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Teaching kids to sew, HELP!

vallerand | Posted in General Sewing Info on

Three of my friends got their daughters sewing machines for Christmas.  None of them sew.  Soooo, I volunteered to teach the girls how to sew.  They are 13,13 and 12, and all good kids.  I have plenty of fabrics to use up, and enough sewing supplies for all of us, but I need some help.

I am unsure of what to start them out on for projects that will give them confidence and be fun enough to not discourage them. 

I may need some advice using home machines, since I have used only Industrial sewing machines for the last 25 years, and am unused to all the gizmos and gadgets and stitches available on these tiny little machines.

I was thinking about starting them out on these cute commercial patterns I have for pillow covers.  There are bugs and animals and flowers and so on that you sew and then put a regular sized pillow in.  I think it would be a cute thing that they could make for themselves for sleepovers and so on.  Lots of straight stitching, a few curves, not too many pieces, no zippers or buttons.  I am planning on having a variety of patterns for them to choose what they want. and letting them do it all, from learning to deal with the tissue paper, how to cut patterns out properly, learning about grainlines and layouts, what notches are for etc…  Or is that just too much?

Any suggestions?

My father started me out sewing at 6, on a velvet halter gown for my oldest sister for her prom.  I was hooked and have been sewing ever since, and it is my career.  But, I don’t think it was probably the easiest introduction to sewing there was!

(I don’t have any children of my own, so this is a new experience for me)

Thanks in advance.



  1. starzoe | | #1

    "these tiny little machines" - pray tell me that these are not toy machines. The girls will be frustrated from the beginning if they are. If they have "proper" machines, have a safety lesson, point out the different parts of the machine and then have them stitch, without thread, lines and curves on paper. Then let them play with stitching fabric after a few lessons on threading.I wouldn't lay too much on them at first, they will come up with their own ideas. My granddaughter sewed a little sofa, stuffed and all. The time will come, if there is enough interest, to get into the techniques of sewing objects.Before you begin the lessons, borrow one of the machines and familiarize yourself with it. Good luck.

    1. vallerand | | #2

      no, they are all home sewing machines, not toys.  I am just used to industrial machines and have not sewn on a home one in over 25 years.

      Sewing lines on paper with no thread is a great idea, thanks!!

      1. starzoe | | #3

        My two grandgirls, now 12 and 10 sewed their first "real" item, a long cotton skirt, two years ago. No pattern, basically a tube with elastic waist and a hem. I don't have to tell you what basic skills they picked up for this, they already knew the parts of the machine and how they operate and how to sew a seam. They learned how to measure for fit, how to iron, to make a channel and insert elastic, how to fit skirt length, etc. etc.They zigzagged the seam allowances (great fun). One wore her skirt in Maui last Spring as a dress, pulled up to her underarms. She is the fashion queen of the family. I love to pass on my skills to these girls who are so inventive and quick to learn.

  2. Lise_W | | #4

    I agree with familiarizing yourself with the various gizmos first. 

    The first lesson is definitely the parts of the machine and safety tips, and a discussion of thread tension.

    You might try doing some basic quilt blocks liek ninepatches with them.  They can machine-quilt them later to make pillows.  Another thng might be woven ribbon pillows

    Tote bags/purses are also a good thing.

    My youngest daughter will be 7 in February, and I have bought her a Janome "Hello Kitty" model to give her.  This machine is very basic - three stitch lengths, three zig-zag widths at the medium stitch length, and blind hem and its mirror image, and a  buiilt-in button holer.  It will not do full-width satin stitches ro any decorative stitches, but that can come later after she is comfortable with basic construction.

    I expect her to use it for about 3-5 years and learn to make basic garments, bags, doll clothes, and quilt blocks, etc., and then she will graduate to my regular machine when she no longer needs supervision.

    My oldest daughter took basic sewing lessons from the local Bernina store as a teenager.  They made pajamas with a notched collar and long sleeves.  The class was geared toward students who had done some craft sewing and therefore knew how to operate the machine already.

