Teaching Kids To Sew

I'm often asked when's the right time to start teaching kids to sew and in today's modern world there's only one real answer - get them before technology does! With a click or a swipe, kids have access to a world of learning and entertainment but are they using their imaginations or their creativity? Are they learning important life skills?

Ask a teenager for help with a computer problem and they'll have it solved at lightning speed but ask them to sew a button on a shirt and they'll probably have to Google it. ;)

Here's little me, sewing away in the back yard at around age four or five - alfresco sewing, all the cool kids did it! ;) Mum was a dressmaker and I wanted to be just like her. I'd spend hours sewing clothes from her scraps and they never fit my dolls properly, but I was in my happy place. I copied everything mum did - when she knitted, crocheted, cooked or sewed, so did I.

Sewing is one of the life skills I've taught both of our kids (and their friends) and I'll teach our grandchildren too... as soon as we get some. ;) I've never pushed our kids to sew and they both started at different ages and in different ways because at that specific time in their lives they were motivated to learn.

I've put together a list of things I've learnt when I started Teaching Kids To Sew:

1. Age Doesn't Matter, Motivation Does.

Only you will know when your child is ready to start sewing because kids develop at their own pace. They'll start to take interest in what you're doing, ask a tonne of questions and they'll be motivated to try themselves.

Cohen would sit on my lap as I sewed, or he'd be under my table arranging fabric scraps into wonderful creations. He started sewing at the machine at around three because he wanted to sew lines of the fancy embroidery stitches. I'd control the pedal and he would feed the fabric. Madeline started at four and her interest was sparked when she found some horse fabric she wanted to sew into a cushion by herself.

There's no right age to start so if they're asking to learn, teach them otherwise technology will entertain them. Its quality time you're spending together and its beneficial for their hand eye coordination, their fine motor skills and finger dexterity. It also teaches them patience and confidence and you're empowering them to use their imagination and create.

2. Real Tools, Less Frustration.

The biggest mistake I made with Madeline was buying her one of those toy sewing machines. It would tangle easily, skip stitches and while I was trying to fix it, she'd be off finding something way more fun to do - it was a frustrating toy for me, so Madeline had no chance. I switched her to my old machine, and she was hooked!

Use real sewing tools with constant supervision and teach them about safety every lesson!  Give them a sewing basket and include tools that cut, sew, pin, unpick and measure properly - frustration will set in if they are trying to create with tools that don't work correctly or yield disappointing results.

Rotary cutters and hot irons are best left until they are older (around 10-12) but constant supervision is a must - inattention can make them dangerous to us and we're been using them for years!

3. Safety First, Always!

Kids respect rules and they need boundaries so start from the very first lesson. Make them aware of the dangers and teach them to respect the equipment so they stay safe. They'll develop their listening skills when given basic instruction and learn patience between tasks. They'll also begin to understand that individual steps bring them closer to their goals and yield rewarding results.

Kids are inquisitive so it's also a good time to teach them how your machine works, and how you clean and maintain your machine, so they understand and respect proper safety. Also show them the correct way to store fabric and supplies to keep everything in tip top condition.

It's also important to teach them to protect their younger siblings by storing their sewing supplies correctly and out of reach of little fingers. They'll learn responsibility and accountability, and it makes them feel very grown up!

4. Keep It Simple, Keep It Short.

Hand sewing is always a great first option when teaching your child to sew but when they're ready for the machine start off with a few practice lessons in straight sewing and pivoting. Striped fabric is perfect for practising on because they can follow the lines or use some printed practice sheets.

I've put together a fun kids booklet for you to download and print and its full of different practice sheets to help them build their skills. There's six sewing exercises, an About Me page and a Certificate at the end to celebrate completing all the tasks. Just click the link below and print as many as you need:

Kids become bored quickly, so chose projects that sew together fast! A simple stuffed pillow or pincushion is always a good place to start. If they can finish a project quickly and use it straight away, they're motivated to sew again.

Quilt panels or large novelty prints make quick quilt tops or use precuts - charm packs are already cut and easily pieced together and jelly roll strips can be cut and sewn quickly and easily to make some fabulous creations.

