How to Sew with Children

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Teaching children to sew, or do anything else you have a talent in, is a rewarding but challenging endeavor. Yet, I challenge you to teach what you know, whether it is sewing, cooking, painting, woodworking, etc. Children are eager learners and especially want to do what you are passionate about.

Here I am going to share 12 tips on teaching children to sew with you. If you have never sewn with a child before, hopefully this will inspire you to start. And if you have been sewing for many years, maybe some of this practical advice will help you.

Thank you so much to Clothworks and Leslie Mark for the beautiful Unity fabric line we worked with. (see photos below)

1. Sewing with your own children is probably most challenging of all. Ha! They know the buttons they can push, and your patience with them tends to be shortest. If possible, SWITCH CHILDREN with a sewing friend and be amazed with the results. If not possible (as it is not for me), sew only when you have had a good night’s rest and a lot of energy.

2. With that said, all children can only SEW FOR A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME. I sew with girls ages 7 to 13. A seven year old is good for about 15 minutes. I have found this true of both easy-going children and high energy. Start early and give lots of breaks. You will all appreciate it.

A 13 year old can sew for about 45 minutes before quality starts to decline. The best scenario is once a week sewing, but if cramming in a project at the last minute, do not have more than 3 sessions a day with lots of break time in between.

3. Along the same lines, keep your environment FREE FROM DISTRACTIONS. Turn off the TV and send the other kids outside to play. It’s hard enough to concentrate on sewing!

4. LET THEM CHOOSE THE FABRIC. Yes, I know it’s not what you would want. And with my kids, I can normally talk them into more of what I would use. But in the end, does it really matter? After all, when they pick it, they will probably use what they make from it.

Woven cottons are the best choice for first projects as they do not stretch or slip around much on the sewing machine.

5. If you don’t have a large cutting table, YOU CAN CUT ON THE FLOOR. Place a large quilting ruler under the fabric and let them guide the scissors on that. My daughter suggested it, and I’ve found it to work very well. If you don’t own a quilting ruler, I’ve found them inexpensively at JoAnn’s. (make sure to search for a 40% or 50% off coupon)

6. I love children’s sewing machines. In fact, Anna has the Hello Kitty one. They are great for letting children explore sewing on their own and create their own projects. But when it comes to making something nice, SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS. Help them to sew on the best sewing machine you own. Features like needle-down and the scissor tool can help them greatly on their projects. The stronger feed dogs on a higher-end machine may be the very thing that makes them fall in love with sewing. The idea is not to discourage.

On a side note, I find that a serger is just too dangerous for a child under 10 years old.

7. A pair of PINKING SHEARS is a wise investment. 4-H judges here consider them an adequate way to finish seams for a beginning sewist. Want to take a step up? Consider French seams as a great way to completely enclose raw edges.

8. Very young children can sit on your lap to sew while you push the pedal. I’m talking about 3-5 year olds. They can still guide the fabric while you help them start and stop. But a little bit older child who cannot reach the pedal can reach it by PLACING THE PEDAL ON A BOX. We also have an office chair so that I can raise the seat height up closer to the machine.

9. CONSIDER WHO YOU’RE WORKING WITH. One of my daughters needs instant results. Try to choose projects that will take only a few days, such as a bag or an apron. As she gets more experienced, clothing is often pretty quick as well.

My other daughter is patient and likes to sew because she gets to spend time with Mom. Quilt blocks are perfect for her. We still stick with that 15 minute rule, but projects that go on and on are no problem. The end result is less important to this sort of child than the time spent together.

10. CHOOSE THE RIGHT PATTERN. Learning to sew is a lot about keeping spirits high. Starting with too challenging of a pattern can be a deal breaker. In my opinion, skills are acquired something like this:

  • sewing a straight line
  • sewing around a curve
  • pressing
  • top stitching
  • gathering
  • inserting elastic into a casing
  • using bias tape
  • making your own bias tape

These skills are easily a couple of years of lessons. If you can teach the first four things, you can sew a pattern like this:

Or these capri pants from the Spring Break pattern:

Add in gathering and you can make an apron (tutorial coming).

There are several straight line quilts that can be made by beginners as well. The pattern below is the ModKid Malibu and was the perfect thing for Anna to make for herself and her sister this summer. She is nine and has been sewing for several years. It featured an elastic waistline and lots of bias tape.

The fabric was provided by Leslie Mark, the designer, who works with Clothworks.

We are pretty much in love with these dresses.

And even wore them on the runway for the 4-H Style Revue. Anna received a blue ribbon on both.

Just a couple more tips . . .
11. Don’t let the mistakes bother you too much. For a very young sewer, go ahead and rip out for her (or him). A little older? Share in the ripping. We all have to do it. We all hate it. I also feel like if the rotary cutter is necessary, most children do not have the height or upper body strength to manipulate it. Go ahead and do it for them. You are wanting to create excitement, so DO NOT BE A PERFECTIONIST.
12. Most important of all, SHARE YOUR LOVE OF SEWING. Encourage, encourage. I know it’s hard to work with children, but in the end, you want them to love it. Think of the reward, be patient and don’t expect too much.  You will truly be surprised by how fast they learn.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Psalm 127:3


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2 thoughts on “How to Sew with Children

  1. Great tips! Perfect timing, I am planning to get a sewing kit and supplies to get my six year old started sewing. She has a little Janome machine , but I agree my big machine is easier to use.

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