Sometimes I worry that I am way too unconventional to teach sewing. Then I look at all my super sewing kids and remember how far they have come, from shy, quiet little novices to proud, independent and confident little artists. That pride and confidence is apparent in every little (sometimes wonky) stitch and fabric combination.
How to get a child to this level of sewing joy? I have put together a list of the ten things to think about before you sit down and start sewing with your little one.
1.Perfection is for the birds.
I think that before you actually start the sewing process, it is important to talk to your student about expectation. The prospect of using a sewing machine for the first time is probably a little scary... You don't want the child to be striving for instant perfection. Make it clear that perfection is optional... Sewing takes practice, kind of like learning to ride a bike except without the helmet and skinned knees.
2. Set the scene
Create a space that inspires learning and focus. Turn off the tv, mute the cell phone and get down to the business of sewing.
A nice sized table and a comfy chair will do the trick. I have also found that in a room of little sewing girls, Taylor swift cd's are a wonder for concentration. Instead of chatting with their friends and being silly, their focus is on singing along whilst sewing hard!
3. Sewing machine practice
Apart from the obvious practice involved with threading the machine (I have my students thread and re-thread their machines multiple times) speed control is the most important thing to master. I always say that it is like a car... Drive too fast and you can lose control and have a crash..noone wants a sewing crash right?
Like a car, the idea of using the machine is simply to steer the fabric through the machine. Seems simple right? Well for a new sewer it is a lot harder than you would think.
I have a pretty foolproof method of teaching speed control and at the same time having the kids practice on straight line sewing.
I like to cut a large square of white canvas and use my pilot frixion marker to draw 10-12 lines from the top to the bottom of the fabric. I thread the machine with a bright colored thread and let them go. It is pretty awesome to watch how long it takes them to understand how to control speed and sew on the line.. It becomes somewhat of a challenge to get it right. I will never let a student move on to a real piece of fabric until they have mastered control and can sew in a straight line.
Still having trouble with speed? Stop and take a look under the table. If the child's heel cannot reach the floor, they are going to have a really hard time controlling their speed.
4. Offer choices
So they are ready to start working on a real project. If you want to have a class of super motivated and excited students, think about offering choices of fabrics. You may need to Pre-cut your fabrics in advance, so think about cutting a small variety of fabric choices for them to mix and match. There is nothing worse than thinking that you have found the cutest, sweetest fabric in the world only to have half the class absolutely hate it. Offering options unlocks the inner artist in the children and offers a kind of creative pride in their work. You may not love the choices they make but they do and that's all that counts right?
5. Be realistic
Just like a bad hair day, a bad sewing day happens to all of us at some point. Don't get frustrated if your students are just not getting it. Most kids are not that handy with pair of scissors or even with pins. Sometimes it is ok for you to take over that part for them. Think about pre -cutting your pattern pieces and accept the fact that you may need to step in and help with the parts they hate. Don't worry, they will eventually get it.
6. Class structure
I like to have my class size at about 4 kids. Sometimes I will take 5 if I know that I have my trusty sewing assistant around to help with any sewing machine snafus. I never will go over that number. It is not fair to you or your students to do that.
I like to teach in 1 hour classes. Kids these days are so over scheduled and overwhelmed with school work that 1 hour is enough to keep them engaged without putting them to sleep.
When I teach workshops I like to teach for 2 or 2 1/2 hours with a little hot cocoa break in the middle.
7. Don't make promises you cannot keep.
It is the question most asked in my class. "Will we finish today?"
I have made a point of never promising anything. Just because I can sew an owl in 30 minutes doesn't mean that a child can... It's more like 4 times that. I like to take 2-3 weeks to work on a project. The owl in my book is a great example of that. The first class is creating the face and sewing on the eyes and the second is putting him all together and making the wings. You really have to be realistic in your expectations of children. It may take one child 5 minutes to sew a button and 30 minutes for another. Try not to rush your students and only step in if you feel that they need help.
We have been working on quilts for about 6 weeks and for most classes we took a break halfway through the process to make something quick and fun. It really helped to re energize the kids to keep going with their big project!
8. Acknowledge the skills.
It's is always great to be able to introduce a new skill with every new project that you tackle and acknowledging that new skill is just as important. I have found it funny to see how boys and girls are different in that way. My boys class are thrilled to earn their colored belt (actually just a piece of twine) for every new skill learned. My girls all want me to create a certificate for them for their new skills!
Every new skill, no matter how small, is a great achievement for them so try to make a point of rewarding it!
Every summer we love to enter projects in the local county fair, the great thing about this is that in most cases all the projects will earn a ribbon. It's amazing the effect this has on the kids, it is like they won the lottery, how awesome is that?
9. The power of Pinterest.
We all love Pinterest right? Well did you know that it is such an amazing tool for class planning? Think about creating a board and having your students pin projects and other favorite things to the board. It will open your eyes to the things that they really want to make. You will get a better understanding of the fabrics that move them and the designs that woo them!
10. Have fun
For me, this is the most important aspect in teaching children. Find your groove, create a safe, open environment for discussion and confidence building and do your thing! There is nothing better for me than having kid tell me that sewing class is the highlight of their week. Remember, make it interesting and fun and you will have a sewer for life!