In our quest as mums to give our kids every opportunity to grow into confident healthy human beings, it’s easy enough to be dazzled by all the 21st century advice on the sort of activities that are best for our children to learn. But sometimes, just sometimes, going back to what our grandmas were doing, is a pretty good place to look for guidance.
Nowadays, the skill of hand sewing, that is at once so practical and creative, is largely forgotten or over-looked. Many modern mums don’t know how to sew and those who can sew, often don’t sew with their kids…it’s too messy, too dangerous, too slow…the reasons always vary, but after teaching kids to sew for over twenty years, I’ve come to realize that all these reasons have one thing in common…they are all false. Teaching your kids how to sew is one of the best skills you can give to your kids. Maybe I’m wrong, but 20 years of teaching experience biases me to believe that I’m right.
So what’s so good about sewing? My short answer is: hand sewing is a low cost, low tech, easy-to-take with you activity that teaches your kids a practical, highly useful skill. It gives them hours of fun and nurtures their creativity and independence. And it’s an activity that you can share in together. It draws a family together rather than allowing members to isolate themselves.
My longer answer goes something like this. Most of us know that hand sewing is a really good way to help young kids develop their hand-eye coordination and their fine motor skills. I remember one girl, whose manual skill problems were considerable, and not only interfering with schoolwork, but contributing to a growing low self-esteem. Her mum’s main worry was that the sewing might be too hard for her to do and would become just another failure that strengthened her poor self image. Her very first workshop, however, was a turning point. Her stitches were largish and wonky but she finished the project and was so proud of herself. Her mum rang to tell me that she couldn’t stop showing whoever came into the house what she’d accomplished. She loved the workshops and kept on coming for years until the family moved to another state.
It’s certainly hard to ignore the enthusiasm and excitement that kids show in classes. I think that a big part of hand sewing’s appeal to young kids is that it’s a very physical, very tactile activity. It makes modest, but important, demands on their concentration, encourages them to trust their own choices and gives them an actual object that they can see, hold and show to others, and that acts as a constant reminder of what they’ve achieved and what they can achieve again in the future.
There’s one last thing I’d like to mention: one of the most common scenes in my workshops is of kids sitting together, working out what they want to do together, copying each other, responding to each other, adding to each others ideas, and supporting each other practically, creatively and emotionally. They are learning something we all need as a balance to the competitive spirit that our society stresses. It’s striking just how much a sewing workshop can resemble the women of yesteryear sitting in a close group, sewing, gossiping, sharing ideas, opening themselves up to the input of others, learning to appreciate the unique strengths and weaknesses of each other, and just enjoying the whole ethos generated by this type of intimate, consultative activity.
And if you’re looking for a project you might like to try making Millie. She’s an easy-to-sew softie, a friend and a great place to start your sewing adventures.