A Guide to Teaching Kids to Sew and the Essential Supplies You Need
Recently, Alicia, who is a member of the Sew a Softie facebook group asked me about teaching kids to sew and what essential supplies you might need to get started. The following is a list of the sewing supplies I use in my workshops. These are my personal sewing supply preferences and are based on my own experiences spread over more than 20 years of teaching kids to sew but they are still just personal preferences. Other sewing teachers may have different supply lists that will work for you just as well. And remember always test your supplies to see if they work for you.
An important thing to remember when buying your sewing supplies is to buy good quality materials. Cheap materials tend to break easily and oftentimes are difficult to work with. Those threads and needles you buy at bargain basement stores are often bargain basement quality too. ALWAYS check the quality of your materials by giving them a test run. If it’s difficult for you to pull the needle through the fabric it’s going to be even more difficult for a child.
The essential supply list:
2B pencil or wax pencil
First up, I want to debunk the myth that kids need big blunt needles to sew with. Big blunt needles can be great for projects like this one at Childhood101 but in general, if you want to make sewing enjoyable and easy for kids they need small sharp needles. At the moment I’m using Chenille 24 needles which work well with the sewing thread I’m using. Chenille needles are small and sharp but also have a very large eye which makes it easier for kids to thread. Having said that, basically any sewing needle will really do but the smaller the eye the harder it will be for kids, and for you, to thread.
I don’t actually use needle threaders in my workshops. Instead I prefer to get the kids to try and thread their own needles or I help them with the threading. However, I don’t think that there’s any reason to avoid using a needle threader and some teachers find them useful aids…especially if you’re teaching a large group of kids! I know Amie Plumley at Sewing School uses the LoRan threaders in her workshops. Just make sure the threader you choose works with your needle and thread.
Here again I want to stress the need to use good quality materials. And good quality doesn’t mean expensive. Just beware of those packs of cheap thread. They tend to break very easily and there’s nothing more frustrating than sewing a project only to find your thread keeps breaking. I’m lucky that Aurifil are sponsors of Sew a Softie and send me their thread to use in my workshops. I use their mako 28 cotton thread but any good quality thread is what you should be looking for.
I use sewing cotton in my workshops, I like to get the kids to push the thread through the eye of the needle, bring the two ends together and tie them in a knot. This ensures that the thread doesn’t keep slipping off the needle.
You can just as readily use embroidery floss, crochet cotton, perle cotton or wool which are thicker threads. If you use these thicker threads you’ll need a needle with a larger eye such as a chenille 20.
I use felt for many of my projects. It’s easy to use, doesn’t fray and comes in an amazing array of colours. The first thing you should know about felt is that there are different types of felt. The three main types you’ll find are (1) pure wool felts (2) wool blend felts and (3) acrylic felts. Pure wool felt is a beautiful fabric but way too expensive to use in workshops. Acrylic felts are by far the most popular felt used for kids. It’s inexpensive but the quality between brands can differ noticeably. They can be very hard to sew and sometimes they can be very scratchy to the touch making sewing not a really pleasant experience, especially for kids. But some acrylic felts are soft and are easy for kids to use and sew with.
In my workshops I use wool blend felts because they’re reasonably priced and are soft and easy to work with. As always if you’re not sure if the felt is good, try it out, make a project with it and see how it feels to sew with.
I also use cotton fabrics for some of my projects. I especially love the feel of 100% cotton but the cotton blends or poly cottons can be just as good to use.
You’ll need some pins to hold two pieces of fabric or felt together when sewing so the fabric doesn’t move. There are lots of pretty varieties to choose from but I like to use berry pins in my workshops. If you’re making a sewing kit as a gift you might instead want to add some pins with hearts or butterflies on the end.
There are lots of different stuffing options available. I tend to use the polyester fibrefill because it’s inexpensive and easy to get. You might find this article on different stuffing materials from Funky Friends Factory interesting.
You’ll need a good quality pair of scissors that you use just for cutting fabric and a cheaper pair for cutting paper. Don’t let the kids use the fabric scissors for cutting paper because paper will blunt the blades.
2B or Wax Pencil
A soft 2b or 3b pencil is great for drawing on felt and makes it easy for you to cut out shapes or draw a line for kids to sew on. For dark cotton fabrics and dark felts I use a white chinagraph or wax pencil. It’s been a life saver for me. The only brand I’ve ever used is Staedler so I’m not sure how other brands work but being able to draw on dark felts and easily see the lines for cutting or sewing is wonderful.
What can I say, kids love to decorate their finished projects. Of course, I could say to ‘over-decorate’ but it is their project and it’s fun to see how excited they are to add the finishing touches. Here I actually go to our local $2 shop which has a great craft section with ribbons, bows, buttons and a variety of fun decorating supplies. When it comes to decorations, the ‘quality rule’ can be bent a bit. The fun is finding them, either in the shops or rummaging through all sorts of options you’ve collected from everywhere and anywhere over the years. The person making the project is the only one who really knows if the decoration is good or not.
Making a sewing kit as a birthday or Christmas gift would be a lovely idea too!
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