How to teach your kids to sew
Stitch Club founder, designer, sewing teacher and all-round everything
How can you help your kids learn to sew?
Stitch Club is all about getting children into sewing, and I have plenty of experience with this. You can read the back-story on the About page, but in a nutshell, I've spent years teaching children to sew with fun and appealing projects which I've designed myself, and this is what inspired me to produce sewing kits. I hope I can help parents who are at a loss as to where to begin, help guide their children, and maybe even catch the sewing bug themselves.
I know loads of children out there want to try their hand at sewing.
How do I know? Because I've always had a long waiting list for children to get into my classes, and I have met so many parents over the years who've opened with "my child wants to sew, but I have no idea where to start" or "I bought a sewing machine but now I'm scared to get it out of the box".
Let me know if this sounds familiar!
I've discovered over the years that, unsurprisingly, different children enjoy different aspects of sewing. The most basic divider is often hand sewing versus machine sewing. Some of my students groan when I bring out the embroidery threads and hanker after the excitement and speed of the sewing machine, while others get excited because they love the calm and relaxed nature of hand sewing.
Many Stitch Club projects are designed to share both experiences. I try to create a good balance between hand sewing and machine sewing. The easiest way to do this, is to design projects which begin with hand sewing, and are then completed by assembly on a sewing machine. Read on for advice on both.
Hand sewing can mean embroidery, or it can mean tacking pieces of fabric together in preparation to sew on the machine. It can also be sewing closed a project after filling it with stuffing, or sewing on buttons or beads.
Cross stitch is fun for children to try - this image is of my son: sewing is not just for girls!
Any kind of hand sewing is a great way to introduce children to sewing as it helps develop fine motor skills and encourages hand-eye-coordination. It's also a rewarding and calm hobby to encourage creative 'downtime' habits in children and adults. In current times when we all know it's easy for kids (and ourselves!) to have too much screen-time, something like embroidery is a wonderful way to dial it down.
Here are four tips to help your support your children's hand sewing:
When you introduce their first sewing practise, make sure it’s at a time when you’re available. Once they’ve learned a new stitch or technique you can leave them to practise, but be on hand to help with needle threading. This doesn’t mean you need to have any sewing skills yourself! As an adult, you will be able to follow a tutorial or guidebook, but most children will need a little help following instructions. Rest assured that once they’ve started stitching, they’ll develop more independence as time goes on!
Even if you have a kit, or project ready to go, it’s always good to have a scrap of fabric on which to practise new stitches. All of our guidebooks recommend this: you can either use scraps leftover from cutting out a project, or you could cut up an old piece of clothing or bedding. Your child will feel a lot less pressure launching into a sewing project if they’ve had a chance to figure out a new technique beforehand. Before they even try to learn real embroidery stitches, let them just explore using the needle to make any kind of stitch.
Invest in some Pilot ‘Frixion’ pens! These are children’s writing pens with a plastic tip which erases writing on paper by friction. They draw well on light coloured fabrics and the ink disappears at the mere whiff of heat from your iron. These pens give great scope for children to draw their own embroidery designs directly onto fabric (stock up on some cheap calico for embroidery practise). I also use them to mark stitching lines for anyone who needs a little help keeping hand-stitching consistent.
Offer encouragement and praise, but also critique! This is the tricky part - you want your child to enjoy their sewing, but also to see themselves improving, learning and therefore taking pride in their work. In the same way that you would correct their spelling, carefully suggest where they could take more time over spacing their stitches evenly. This comes more naturally to some children and you know what yours are capable of, so this is for you to judge.
Using a sewing machine
Using a sewing machine for the first time usually generates huge excitement in children! As I mentioned earlier, some of them do find it a little daunting, as do lots of adults! The most important thing for any adult or child sewing for the first time, is to 'play' first, before launching into a project where there is a need for precision.
In much the same way as hand sewing advice, find some scraps of fabric to practise on. Anything woven will do - this means fabric without stretch, so don't use t-shirt type material as this is challenging to sew.
Some of you might have an old hand-cranked Singer sewing machine lurking somewhere. Mine was given to me by my Mother-in-Law and I was amazed to find that it still worked! I've taken it to Stitch Club classes on many occasions and I can't overstate what a buzz it provokes from the children. This is my daughter at around age 7, working on a penguin softie. I made a pattern from her own drawing. Definitely a tutorial for a later blog post as it's a wonderful thing to do with your kids!
Here are some tips to help you and your children get started on a sewing machine:
Read the manual. A lot of parents struggle to teach their children to sew because it's completely new to them too. You don't have to love the idea of sewing yourself, but in order to get your child started you might need to dip your toe in the water! It's definitely not as hard as you think, and most manuals, though pretty dull, do explain the basics. If you’re new to sewing yourself, spend some time with the sewing machine manual: learn how to wind the bobbin, thread the machine, and sew a simple line of stitching. In time, I hope to add some resources to this blog to help you with this, but in the meantime there is a lot of information out there to help you get started.
Don’t be afraid of the sewing machine, and if something goes wrong, stay calm. It’s very difficult to break a sewing machine! I’ve had a lot of panicked students in class when fabric gets jammed, or a needle breaks. These things happen, and it’s normal. Have some spare needles to hand, and check the manual for how to change it. It’s a super simple procedure. If something really gets tangled and stuck, just switch off the machine and snip it away. Winding the balance wheel will usually release any leftover tufts of thread. If the stitching doesn't look nice, you can alter the thread tension (again, simple when you look it up in the manual!). If you're using a second hand machine and really having trouble, you may need to get it serviced.
Practise and play, and learn to switch between stitches. If you don’t want to use scraps, calico is widely available in fabric shops and online. It’s very basic and ideal for practising. After figuring it out yourself, show your child how to go forwards, and then gently turn the fabric as you sew, to make a curve. Look in the manual at how to select different stitches - change from straight stitch to zig-zag, and try altering the length and width of stitches. Find out how to sew backwards (you got it - check the manual!).
When your child has had a chance to 'play' and make some lines of stitches, then you can introduce a real project. The main area of control that they'll need to learn and practise, is sticking to a seam allowance. A seam allowance is simply the distance between the raw edge of the fabric, and the line of stitching which is made where the needle is. If you look on the sewing machine to the right of the needle, you'll see numbers, lines, and maybe a grid. These are your seam allowance guides. For example, where you see the number '15' that would be 1.5cms. Try sewing a straight line on a rectangle of fabric, keeping the edge lined up with one of the markings.
A single blog post can only help so much, but I really hope this at least may have given you food for thought, or perhaps an idea of where to start, and how to encourage your child. In time I'll add more posts here, aimed at helping you and your children with your sewing. If you're not confident figuring out your own projects, that's what Stitch Club was created for!
Great beginner kits designed to challenge and inspire
Visit the Stitch Club shop to see if there's a project that you think will inspire your child. If you can get the machine to work, the rest is included within the guides - they'll learn about seam allowances, what 'right sides together' means, how to look after embroidery threads and how to do things like tacking and embroidery. Each of our larger project kits includes an in-depth guide with all the help you'll need to assist your child - it's like a private sewing class in a box!