  3. sewingkmulkey | | #5

    Pillow covers are okay but just don't do the dreaded "apron" most home ec. classes taught us in school many years ago.  It's important for the girls to feel like they're really making something they can use or wear.  I like the idea of the tube skirt one  poster mentioned.  The girls should be excited about the project they are making and having fabrics they like is key.

    I would love to teach young girls to sew and can't wait until my granddaughter shows the slightest interest.  She's only 5 1/2 so I don't want to start too early and have her get discouraged.



    1. jjgg | | #6

      An apron was the first thing my mother taught me how to sew, and today, aprons are really "in" so I think it would be a great project. If any of the young ladies has an embroidery component to their sewing machine, they could personalize them with embroidery.I was really proud of the aprons I made, my mother and I wore them when ever we were in the kitchen.

      Edited 12/27/2007 5:14 pm ET by jjgg

      1. sewelegant | | #9

        Don't be too hard on the "apron comment"... when I read it I immediately thought of the ugly, awful, horrible apron we had to make as our first project in home ec class back in the 50's.  I do not remember if I even finished it, but, the next project was something of our own choice and I thought my skirt was wonderful!  The nun who taught us was a beautiful seamstress from Ireland and I think she did instill in me a love of hand sewing.  I also remember that not very many of my classmates in that room enjoyed the process of sewing as much as I did, so maybe there is just something in our makeup that connects with this art and I suspect you can spot this trait in any young person who shows an interest and it won't go away just because of a few hurdles.

        1. jjgg | | #10

          My niece was 7 yo when she came to my house, she was fascinated with my sewing room and HAD to TOUCH all the fabrics... I knew then where she was headed. BUT, when she was 12 yo I bought her a small janome sewing machine for her birthday, it never made it all the way out of the box (her parents fault) and then they moved and lost the foot pedal/wires.. needless to say I was rather miffed at my brother for wasting my money and my niece really did want to sew. She is now well into high school and goes to some art program that the school specializes in, She is interested in fashion, so we'll see what happens.

        2. sewingkmulkey | | #19

          Thanks for your support of the "ugly" aprons we were forced to make in the 50's.  I didn't know I'd touch such a nerve with my comment!  I was just stating my bad reaction as a young girl to that home ec project.  I realize aprons are much more accepted now and if girls get excited about making them then I'm all for that!!!  Again, I say the key is having the girls love the project AND the fabric.  I hope that  most or even just a portion of the new sewists fall in love with the art of sewing as we have.


          1. Stillsewing | | #21

            Your mention of the aprons reminded of the first one that I made at about age 10. My mother offered to the teacher to cut mine out. -she had about 60 of us in class (how did she do it?) As a result I made the most beautiful apron with a frill - it took three yards of hemming by hand - I was spared the one piece boring apron that the others made. I still have that lovely little thing and I now realize that it was probably the first thing that I ever made, and it must be about 53 years old carefully stored with all those other clothes that we will never wear again ........ ah well

  4. MaryinColorado | | #7

    Those projects sound like fun and very usable.  I think that is the key, making things they can and will use and enjoy or gifts to give loved ones and friends.

    My granddaughter is 14, sews and does machine embroidery, etc on her own now, i gave her my Viking Rose but she keeps it here.  She received a cute fleece scarf and hat that her friend made her for Christmas, very special.

    My grandsons are 11 and 16, both like to make quilts and embroider school emblems on clothing.  I have to keep an eye on them though as they are a bit "physical" for the studio. 

    Have fun!  You are giving them a gift to cherish for a lifetime!  Mary

    Oh, when my grandson's cubscout troop "adopted" a  family for Christmas one year, he came up with the idea of making fleece blankets and receiving blankets for the infant.  They turned out great! 

    Edited 12/27/2007 5:39 pm by MaryinColorado

  5. Teaf5 | | #8

    All my daughter's friends have started out with pajama pants, choosing their own fabrics and using shoelaces for the drawstring ties.  As long as the pants are big enough, it doesn't really matter how well they are sewn, as they just lounge in them anyway.  Most basic patterns come in multiple sizes, and the seams are very simple with no zippers or buttonholes to worry about.

