Welcome to the first post in a series of tips on how to help your kids build some basic sewing skills while developing a love for stitching and growing a deeper connection with you in the process.
There’s a lot to cover, so the series will be split into four segments:
I’m so glad you’re interested in teaching a kiddo how to sew. It takes a bit of time and a lot of patience, but seeing a child’s eyes light up with joy as they build a life skill makes it worth the effort!
Setting the Stage for Successful Sewing
#1 – Know Your “Why”
Before you even pick up a needle or thread your machine, take some time to think about why you’re considering starting on the “teaching my kids to sew” journey. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing makes it easier to follow through with love and patience when things get tough, boring, or frustrating. It also lays the groundwork for how you’ll respond to your child when mistakes are made, as they often will be.
Are you looking to teach a basic life skill? Build connection with your child? Grow in patience yourself and teach patience to your student? Teach an art form? Aim for perfection in a particular skill or project? Some (or all) of the above?
This might seem like a silly, tedious exercise, but having explored your motivations will make the teaching process smoother, gentler, and more focused on your main goal. Whether that’s a set of highly skilled little fingers or a heart full of stitching memories.
You might find, too, that the only reason you’re thinking of teaching your child to sew is that you feel like you “should”. Speaking from experience, doing things simply because there’s some invisible “should” burden you, someone else, or society has placed on your shoulders, doesn’t lead to a great learning (or relationship building) experience.
Someone out there needs to hear this: You don’t need to teach your kiddos how to sew. They’ll be just fine with all of the other skills and love you pour into their lives!
If your “why” isn’t centered on a “should”, though, keep reading for more tips on creating a calm, confidence-building sewing experience with your kids!
#2 – Be Realistic
Have a realistic outlook and goal(s).
If you’re teaching a young child to hand sew, it’s not going to look perfect. If you’re teaching an older child how to use a sewing machine, the lines aren’t always going to be straight.
Please don’t expect perfection, especially at the beginning of the learning process. I’ve been sewing for years now, after learning as an adult, and I *still* don’t sew everything correctly. I suspect I never will.
You’re setting yourself and your budding stitcher up for major frustration and disappointment if you expect too much too soon.
#3 – Decide on Your Response
Considering the tips from the last two days will help you with today’s exercise: Decide ahead of time how you’ll respond.
If your child makes a mistake, how will you respond? When your student gets frustrated and wants to give up, how will you respond? When life gets hectic and you feel distracted and rushed during a sewing session, how will you respond?
Make the decision now to respond with patience and encouragement and you’ll be more likely to actually respond like that in the moment.
Note that I said “more likely”. Also don’t be hard on yourself when you respond negatively during a heated moment. Take a breath, take a break, model apologizing (if necessary), forgiveness (if necessary), and pick that needle back up with a fresh start the next time.
#4 – Use the Right Tools
Use the right tools. They make everything easier! Here are some of my favorites.
(The following contains affiliate links. While I appreciate your support of my small business by purchasing through these links, I always encourage people to check with their local quilt shops first!)
- Chenille needles size #18 or #20
- 4” – 10” embroidery hoops
- Lightweight denim or quilting cotton (scraps are great for this!)
- Embroidery floss or sashiko thread.
- For very young kids, start by using a larger plastic needle with burlap, a plastic grid, or even a cereal box with holes punched in it (more on this later).
- ¾ size Janome machine (or whichever brand and style you’re already comfortable with)
- Quilting cotton or other midweight fabric with no stretch
- Pins and seam ripper
#5 – Start with the Basics
Start with the basics. And stay with them until mastered (whatever “mastered” means to you).
For hand sewing, the basics are running stitch and then backstitch and whipstitch. For machine sewing, the basics are pinning, sewing straight lines, then pivoting at corners.
You can do lots of projects with just these basic skills! I’ll be sharing specific projects for the last post of this series.
#6 – Limit Distractions
When you sit down to sew with your child, make it easier for the two of you to focus by limiting distractions. If you have a toddler, maybe sew during his naptime. If you have a frequently buzzing phone, turn it on silent. You get the drift.
When I’m rushed and/or focused on other things, I’m more likely to get frustrated and impatient with my kiddos, and I’m betting I’m not alone in that!
With very young children, your sewing sessions won’t last more than 10-15 minutes, especially at the beginning. Carving out 15 minutes to solely focus on your child and the task at hand will set you up for success. Plus, it will plant a small seed in your child’s heart of feeling worthwhile and loved.
#7 – Encourage Independence
Let your child do as much as possible by him or herself.
Mastering a task is a great confidence booster at any age. Resist the urge to prematurely step in and take over when a stitch isn’t straight or your kiddo is doing something differently than you would. Instead, demonstrate and talk through the skill you’re working on, then hand over the needle and step back. You might be surprised!
Of course, help when asked and guide as needed, but encourage your child to fly solo and try to figure out mistakes on her own first.
#8 – Take a Break
Stop before it gets overwhelming.
Overcoming a bit of frustration is good for the brain and the soul but, too much can feel like a brick wall in the middle of the learning process. Learn to read your child’s (and your own!) signs of frustration, so you can stop sewing before the tears start or a blow up happens.
Try to end sewing sessions on a positive note, even when emotions are running high, by saying something like, “I can see this is starting to make you upset. Why don’t we take a break and try again next time? I’m so glad I got to sew with you today!”
#9 – Be Encouraging
Last tip before we get into the specifics of sewing – BE ENCOURAGING!
Teach process over perfection.
Building a life skill takes time, practice, materials, energy, and, most of all, encouragement from people in a child’s life.