9 Secrets to Successfully Teach Your Child to Sew

Before we go through any of these secrets, it is important that you understand that we are not only trying to teach our children to sew, we are wanting to develop an interest and desire for sewing. Combining these two focuses equals a very different approach to teaching. Also know that if you are a beginner, you are the best teacher for your child if you apply these same secrets to yourself. 

First, you must know that:

AGE IS NOT AN ISSUE!!!!!

Even if your child is 3 years old, the only question you must ask yourself to determine if a person is ready to learn is: Will they obey the MOST important rule in sewing?

What is this rule? - Keep your fingers out from under the needle!!!!! When our daughter was 3, I knew that she could understand the dangers and would obey that rule. We bought her an inexpensive sewing machine and three months later she was sewing pillows, and by 6 months she had sewn her first lap quilt. Of course, we never let her operate the sewing machine without supervision. It is very important to never let your child be unsupervised while sewing.

Start your kids off early; you will be utterly amazed at what they are capable of doing!

BUY AN INEXPENSIVE SEWING MACHINE

Unless you already own a sewing machine, or if your sewing machine required your savings to purchase it, I highly recommend an inexpensive sewing machine for the younger ages. Once again, you have to consider the maturity level of your children. We bought a new, cheaper machine for our 3 year old, but I let my 6 year old use my machine. She is the oldest child, and strived on knowing ALL rules about everything and following them to the T.

When starting, the basic features that you want in a sewing machine are:

*Stitches: straight, zigzag, buttonhole, and a reverse stitch

*Presser Feet: basic foot(already on the machine), zipper foot, and buttonhole foot

*Make sure you have several (I prefer at least 4-5) options for stitch length and width.

You don't want to go so cheap that the machine is breaking all the time; this will lead to frustration. (They sell children's plastic sewing machines – DO NOT go this route). I have seen very good sewing machines in the $50-$100 range. We bought ours for around $60 and still use it today.

Another route is to find a used sewing machine that is in good working condition. We also have a very old Pfaff sewing machine that was given to us, that is perfect for beginners. The main point is that you don't want to make a big investment causing you to be concerned with your child messing the machine up, or not getting the value out of it by not using it as often as you thought you would.

*One other thought about what you want in a machine. One of the mothers that I am working with found a sewing machine for her 6 year old that has a speed control on the pedal. This is the hardest thing for younger children to learn; how to control the speed of the machine with just the right pressure on the pedal. If you can find this feature on a less expensive machine get it. If not, don’t worry about it because by learning pedal pressure your child will be able to use any machine.

KNOW YOUR CHILD’S PERSONALITY

This is extremely important! These are questions to ask yourself:

1. Is your child a perfectionist?

2. Do they get frustrated easily?

3. Do they like following specific directions, or do they like to invent things on their own?

4. Are they able to stay on task for a block of time, or do they learn in spurts?

The answers to these questions will determine how you gear their sewing time, what type of projects you will pursue, and what issues might arise.

For example, My oldest at 6 had to do everything according to the law. When she baked, she only followed the directions on the box. My youngest, was the opposite. She loved to bake, but it had to be her own concoction. (You can't imagine the things we have sampled over the years!) Based on these two different personalities, our 6 year old followed patterns, knowing what the end result would be, while our 3 year old primarily worked on her own creations for the first 2 years of sewing. These included 2 pieces of material sewn together with every stitch on the dial in every direction, and pillows of all shapes and sizes. (I will go more in depth on this issue in the next article).

PERFECTIONISM IS NOT ALLOWED

If you are a perfectionist, this may be the hardest thing you will do. However, it will be good for you because perfectionism takes away a lot of joy. If your child is a perfectionist, this gives you an awesome opportunity to possibly change this mindset early in life!!! Understand, we should always strive to do our best work, which is very different than having unattainable expectations on ourselves. Perfectionism will stop many people from trying and learning new things, just because of the fear of failure.

This also pertains to those of you who have been sewing for years. Do not place the demands of your level of sewing on your children. I have seen the love for creating zapped out of a 7 year old girl by the constant demand for her sewing lines to look professional.

You may be asking yourself: But what about learning the "correct" or "professional" way of sewing? This will come, after a love for sewing develops. Once your child enjoys sewing, their own desire to produce higher quality projects will transpire.