    One year, three of them came over to make about 15 pairs for their friends as gifts; each girl liked a different part of the process--cutting out, stitching, pressing--so they set up their own assembly line and taught each other.  A lot of giggles later, they had learned a lot with just a little help from me.

    1. MaryinColorado | | #11

      That sounds like a great idea!  I will offer it to my granddaughter and her friends.  She'd like an assembly line, her favorite part is using the machines!  Mary

  6. User avater
    blondie2sew | | #12

    Some great resources for beginner projects that I have found to teach my group of kids to sew is the mag...Sew Simple..They have some really fun and easy stuff in there...as well as They love the tote bags...lil purses...and I even had them sewing on the Juicy Pouches to make place mats!! They loved that project..plus we were recycling!! Hope this helps...If you want I can post a pic of the placemats for you in the photo gallery...I might have already I might have to go see...

    1. vallerand | | #13

      WOW!  Thanks for all the great responses!

      I think the pajama bottoms is a great project for them, they all have a bunch and seem to be wearing them all the time.  I have a good inventory of both fleece and flannels.  I will have to grade down my footie pajama bottom pattern too.  (A few years ago I made about 20 pairs for all my hiking friends after a chilly night camping in February.) 

      I think having them pick out their own fabrics is key too.  And I really want them to make something they will use themselves first.

      They all cook with their moms, so aprons are not out of the question either, and there are a LOT of really cute patterns out there, and they could make one for each of their mom's for mother's day, hum...   That would be nice.  And they could pick out all the trims and mix and match fabrics on that project.

      One of the girls keeps telling her mom she wants to be a Fashion Designer, and for the next 'career day' at school she is coming in to work with me to spend the day working on the CAD system, and making patterns and sewing so I can show her what it is like.  Not quite as exciting as I think she believes, but I like it!  Maybe on my next fabric trip to NYC she and her mom can come with me.

      I am excited, but getting the 3 of their schedules to mesh is a bit like trying to herd cats, so I may have to teach them individually, which would not be as much fun.

      Thanks again for all the great ideas!


      1. MaryinColorado | | #14

        "like trying to herd cats"....got a great visual in my imagination, thanks for the giggle!  Have fun with the girls!  If you can't get them together for the classes, maybe they can have a little fashion show together after finishing some items.  Mary

  7. GailAnn | | #15

    Dear Mis vallerand:

    You've recieved lots of suggestions about pillows and aprons and pajama pants, but as you, yourself, know,  the more exacting the early projects are, the better the budding seamstress will be.

    I'd suggest that as soon as one or two easy projects have been completed, if the girls are still eager to learn, you move on immediately to a dress, skirt and jacket.

    I'm really talking about the skills of zipper, sleeve, buttonhole, and waistband.  Then, once they have accomplished a lining, there is nothing they won't be able to make.

    Here comes the wardrobe planning and the clothes budget stretching.  I always wanted nicer clothes than our family could afford.  Sewing gave me a great deal of control over how I was allowed to spend my clothing budget in school.  You'll laugh now, but, I went all the way through high school, only ever having 2 bras and 2 pairs of panties............one to wear, one to wash.  More money for fabric!

    I don't really remember my first project, but I could make a dress, skirt and jacket before I even started high school.   Gail

    1. jjgg | | #16

      Oh, another comment about teaching kids to sew (or any beginner) If they make a mistake, and it has to be frog stitched (rip-it, rip-it) YOU should do the ripping for them. It can be VERY frustrating for a youngster to have to carefully rip tiny stitches. They will be forever grateful to you if you do this for them at the beginning stage.

