And when you teach kids to cook, you're not going to start out by handing them Julia Child's recipe for Coq au Vin. First, you let them whisk while you hold the bowl (always hold the bowl, unless you're a total masochist — or you have a maid, and then by all means let your maniac child beat some batter solo). When they've got that down, you let them crack an egg. And as they prove they can be trusted, you might even let them stir at the stove.
It's the same with sewing: your kid will be plenty challenged by taking over just a few of the easiest steps. And in time, if they enjoy it, they work their way up to the point where you don't have to hover over their shoulder to make sure that they remember to put the presser foot down.
• Safety — Many people wonder about the safety of letting a child sew. After all, the needle is sharp and little fingers aren't always so careful. But if there's one thing that kids truly HATE (next to daily sunscreen applications and food touching other food, especially green food) it's needles. Kids will talk to you ALL DAY LONG about how much they hate needles. And they are pretty good at keeping away from the things they hate, including green food, socks with seams (yes, I'm aware that all socks have seams), and needles.
That said, there are some kids who would gladly sew their fingers together just to mess with you — and those kids shouldn't be trusted with a sharp pencil, let alone a sewing machine. You know your kid best. If your child sits still for an art, craft or building project, then they might have the maturity for sewing. This is NOT coded language for "boys don't/can't/won't sew." To the contrary, I think many boys would be interested in sewing if given the chance; after all, they get to put their foot on a pedal, which is kind of like driving a car, and they get to construct, an activity that for some reason is considered a male domain — except when it's done with fabric. (Whatever you do, don't try to teach a four-year-old to sew. Four-year-olds think they know everything. Wait at least until your child has been humbled by the rigors of Kindergarten.)
• Skip the technical stuff for now — When I teach adults to sew, winding a bobbin and threading the machine are the first skills I want them to master. If they have any hope of sewing independently, these are the two most important skills they can take away from a beginner class. But kids just want to get down to business — and they might get bored if too much time is spent on setting up. (Teens and confident tweens, however, are capable of quickly mastering the skills of bobbin-winding and machine-threading. I have one student who claims bobbin-winding is her "favorite." Some of my adult students, meanwhile, really sweat it every time they have to change their bobbin).
• Introduce one element at a time: When you were a kid did your dad or grandpa ever let you steer the car? While a perfectly responsible adult may let a child take a turn at the steering wheel, you would have to be the town idiot to also let them operate the gas and the brake too. A sewing machine is likewise a pretty complex piece of machinery. But you can let a kid start out slowly by doing just one task at a time; she can "steer" while you drive (press on the foot pedal), or operate the pedal while you steer.
|Following a chalk line is easier for kids|
• Go threadless — Eliminate another element by removing the thread from the machine and giving your child a piece of paper instead. He or she can practice stepping on the foot pedal and feeding the paper under the presser foot without you having to worry about tangled thread, wasted fabric, or a jammed-up machine. They will be delighted to see all the little holes the needle makes in the paper (if you're worried about dulling a needle, save an old one for times like this). A simple connect-the-dots sheet is good practice for kids learning how to manoeuvre fabric on a curve or around a corner.
• Lower your expectations (and theirs) — This is not your sweatshop and they don't work for you. Depending on your child's age, you might only have a half-hour before they lose interest and move on to something else. So choose a quick project they can complete easily to build confidence and interest. A doll pillow or blanket, simple bag, or gathered skirt with an elastic waistband, are all great first projects for young sewers.
• Share the load — If your child is hellbent on sewing something more complicated, think about what tasks they can handle and which ones you should do (for safety reasons and also to avoid too much frustration at the outset). Cutting out the paper pattern and straightstitching the side seams of a dress may be enough involvement for a younger child. Or perhaps your kid will like marking the fabric with a chalk pencil and snipping stray threads with little clippers after you sew every seam. (Again, you might be surprised by what sewing-related tasks your kid will happily handle. Take prewashing fabric, for example. My kid will spend a happy half-hour handwashing fabric in the bathroom sink. It's like a trip to the water park without having to apply sunscreen. I win.)
• Make it easy — Take a few extra steps to simplify each task, and your child is less likely to give up in frustration. Use a ruler and chalk to draw seam lines for him to follow (rather than use the throat plate guide). Or trace the outer line on a paper pattern in a felt pen or highlighter so your kid avoids cutting through the wrong part of the pattern.
If teaching your kid to sew sounds like work for you, that's because it is. But just as a kid who helped prepare dinner is more likely to actually eat it, so too will a child who helped sew wear a new dress you made (rather than leave it to gather dustbunnies on the floor of her closet. Cough, cough, ingrate, cough, cough, been there). In time, you will have to help less and less and your kid will have learned a valuable skill.
|That's right, she made this.|
Any other tips you can add on getting kids started with machine-sewing? Share them in the comments!