Over the next few weeks I’ll be interviewing kid’s sewing teachers from around the world. Their experiences teaching kids to sew and their stories are fascinating.
Encouraging parents to teach their kids to sew has been a pet project of mine for several years. I thought it might be interesting to to hear something about other peoples experiences in teaching sewing as well as to talk about what tips and tricks they use to help beginners and the ways in which their sewing classes may have impacted on the lives of their young students. It’s like getting a glimpse into how small events can change someone’s life’s direction and enrich it unexpectedly…but then…I guess…that sewing with kid’s is always enriching and full of surprises.
My first interview is with sewing teacher, Sue Frelick, who lives in Atlantic Canada and blogs at Sewing With Kids
What age are the kids you teach?
I teach children between the ages of 5 and 12 to sew. In the beginning, I was going to offer my lessons to kids 5-9 years old, however, I soon found out that tweens are really keen to sew by hand too.
How long have you been teaching sewing for?
That’s a good question. If you add it all up I think it’s been about 4 years of actual teaching, but because of some on-going health issues, those 4 years were spread over a 10 year span.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I used to work at the local fabric store as a salesclerk, and occasionally I taught adult sewing classes. One spring, my manager scheduled me to lead a pillow-making class for kids. Only two little girls signed up for that class and the manager was about to cancel when I offered to teach from my home instead of in the store’s space, if the parents were okay coming to my apartment. My manager contacted the parents and everyone was happy with the new arrangements. As it turned out it was a win-win: the store saved cancelling, the girls got to make their pillows, and I fell in love with teaching kids how to sew.
Do you have any tips or tricks that you’ve found helpful in teaching kids to hand sew?
I find myself tweaking and updating my teaching methods every so often because, between personal experience and talking with other sewing teachers, I learn better ways to teach. But there are some things that have not changed since the beginning.
- At the first lesson we always make a small, pocket softie. Most kids can successfully complete one in an hour and they have something to take home with them after that first class. I do the more difficult processes myself to facilitate this happening. What I mean is, the projects are prepped ahead of time (my husband helps me with this) and during the first lesson I tie the knots in the thread, cut thread, untangle knots … basically, I do everything except the actual sewing at that very first class.
- I use felt! I absolutely love using felt with beginners because, in my opinion, it is the perfect fabric for them to learn with. It doesn’t fray, it is not flimsy, (meaning it has enough body to handle easily), it feels nice to touch and it comes in bright, cheerful colours.
- I always start kids off sewing by marking little dots around the perimeter of their projects. Dots show them where to make each stitch. It’s similar to the idea of pre-school lacing cards where holes are punched around the edge for a shoe lace to pass through. Kids are faced with so many new skills when they learn to sew and dots help guide them in the beginning. Depending on the individual, it often isn’t long before these ‘training wheels’ aren’t necessary.
Have you had any students you can tell me about whom learning to sew really benefited in some way?
There are two girls that come to mind right away.
Autum was one of my first hand sewing students. I ran into her last fall and she told me about how she is still using the hand sewing skills she learned with me. She wrote it down so I can share: “Sewing was never something I forgot. One of my close friends ripped his favourite sweater one day, and I said, ‘I can fix that’, and offered to take it home and hem it for him. He was really pleased I could fix it! Sewing is a wonderful skill that is so beneficial to learn. I’m glad I did!”
The second one is more recent. Sarah, who started sewing with me this spring, came to class one day not long ago and announced that her uncle had paid her $20 to sew the missing buttons back on his shirt. That’s a very real benefit to a 10-year-old who is saving her pocket money for an iPAD!
Is there any tool that you find particularly useful to use in your classes?
Two items that I wouldn’t want to do without are sharp needles with big eyes, and thread that doesn’t tangle very much.
I buy an assortment of embroidery and chenille needles in sizes 18 to 22 so the children can choose the size that suits them. Often beginners choose the largest needle with the biggest eye and then switch to smaller sizes as their skills develop.
For thread I use #30 crochet cotton, more specifically, DMC’s Cébélia. It’s smoother, thicker and a little stiffer than regular sewing thread. And unlike embroidery floss, it doesn’t separate into strands. It does tangle, but not as much as regular sewing thread. It’s been a great choice for my beginners.
If you pop on over to Sue’s blog you’re going to find lots of simple sewing with kids tutorials, like this sweet little owl as well as tips and tricks to teach your kids to sew.
Happy sewing. And let me know if you have any questions.