Beginning Machine Sewing with Children

by Tammy Tutterow

I remember as a child being fascinated watching my mom sew on her sewing machine. I couldn't wait until I got a chance to learn myself. I was thrilled when I made it to 8th grade and had Home Ec class with sewing!

I remember as a child being fascinated watching my mom sew on her sewing machine. I couldn't wait until I got a chance to learn myself. I was thrilled when I made it to 8th grade and had Home Ec class with sewing! Through the years, sewing has been both a beneficial skill and an enjoyable hobby. Not long ago I noticed my 7 year old daughter Emma watching me sew with that same fascination I remembered having. When she asked me if she could learn I decided to do a little research for tips and suggestions to teach her!


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A great first project for any beginning sewer is a stuffed pillow, which is simply created for two pieces of fabric cut the same size in a square or rectangle shape of any size. An easy option is to purchase fabric panel with a pre-printed project on it. For Emma's first sewing project we found a pre-printed panel with pillows in a favorite character. I loved the idea of using the pre-printed design because it gave her a clear cutting line that she could follow, allowing her to cut the pillows out herself. Emma used a pair of Precision-tip Kids Scissors to cut her fabric. They are sharp enough to cut a single layer of fabric easily while still being safe.

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After the two pillow pieces are cut out, place them right sides together and pin them in place. As I explained about pinning right sides together, I realized that instruction really needed to be in terms that she would understand and remember. She didn't understand what "right sides" were, however when I told her "pretty sides together" she caught on quickly.

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At each step in the project I tried to plant good habits that hopefully she will continue to use, like always pointing her pins in the same direction (head on the left, tip on the right) and to remove them and not sew over them. As she was pinning, she put a pin in her mouth. I told her that wasn't safe and to not do it. She told me that she learned it from seeing me do it. I was reminded that as I work I must keep good habits and practice safety myself because she is watching and learning from me even when I don't realize it.

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Because I prefer really sharp thin pins, I bought Emma pins of her own that would be a little more friendly. I chose pins that were long and with a large decorative head so that they would be easy to see and handle. I also bought her a magnetic pin dish. Magnetic pin dishes are great in case of accidents (less spillage and easier clean up) and also encourage the habit of always returning a pin to the dish after it is pulled.

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When sewing a pillow you need to leave an opening for turning and filling. To make it easy for Emma to remember to not sew that section, we marked the beginning and ending of the opening section with red pins (because red means stop!).

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Many of the sources for teaching children to sew suggest having the child start by sewing over lines drawn on paper or on striped fabric. I stitched a few lines on striped fabric to demonstrate sewing to Emma while telling her about the different parts of the sewing machine and what they do. We discussed machine safety, stressing finger and needle safety.

During our first few practice runs, I controlled the foot pedal and had my hands near hers to help direct the fabric. It didn't take long before she asked me to move my hands because she was comfortable with that part on her own. I imagine it will be several more lessons before she takes command of the pedal.

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After pinning, it is time to sew! For a beginner, it is recommended that they sew one straight line from the top to bottom edges of the fabric, sewing each side separately. As the sewer becomes more comfortable they can be taught pivoting and turning corners.

Using the edge of the presser foot as a seam allowance guide is simple and easy to remember for a beginning sewer. When they are ready for more advanced projects that call for a wider allowance, a strip of painter's tape on the machine at the desired measurement is a great way to mark the allowance. The tape is easy to see and follow and is removed easily with no sticky residue.

With Emma I continued to control the foot pedal. The longer we sewed together the more she started giving me voice commands, like slow down, faster, and stop. Doing voice commands helped her feel like she had some control while not having master the pedal.

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After sewing all four sides, turn the pillow right side out through the opening. Fill the pillow with fiber fill. Work the filling into the corners first and then into the center.

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After filling, pin the opening closed and whip stitch by hand.

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  • What age is the right age? Age isn't a factor, it is the ability to pay attention and follow instructions.
  • Always use age appropriate supplies.
  • Try to teach in terms the child will understand.
  • Always practice good safety tips yourself, they are watching what you do!
  • Make it a rule that sewing is only under adult supervision. Be sure to unplug the machine or make it inoperable to remove temptation.
  • Keep supplies like sharp cutting tools put away and off limits when it is not supervised sewing time.
  • Always stress safety, especially needle and cutting safety. Never let the fingers go on top of the presser foot. A beginner will probably do best to avoid touching the presser foot at all. Also teach them from the beginning to never sew over pins and to never put pins in their mouth.
  • Many experts advise to avoid the temptation to teach children to sew on child or cheap "craft" machines. They say they are unreliable and sometimes difficult to work with. A beginner can become easily frustrated with them and give up on sewing all together.
  • A bit of rubber shelf liner under the foot pedal can help keep it from sliding and moving.
  • A kitchen sponge under the foot pedal can absorb some of the pressure applied to the pedal, making it easier to go slower.
  • Painters Tape is great for marking seam allowances and creating a stitching guide on machines.
  • To keep your child engaged and paying attention, choose a project that can be done beginning to end in two hours.
  • Practice sewing lines on paper or on fabric.
  • Start sewing with long basting stitches first. They are the easiest to remove in case of mistakes.
  • Pinning and cutting on a cutting mat can help protect the work surface from pin gouges and scissor scrapes.

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