
(NOTE: If your child's legs are short, put a step-stool under the pedal, so they can reach it!)
Once they were ready, I let them sew together 2.5" squares out of my scrap bin, and they made 9-patches.  (which we later turned into hot pads or doll quilts).  Remember, kids love to create!  Most of the time I just let them go to town - not even with a plan.  They just sewed those squares together!  
You can also make a pillow, and stuff it.  This uses both machine stitching, and then you teach them to whip-stitch the opening shut after adding the stuffing.
Another fun way for kids to sew, is digging into your scrap bins and sew them together using the "Slab method".  I learned this from the book Sunday Morning Quilts.  This will require your involvement in helping them trim the scraps after each row of stitching, but it's a fast and organic method for kids who haven't perfected the 1/4" seam.  =)

The second book I highly recommend purchasing is one that also has great information and fun projects for the sewing - called Sewing Machine Fun for Kids.  Older kids will be able to read and do on their own!

If you're a quilter, don't underestimate the power of fun, small crafts!  Quilts are long-term projects, and many fun things can be created using felt.  Be sure to keep some of that on hand. I highly recommend buying 8"x12" sheets in a variety of colors, like THESE HERE.
Valentine garland  (tutorial HERE)
"Just for fun" sewing with my 4-H quilting girls.
And lastly, once my kids were ready, I taught them to thread the machine.  And then I unthreaded it and made them do it 5 times in a row, so they would remember.  They were so proud after they learned how to do it!  After that, they truly were able to spread their wings.  No more waiting for Mom to re-thread the machine.
(Ellie, my oldest daughter, has an insatiable love to create.  She started hand-stitching very young, and then at the age of 4 she was sitting on my lap at the sewing machine, guiding her blocks under the presser foot, while I pushed the pedal. Now she's 13, and has made multiple full-size quilts.)
Below you will find a list of items that I would recommend purchasing, if you are going to be teaching a child to sew.  They would also make a fun gift idea!

Products I recommend buying:
Sewing School book
Sewing Machine Fun for Kids book
- Felt Sheets
LoRan needle threader
- embroidery thread, various colors
- embroidery hoop
- embroidery needles (with a large eye)
iron on transfers 
Polyfill stuffing

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