Keep the projects simple and sew in short sessions to keep them motivated and focused!

5. Division Of Labour

It really doesn't matter how much of the sewing you do yourself, it's still their project and its more about creating with them than the division of labour. Madeline would sew for ages and then ask me to finish it for her, Cohen would sew small amounts and get annoyed if I moved it even slightly before he came back for his next sewing session! 

At the beginning, I would control either the foot pedal or I'd feed the fabric until the kids felt confident to do both by themselves. You may need to sew a tricky corner or pin the seams, or you may need to sit with them while they sew every stitch - do whatever it takes to bring their creation to life. 

As they get older and more confident, you'll find they only call on you to fix something or to check if they're doing something correctly.

Cohen's Creations - age 3

6. If They Can Imagine It, They Can Sew It.

Let them decide the whole design process, from choosing the project, the fabric, the thread colour and any embellishments. Kids have no fear when mixing colours or fabrics and experimenting with shapes and design will teach them patience and build their confidence, so let them play!

I dragged both of our kids to the fabric shop and quilt shows, and it wasn't long before they started to imagine their own projects and purchase their own supplies.  

Listen to their vision and take a step back, giving them space to create (supervised of course).  They may make a pillow with 65 gaudy feathers stuck on the front but hey, they imagined that pillow, they sewed that pillow and they love that pillow...how special is that?

7. Mistakes Happen.

Nothing happens that can't be fixed, unpicked or left to love because its different. Kids are great at looking past imperfections and loving everything they create, and that's a good reminder for us to be kinder to ourselves when looking at our own work or the work of others.

Dressmaking at school was soul crushing! One mistake could cost you your machine licence and you'd be ostracised in the hand sewing corner for a week or two. I wasn't sewing for Versace; I was sewing because I loved to create, and I could live with a few imperfections. I dropped dressmaking and took Advanced Maths, content to sew at home with a mum who was encouraging, who didn't notice the little puckers and who was always ready to take over when something was too hard - and together we made some pretty cool outfits!

Make it fun and if mistakes happen, help them fix it or make it different. Be led by your child because it's their project and if they're OK with it, that's all that matters!

(Madeline and one of her bridesmaids - age 10)

8. Make It Social, Make It Cool Again.

Play dates and sleepovers became sewing time in our house. Friends would come over, learn new skills and go home with a gorgeous creation. It was a great bonding experience for the kids, and their time together wasn't wasted in front of the television or computer.

At parent help I noticed that kids were rushed through simple craft projects because teachers had a very small window of time to run the activity. At our house I offered valuable one on one time where they had access to fun supplies, they could be as creative as they wanted for as long as they wanted, and they made some gorgeous projects.

I've taught both boys and girls to sew, embroider and tonnes of other crafts and they were all eager to learn - by making it social, I'd made it cool again! The first question they asked when coming in the door was, what are we making today? Of course the next one was about food! ;) Fun times!

Teaching kids to sew is easier than you think. They have so much enthusiasm, they have no fear and they're always willing to learn. Take advantage of this precious time and create together as much as you can because before you know it, they'll be grown up and moved onto other things...but at least you'll know you've passed on a valuable life skill!

Happy sewing :)
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  1. Kathleen KingsburyAugust 14, 2019 at 6:37 AM

    Very good post! Thank you! The other day I had to sew a patch on my 4yo granddaughter's favorite bear's ear. She rubs holes through it and I've fixed it multiple times. I always ask her if she wants to learn to sew on a sewing machine some day and she says yes. Well that day I had to hand sew the patch and she watched me and said "that's how you sew??" I told her this is how I have to fix bear's ear and it's called hand sewing because he can't fit in my sewing machine. She was a bit amazed!
    kakingsbury at verizon dot net

    1. Oh sounds like she's taking an interest and is ready to try herself. That's precious Kathleen. She reminds me of my daughter. She had a Mickey Mouse from birth and she rubbed his ear to fall asleep. He was dragged around everywhere, left in the supermarket a couple of times and patched more times than I can remember ;) She still has him and she's 25! I hope your grand daughter enjoys learning and I hope the workbook comes in handy :) And YAY for a freshly patched teddy!


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