by Elizabeth Hill

A few thoughts about sewing …


          Teaching sewing to young people is a wonderful opportunity to help young minds be creative, develop confidence, learn practical life skills and just have productive fun.  When I see the light bulb of understanding go on inside a pupil’s mind I am thrilled. All the prep for a class is worth it when someone has that ah-ha moment.


          When teaching tweens and even teens, start with simple but stylish projects that will help them learn basic skills and have fun at the same time. Some students are just interested in the finished product. That’s good but I like to encourage them to enjoy the process of sewing. It’s not just how fast you sew that counts.  Students need to enjoy the process while they become competent sewers.
          One year I decided to go big with a class of brand new tweens and teens.  We were going to make an A-Line Skirt. Easy.  Simple. Stylish. But too big for a first project.  One or two days into the class I turned around to see that there was a sign posted on one of the sewing machines. Quite to the point, it said “I quit.” The student was gone. She had vanished. No one knew where she had gone.  Oh dear! After a quick search of the building and no student I finally went outside. There she was sitting in the family car waiting for her sister and mother to come when class was over.
Project 1- Easy Strip pieced Mini shoulder bag

We talked and decided it was just too stressful and we would need to loosen things up a little. We talked about her desire for perfection and that it takes everyone time to learn but it was more important to learn and enjoy the process and not feel the pressure of the finished project.  I am happy to say she completed her skirt and came back many times for more sewing classes. She was even teaching one of her friends how to sew.


          My point, too big too soon and frustration sets in….let’s start new students with simple projects that teach the basics; each project building on the last.  I will be sharing some very simple projects that help build basic skills: working with a paper pattern, cutting out pattern pieces, sewing straight lines with accuracy, turning corners, and sewing curves. These steps are the building blocks for many hours of sewing fun!
          Before your students start sewing spend time discussing the parts of a sewing machine. Once they know the new vocabulary everyone will be on the same page. It also helps them during the learning process if they understand the function of the different parts of the machine. What does a feed dog do?  Why a bobbin thread and a spool holder?  If your students learn on one machine in class but they know the parts of the machine then they won’t be intimidated when they see a different machine at home. Different but the same.
Project 2- Bucket of Humbugs
One more thing ….So often when young people are being taught to sew they are encouraged to practice sewing on ruled notebook paper. I was taught to follow the lines. I was really good on those lines.  The only problem with that is the eye becomes accustomed to following the lines and not the seam guide. We become fascinated with watching the needle go up and down. The needle will do its job. We have to learn to do our job and guide the fabric along the seam guide.  Over the years I have abandoned the practice of using paper and started to use scraps of fabric right from the beginning with my students.
Project 3- Fun in the Sun Visor
          To make it easy for them I use the inside edge of the presser foot as the seam guide. On most machines this will give you a generous ¼” seam allowance. With stacks of scraps at the sewing station young sewers will have fun and develop accuracy while they sew. They will learn how to control the fabric by gently guiding it to keep it even with presser foot. Paper has a different feel and acts differently.
          You will have some students who insist on doing the work of the feed dogs. They will push and pull with all their might. As teachers we need to give them time to learn to gently guide the fabric so the feed dog will its job. That takes time and practice.  They also need to be reminded numerous times to backstitch at the beginning and end of seams. Be prepared for half inch or longer backstitches. Again,  time and practice.
Project 4- Needle case
I hope you will enjoy these easy projects. They are great for beginners and fun for those who have been around awhile.

Project 1: Strip Pieced Mini Shoulder Bag
Project 2: Bucket of Humbugs
Project 3: Sun Visor
Project 4: Needle case


About the Author

Eizabeth Hill is a retired county extension agent who has taught countless 4-H’ers to sew. Elizabeth designs projects for Coats and Clark and she continues to share her love of sewing with youth in her church & community.

12 Responses to Teaching Sewing to Teens &Tweens
  1. great thoughts…..I’m attempting to teach a 13year old to sew this weekend and was wondering where to start….great to see someone else’s process!

  2. I think that advice applies to everyone, not just tweens and teens! I literally just started sewing at age 40 and the misconception that I could become an expert after taking my first sewing class. Too much, too soon is true for all of us! 😉 Thanks for the great advice – I’ll be sure to follow it myself (as i’ve lined up more easy projects to build confidence and continue to learn to sew straight and curved lines!).

  3. Excellent information & I’ll be watching for your projects!

  4. How do I get these projects to teach my young friend how to sew. I’m looking for projects like this for her to practice on to learn to use her machine. She does need to learn to sew a straight line and an even seam and how to put pattern pieces together. Need patterns. We’re both too, too busy to try to make them up. Help!! I don’t have any of the accounts or a URL so I don’t know how to comment except as anonymous.

  5. The projects will appear each Thursday here on sewing secrets.

  6. This might be for Tweens and teen. But I think any new sewer who wants to learn would be interested in learning should take this course.

  7. This is a wonderful, thoughtful series. My grandson wishes to lean at seven I am worried about sewing fingers. Is he to young?

  8. As a teen who sews, I have never tried to do any “easy” projects. I’ve sewn a semi-formal dress for a school dance, several skirts, and some alterations on existing clothes, with varying degrees of success on each project. Make sure that whoever you are teaching chooses a project which interests them, as it will be more fun that way.

  9. Thanks! Going to try with my little girl who’s 10. I like the way you covered the basics.

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you! A friend and I have been working with a small group of kids at our church to teach them to sew. This will be such a help!

  11. I (who speak no Spanish)volunteer to teach 7 – 10 Spanish seniors ( no English! ) once a week. Your ideas are very helpful since they are usually trying to sew for great grandchildren or the donations we make periodically to NICU units.. The spit cloths, 5×7 fleece hats and sometimes bags for themselves…. It would be easier if I didn’t have to guess on some of your examples. Thanks for your time and knowledge. Donna


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