How Can I Teach My Child to Sew?

When you make things yourself, people notice.  If you did a really great job, they wonder at how they can’t tell it from a store-bought item made in a factory.  If you did a mediocre job, they are still excited because most people these days are in awe of handmade things.  

Turns out, kids are excited to make things too.  I’ve been talking with several kids and parents about sewing in particular, and some common questions about how and when kids can learn to sew inevitably come up. Today’s post attempts to answer some of them.

 Kids and parents learn to sew at Studio How-To.

Kids and parents learn to sew at Studio How-To.

1.  Why should my child learn to sew?

The primary reason should be that your child wants to learn.  No sense forcing this one. Beyond that, sewing can be useful.  It can be a great way to contribute to reducing garbage - sewing lets your repair, repurpose, and alter your clothes for longer use. You can buy thrifted items, make a few changes, and have an outfit totally yours. Sewing develops motor skills, mental focus, problem solving skills, sequencing, even math, and builds confidence.  Kids are very talented and particular about their own designs.  I am always so impressed with how well kids articulate their desired project, fabric, modifications to patterns, etc.  And it’s for boys and girls both. How great to send your child into the world knowing how to patch a hole, sew a button or belt loop back on, fix a strap, hem their pants, fix a seam, take in a seam, make their own costumes.

2.  Do we need to buy a machine and what machine?

You can start sewing without a machine. My grandmother has made quilts for decades and sews each one by hand (even though she owns a machine). If you plan to do a lot of sewing and you aren’t so keen on hand sewing, a machine is great.  If you can find a used one in someone’s attic/basement or a yard sale, great.  Several older machines work great still and many excellent sewists started that way (I used a handful of hand-me-downs from my grandmothers and aunt until I finally pulled the trigger on my current machine).  However, if no one in your household is a sewer, I would recommend using someone else’s machine for your first several projects to make sure your child (and you) actually wants to stick with it. (Many classes let you use a machine during the class so you don’t need to own one when learning. We offer sewing hours in the studio where you can use a machine for your own projects at the studio on Sundays.) When you’re ready, a decent machine that will last and can handle several different kinds of fabrics can be had for $100 - $400. Don’t waste your time and money on a machine marketed for kids.  I haven’t actually used one, but most accounts suggest they are not terribly durable, are limited in capabilities, and your child will outgrow them.

3.  I don’t know how to sew, but my child wants to learn. Do I need to learn?

Depending on your child’s age, working style, and how you two work together, it could be helpful.  In general, if your child is on the younger side, it probably would help them for you to learn at least a bit so you can help them when they need to troubleshoot the machine, help them with cutting straight lines, interpreting a pattern, and fixing mistakes that can’t be left alone. Do you need to be massively experienced and an expert sewist? No. A class where you can learn together can be a great way to help each other.

4.  I want my child to learn to sew, but she doesn’t want to.

Wait until they decide they do want to learn. Forcing sewing is not usually a good idea. That said, if you think your child really would enjoy it, or you just want him or her to have a few useful skills, maybe you can present the benefits differently so the idea is more appealing.  For example, your child may think making a pincushion is lame and pointless. She would not be wrong in many cases (although if you sew, you do need a place to keep pins so you aren’t stabbing yourself all the time). But maybe what he really wants is to modify his jeans a particular way, make a bag that really reflects his style, or learn how to sew a patch on his jacket, fix a button, or repair a strap on a bag. You can find a class more tailored to your child’s interest if that changes her mind.

 Mending clothes makes them last and adds style that kids seek.

Mending clothes makes them last and adds style that kids seek.

5.  What projects can my child sew?

Kids are not limited in their projects any more than adults. Everyone should start with simple rectangular shape to get the hang of stitching, pattern usage, construction, etc. A lot of beginner projects include pillowcases, pin cushions, tote bags, simple quilts, and simple skirts (shorts and shirts require some curved lines).  It doesn’t take many successful beginner projects to graduate to more complex projects if that is your child’s goal.

6.  How do we start learning to sew?

It depends on your child’s age and comfort level. For the youngest kids, simply stringing beans on a shoelace and sewing a shoelace through holes punched around the perimeter of “sewing” card shapes is a great fine motor skill development exercise.  Once your child can handle that, you could move onto hand sewing or simple embroidery to teach him how to hold fabric and guide a needle without losing the thread. Once your child understands the basics of how to sew something together, machine sewing may be something of interest for her. Again, start simple - straight lines, basic (as in not expensive) machine.  If you or someone in your family sews, having your child work on several small projects over time may be easiest to keep their attention and keep their satisfaction with their results high. Taking a class at any stage can also help if you can find one that fits your desired objectives.

7.  Is my child too young to sew?

Probably not. As long as your child has developed some basic fine motor skills, can handle sitting still, understands proper safety with sharp tools, and actually wants to take the time to learn, he is ready to sew. My son started to sew at 5 years old. We did some hand stitching and some machine sewing. He needs help still with most parts, but he can tell me his design ideas and execute the basic cutting and sewing as a team.  A mature 6 year old and older is likely a better candidate, but really, you are the best judge of your child’s readiness. For any beginner it’s probably going to be a team effort with an adult for several projects.

8.  Is it too hard for kids to sew?

Kids can do so many things, especially when they are truly interested in learning and doing those things.  Sewing requires some specific motor skills (threading a needle, cutting straight lines, matching up edges), but if your child can do them, he is ready to sew.  Since there are sharp tools and stabbing objects, your child needs to understand safe behavior with the tools.  

9.  My child took a class on sewing, now what?

Great! If you know enough to help them keep sewing at home and tackle new projects, you are on your way to lots of fun times and there is no real limit to what you can tackle. You can go shopping for patterns, books, fabric and more and have fun.  

If you’re not so keen on sewing and your child could still use a little help with planning and executing projects, sign up for an advanced class, a private sewing session, or look for a shop that offers drop-in sewing access/instruction.  If you’re in the Cleveland, OH area, we actually offer open studio hours on Sundays.  They’re free, and if you’ve taken a class, we are happy to give you a little direction on your projects.

 Triumphant boy with his custom bag that goes everywhere.

Triumphant boy with his custom bag that goes everywhere.

 

Hopefully you found something that helps you with your child’s and your sewing journey. We offer sewing classes for adults and kids and are always adding different classes for specific sewing projects, goals, families, and more.  If you have more questions, feel free to contact me. And you are always welcome to come by the studio on Sundays during Open Studio between 12 and 5 pm.  We are there with all sorts of makers in the community, working on independent projects.  Would love to meet you.