This leads to #5

USE MISTAKES TO YOUR ADVANTAGE


Robert Kiyosaki states in If You Want To Be Rich & Happy Don't Go To School, "My biggest complaint about the educational system is that students are not taught how to learn from mistakes. They are conditioned to believe mistakes are bad. In real learning, however, mistakes are essential. A person rarely has the right answer the first time around, so learning is accomplished through trial and error."

The same goes for sewing. Embrace mistakes. In many of the beginning projects, you do not have to have perfectly straight lines. And believe it or not, those of you who love quilting would be amazed at how beautiful a 3 year olds quilt can look even when the lines don't match up and the squares are different sizes!

When you do have a really bad line, celebrate the mistake. We always say things like: "yeah, we get to use mister ripper (my daughters weren't allowed to use the ripper until they were 7 years old - be careful with this, it is extremely sharp). Yeah, we get to do it again, this means you are going to get really good at straight lines". We also encourage our girls by telling them that as long as they learn from their mistakes, mistakes are awesome, and it is hard to learn without them.

GIVE LOTS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

Constantly encourage your children with your words. "Good job. "Wow that was a great line." "You are getting better." "I can't believe how well you are doing"... Two great rules to live by: 1. always try to find 2 positives for 1 negative, and 2. point out those positives before you deal with the negative.

This is hard to hear but it is important. If you find yourself in the midst of teaching your child to sew, and you feel like it is too frustrating to continue, it is most likely due to your attitude, and not your childs. Don't disregard the negatives, but always look for the positives.

BE PATIENT

This is not a race to learn. If your child is enjoying themselves, continue working. If your child is tired of sewing, stop. This is not the place to teach diligence and perseverance. You are wanting to teach a love for sewing. For every minute that you force a child to continue sewing when they are ready to quit, you have taught them to hate sewing. If this means that they sew for 5 minutes - great. If it means they sew for 3 hours - wonderful. Don't put a time limit on their lessons.

DO SIMPLE AND QUICK PROJECTS

When starting with a younger child, it is important to have projects that are simple. This allows them to master the basics of sewing, to be able to complete a project rather quickly, and therefore experience a sense of accomplishment. Stick with the simple until they are able to consistently sew straight lines. These quick and simple projects will encourage them to pursue more difficult and more time consuming projects overtime.

Remember: young kids do not get tired of the same projects. It is usually grown ups who think we need to jazz things up in order to keep their interest. What’s great about sewing is that you can change the fabric and the size of a project and it seems new and different every time. (I look forward to sharing with you some easy beginning projects)

START WITH ACTUAL SEWING

Many people will have their kids learn to cut out the patterns, read the patterns, and pin the patterns, before they get to the sewing. I have seen many kids lose their interest in sewing by being required to learn these steps first. Again, you need to consider the age of your child, their level of interest, and maturity. I will say that cutting out the pattern is harder than it sounds. Even though the child's sewing lines may not be straight, it is important that the pattern is cut out VERY straight.

Don't worry about them learning these other steps, it will come in time. First, you want them to enjoy the actual sewing and receive the benefits from the finished project. The order that I work in is: learn to sew first; mark the pattern, pin second, cut third, and read the patterns last (remember, that your child’s personality and maturity level will dictate when and how quickly you move through these steps).

If you are a beginner as well, you will learn a lot by doing these steps for them, as well as gaining the understanding you need to teach them when they are ready. If you are working with an older child, learn these steps together and encourage one another.

DISPLAY THE FINISHED PRODUCT

When they have completed their project, make sure that you put it in a prominent place in your house. Make sure the rest of the family takes the opportunity to praise them on their good work.

We created a portfolio for our girls when they first started sewing. It has grown into, not only a treasure, but a valuable asset for sewing ventures. My oldest daughter has had a couple people ask her to sew dresses for their young children after viewing her portfolio.

Most of all, have fun and make great memories.
The fruit of following these principles are incredible. It has been 5 years since we started sewing, and we now have sewing days. Our oldest knows how to do most patterns on her own, with a very professional finish. While my youngest is now making her own dresses by simply having me explain the directions to the patterns. We are all 3 LOVING it!!!

Until next time, Happy Sewing,
Kristi

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As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to love it more and more.
Jules Renard


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