Teaching Kids to Sew — Tools & Techniques

Posted by on Jun 12, 2012

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Teaching kids to sew might elicit painful hours spent in middle home ec, a cranky teacher and an even meaner machine. But Amie Plumley and Andria Lisle, authors of the how-to book "Sewing School: 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make" (Storey) and the blog Sewing School create a different experience. From exciting sewing projects like toys and clothes to celebrating creativity rather than perfection, they offer a few tips for teaching kids to sew.

What can sewing teach kids?

Amie: When kids sew they are learning so much! There is the obvious new skill factor as well as being creative; however, much more is going on developmentally. Kids are strengthening their fine motor skills, solving problems and focusing on the task at hand. In the end, the confidence and sense of pride that sewing gives kids is invaluable. We have found that both boys and girls love sewing because it offers them a chance to do something new.

What are the basic sewing skills parents should teach kids?

Amie: When starting out, it's easier for kids to learn the basics of sewing using sewing cards. Buy ready-made cards or design your own with cardboard and a hole punch. Either way, kids will gain sewing confidence if they practice stitches on sewing cards first. 
Check out Sewing School's free sewing cards how-to!
The two basic stitches for teaching kids to sew are the running stitch and the whip stitch. The running stitch is your basic "up and down" stitch that looks like a dotted line. A whipstich can be made when sewing the edges of fabric together and the thread "whips" around the edge because you only sew through the back of the fabric. 

Other necessary skills are needle threading and tying knots. Once kids have mastered these two skills, they are able to sew independently. Resist the urge to help your child every time, but instead offer encouragement and support. 
young kid learning to sew
Besides developing sewing skills, having the right tools is important, too. Kids need tools that fit their hands and developmental needs. We like to use craft thread, chenille number 22 needles and the LoRan needlethreader. 
Head to the Sewing School for Amie and Andria's essential sewing basket for teaching kids to sew! 

What are the most common struggles parents face when teaching kids to sew? Any ideas for overcoming these struggles?

Andria: Nothing dissuades young sewers faster than a grown-up hovering overhead, worrying they might prick themselves with a needle or insisting that they follow intricate steps to complete a project. Children aren't interested in basting or hemming—they prefer a trial-and-error approach to hand-sewing. Wait until they tackle a particular project for the fifth or sixth time, and then ask how they can stop fabric from fraying or how to improve on their initial idea. 

About late elementary is when kids began to care about perfection. Any tips to parents about helping kids care about creating rather than perfection? 

Andria: When sewing, most kids will go off on a tangent. We like to encourage this kind of creativity. In "Sewing School", Amie and I refer to this part of the process as "Make It Yours." By learning that there are many different ways to complete a project, kids will gain more confidence in their abilities and take their inventiveness to new levels. 

One of our rules for young sewers is “Nothing has to be perfect.” Flaws are more than okay—they’re endearing. Imperfections give each project an individual flair and a uniqueness that cannot be found in any mass-produced merchandise. Sharing the gift of sewing is one of the greatest, most creative things you can do for your child. Hopefully it will be a skill that will last a lifetime and one that will be passed down to future generations, too.
young girl holds a sewing project
Questions from CraftFoxes Members!

Amie & Andria took questions from our users via email, Facebook & Twitter for a week. Their answers about teaching kids to sew are below.

What's a good age to start teaching kids?As soon as you feel they are ready. -Laura

Toddlers can begin to use lacing cards and plastic needles and then move up to scissors and tapestry needles. We start sewing with my kids around age 4. You'll know when they are ready. Be sure to teach safety and talk a lot about the needles, scissors. Once they can respect the tools, they can become independent. 

Any favorite beginner projects for teens? -Michelle

Teens love to make the Just Right Pouch, a little mp3 or phone pouch from Sewing School. There are lots of ways to embellish them. Skirts are also a popular choice for those who are beginning to machine sew. 
Get a free iPhone sewing pattern from us at CraftFoxes.

Is a class better to learn, or can a mom with sewing experience teach it? -Lisa

Whether or not she has previous sewing experience, a mom can help her kids learn how to sew. In fact, in some instances, moms who are accomplished sewers may need to dial back their own skills and expectations, and let their children explore the ins and outs of hand sewing on their own. 

Any tips for when the kid gets frustrated and wants to give up? -Larissa

Sometimes kids are frustrated because they keep making the same mistake again and again, which can be easily corrected. A few examples: they need to learn to hold their needle at the eye to keep it from coming unthreaded; or they are using a piece of thread that is entirely too long, so it keeps tangling; or they are trying to cut fabric and thread using dull scissors. In that case, set them on the right track and see if they don't regain interest. 

Other kids—Amie and I seem to have one in every camp session—just don't see the reward in completing a project. If they are struggling but seem to truly want to finish, give them some one-on-one attention, or sew a few stitches until they ask to continue. Otherwise, let them move on to something else, and see if they want to return to sewing a few days later. Whichever the case may be, emphasize that sewing projects don't have to be finished in a set time—it's fine to take a week on a project, and it's often more enjoyable if they take frequent breaks during the sewing process. Even during sewing camp, we break for stories, snacks, and swim time. 

When can I start teaching my children to use a sewing machine? -Deb

You can start sewing with a sewing machine at an early age. First, have them push the foot pedal down with their hand or foot and watch you guide the fabric. When you feel they are ready, let them move to the machine. Start slow with a simple pillow shape. Amie's daughter got her machine when she turned 6. We use the Janome Sew Mini with kids because it's a real machine but is smaller and goes slowly. Stay away from toy machines or those meant for mending—they usually are more trouble than they are worth!

Image credits (from top): Justin Fox Burks, Kevin Barre, Justin Fox Burks and Sewing School

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