This summer I had the joy of teaching a young gal from our church how to sew. K's desire was to make her own dress, so together we set out to do just that. When we started, K didn't know how to sew on the machine or how to hand sew. This post will explain how she went from no experience to successful sewist of both her own tote bag and dress in 5 lessons! We met 5 times for 2 hours each time. 2 hours was the perfect amount of time - it was enough for us to accomplish quite a bit, but when the 2 hours were up it seemed that while K could keep going, she was also happy to stop. Her mother owned a portable sewing machine, which K brought to her lessons and was the key to her successfully completing the two projects in the allotted time frame. She didn't work on either of the projects apart from our lessons, but I did send her home with "homework" after our first 3 lessons that was geared to help her become comfortable and accurate with the machine.
For our first lesson, we began by discussing safety and the basics of how the machine worked. I likened the machine to a car, it was her job to give the machine "gas" by stepping on the pedal, and to "drive" it by guiding the fabric, but she was to let the machine do the work of feeding the fabric through - no pushing or pulling - just like her mother let the car get them where they needed to go. We also discussed putting your needle down, lifting the presser foot and pivoting the fabric to handle curves. I used this handout and had her stitch one line each using an old needle and no thread. We then learned how to thread the machine and practiced seaming some scraps together so she could get a feel for keeping the edge of the fabric lined up with a specific line on the machine rather than looking at the needle while she stitched. The guidelines on her mom's sewing machine were not that easy to see so I put a piece of washi tape on the throat plate so K clearly knew where to line the fabric up. This proved quite successful and so I kept putting a piece of washi tape on the throat plate for whatever seam allowance she needed to stitch. It was one less thing she needed to concentrate on.
While she was stitching, I cut the fabric out for her tote bag using a rotary cutter and mat. We used this free pattern to make her bag. We began with top stitching the pocket onto the lining. K was a little nervous about top stitching, but we discussed that just about everything can be fixed in sewing and that if she didn't get it quite right, then we would learn how to use the seam ripper. She was also top stitching an inside pocket that only she would see so it was a great place to start. She did a terrific job. That was the end of her first lesson. For "homework" I asked her to sew the second of each of the lines on the handout, as well as stitch her way through a maze. I also sent her home with several "dot to dot" pictures to stitch.
For her second lesson we worked full tilt on her bag. This lesson actually went 2 and 1/2 hours which worked out well, because K really wanted to finish that bag. We managed to do just that except for hand sewing the lining closed. The bag was a great first project because it was a lot of straight sewing which really helped her get comfortable with the machine. It also introduced the concept of seaming. For homework, I send her home with several scrap pieces of fabric to seam together. Several of them included curves.
For our third lesson, we learned how to handstitch the lining of her tote bag closed and then moved on to cutting out her dress. I gave K a list of dress patterns to choose from including: Simplicity 8104, 2241, and 2377 (View A without trim or View F).McCalls M7768 (with contrast fabric, not trim), 7558 (without trim), or 5797. All of these patterns are simple to sew and don't have a zipper, collar or buttons. I specified the views without the trim because attaching trim accurately can be difficult for a beginning sewist. Of course, handling a zipper, collar and buttons are skills that I hope K will learn in time, accurately handling curves was enough of a challenge. K chose to make Simplicity 8104. It is a reversible wrap dress.
We discussed how to read a pattern, the information included in the pattern and then laid out and cut out the dress. K learned about selvages, one way designs, and laying out on the grain. I helped with both the pinning and the cutting. The cutting sheers were hard for her to handle so I often cut the curves, but she did the rest. For homework, I taught her how to zig zag the edges of the fabric to finish her seams. Although with a reversible dress, this wasn't necessary since all the seams edges are enclosed, it gave K more practice using the machine, and taught her a skill she will need for a future project. For lessons 4 and 5 we made the dress. For each step we read the pattern together so that she could begin to understand how to read a pattern and understand pattern directions. I then showed her what the directions were telling her to do. For both projects K and her mom purchased quilting cottons from the big box sewing store. K commented that her dress was a little stiff (she is already beginning to understand drape), but I wanted her to have the fun of picking out her fabrics in person and quilting cotton is such an easy first fabric to work with. K sewed the entire dress by herself. I often stepped in to make sure that things were lined up and did help with hand sewing the hem and shoulder closed, but K did every bit of machine sewing. The dress fit her beautifully and you can tell by that amazing smile that K was very pleased with the results! You can find more resources on teaching children to sew on my Teaching Children to Sew Pinterest Board.