  8. scrubble4 | | #17

    Hi Vallerand:  I am a teacher and I always ask the kids where they would like to start on a new topic.  That way I get an idea of their preconceived ideas as well as knowledge/skill base.  Some questions you might ask are:  How long do you want your first project to take?  Would you like to make something to wear or something for your bedroom or something as a gift?  These type of questions will help narrow down how each girl sees the first project.  Maybe they want to make a bag for themselves or a friend, maybe they want to make a top or skirt or pants.  I am always amazed about my preconceived notions and how quickly mine dissolve in the face the students' reality of what they know and what they want to learn.  Within each of these areas, have a SHORT list of projects and about how long it will take the girls to make them.  Also remind them they are learning a new skill, somewhat akin to riding a bike.  While there may be spills the end result will be a life long skill that will give them pleasure. 

    thanks for taking on this task.  I am sure you will find the experience as rewarding as the girls.  Scrubble4

    1. User avater
      Thimblefingers | | #18

      When I taught kids sewing and we were working on a longer more complicated project, I would take a class off in the middle and do a quickie fun project for a break. Then they were ready to get back to their long project again.

      1. MrsCostew | | #20

        I teach 7th graders to sew & usually do a quick, easy introductory project - sometimes a folk art (seams on the outside) snowman or ghost or heart using freezer paper as a stitching quide. They could do this in one sitting.  Alternatively I sometimes use a crazy quilt block which can then be framed, made into a pillow, pot hoder, tissue holder, cell phone case, etc., depending on the size.  Both projects are quick to finish, easy to make & teach many different skills.   Good luck!

      2. corinnekelly | | #23

        The Kwik Sew site has a link for teaching sewing that you may find helpful-www.kwiksew.com/TeachSewing/easysew.class.pdf   






        Edited 1/4/2008 11:25 pm ET by corinnekelly

  9. teria | | #22

    I am a 4-H sewing leader.  I have found Nancy Zieman's "Let's Sew, A beginner's Sewing Guide" very helpful.  It has been a real joy to teach my "kids" how to sew and watch them blossom.  Good luck!

  10. Curiospat | | #24

    Teaching Kids!  Some patience and directive, specific help:

    They are the best learners, and will soak up everything you show/tell, I love it!

    1.  Go over the basics of threading the sew. machine (there are several "How to Sew" books at the library

    2.  I use 12" square muslin sheets and draw things on them i.e. a heart, square, wavy  lines, etc. to get the practice and feel of following a straight and curvy line.

    3.  Hold bobin and top threads out about 6" when beginning a seam and  be careful not to place any fingers in front of needle bar!

    4.  Show how the tension is different on diff. pieces of cloth;  thicker (larger) needles for thicker cloths (as a rule); embroidery needles come later

    5.  The simple patters you mentioned are perfect!  I used shortie pj bottoms, a tote bag, laundry bag, etc. for starter projects,  and even strip-quilted hot pads with batting and use muslin on back when finishing and turn r-s-out.

    Threads Mag. has lots of tips for beginners too;  enjoy!!   The kids are the  best,

    Pat (curiospat sewing and alterations)

  11. sewornate | | #25

    I have taught children to machine sew.  Start with a blank piece of paper and unthreaded machine.  Draw straight lines--like a square within a square.  They can learn to stitch straight, turn corners.  They can grade their own work.  Hold the paper up to the light and see if the holes are on the lines.  Then try circles, then curvy lines.

    They will then be ready to proceed to fabric.  Depending on their age, (10 is good) and attention span, simple things like the pillow mentioned, or a skirt, shorts, or slacks with elastic waist are good projects they can make with inexpensive material and be something they can use or wear.  One very young girl, I had make a scrunchie--to hold their pony tail. 

    When sewing was taught in schools here years ago, often the projects got brought to me to finish (paid for by the mother).  These projects often had buttons, buttonholes, zippers, and way too much detail for many children.

    Make the project easy for the child to accomplish and let them feel successful.  A tied lap comforter is also a good project.  Have them sew pretty cotton squares together, layer with batting and backing.  Bring the backing over the top to form the edge finish and hem.  The layers can be tied  at corner of squares with embroidery floss or yarn.

    I would say, keep the project simple enough that they don't lose interest and can finish quickly.  You may have other ideas with kid appeal.  If they are into dolls, dool clothes are great.





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