I have an AMAZING job. I teach sewing as an elective at the middle school. The kids in class are 10 – 13 years old. I have refined my teaching style and my delivery to match my audience. While my class is “formal”, and I do require focus, it is an elective, and all the kids are really excited to be in the class. Some of them are so excited that they can’t help themselves. And I find that charming. When I think that there is still so much love and energy “for good” flowing through their veins I can’t help but drink that in and meet it “in kind”.
For our lesson here today I want to pass along how to teach the mechanics of sewing. This is what I talk about the first few classes.
First and foremost I teach safety. They don’t need to fear the machine, but they need to understand it. If they KNOW how it could hurt them, and then they know how to avoid the pitfalls. I have written on the board the first day:
The needle is sharp.
Pins are sharp.
Scissors are VERY sharp, and have blades.
The seam ripper is pointy AND sharp in two different places. Beware.
Irons get HOT.
The stools twirl. (no joke, kids have gotten to twirling on the stools and fallen off. So far, it has (only) been funny, but there is potential for injury there too, so I do mention it.)
The machines moves quickly.
We talk through all of these dangers. Needles and pins do not need much explanation. “Consider yourself warned”. Scissors deserve a little more time. We have “fabric scissors” and “craft scissors”, and the twain shall never meet. : ) The fabric scissors are very sharp. I teach how to pass scissors to another person so there is no danger. And the fabric scissors in our class are kept in their own plastic blade covers.
Seam rippers are a necessary tool, unfortunately. There is no “shame” in seam ripping, only lessons. But I talk about it before they need to use it, so that there is no “shame” implied when they are sent to do the ripping. I explain this using my hand to demonstrate. “Act like my hand is the seam ripper.” (I point my finger up, and hold out my hand like an “L”.) “The point is sharp – you can SEE that. But the other sharp part is here…” (Point to the inside curve of between your thumb and your index finger) “This will cut the threads. And that is the GOOD news. The bad news is that will cut the fabric too. And that is going to be a project wrecker. The worse news is that if your run that into your flesh, it will cut you. So you will use this tool away from your friends, and with a quiet concentration and lazar focus. And NOT is a twirly chair”. They can tell from the look on my face that I am not kidding around.
We talk about the iron together. And, can I just say, for a lot of my girls, this is the first time they have ironed. (WOW. There are some houses that do not even have an iron in the house. ) I heat up the iron and I hold it in front of them. I assure them that the plastic does not get burning hot, only the face plate. Then I actually iron in front of them. And for many of them, this is the first time they have seen anyone ironing. Here is an important teaching moment for me. “I will teach you how to iron. Some people find it a very peaceful tranquil activity. And some people find it a chore. I will teach you how to do it, and I will require you to iron the seams of some of your projects. And then, you will go on, and grow up and be amazing and successful in your own right, and then you will CHOOSE whether you find ironing peaceful, and you do it yourself, or you find it a chore, and you will pay someone else to iron for you. Either way, I will salute your choice. ” I don’t feel anyone is “above ironing” or “beneath ironing”, its just a choice.
When it is time for them to sit down and SEW I teach them how to thread the machine and the bobbin. There are numbers on our machines at different points so they can just follow the numbers. And they can ALWAYS ask for help. When it came time to sew I figured out that many of them did not know how to use the pedal. On the tip of my tongue were the words “Honey, it’s just like DRIVING!” and then, whoa, an 11 year old has never driven a car. Their driving experience is limited to a bumper car ride or the Autotopia at Disneyland! They. Have. Never. Driven. A. Car. (oh bless their little hearts. There is one area of “grown up” technology that has not leeched it’s way down to our kiddies yet!) After some rocky staccato lurky-jerky sewing, I bent down and figured out that they literally do not know how to use a pedal. How would they know, they have never climbed into the front seat and watched anyone’s feet! I take the pedal off the machine, and (I am not kidding here) I sit on a chair on a table and show them how to press on a pedal. I was seeing all kinds of tip-toe action. I show them how to keep their heel ON THE FLOOR, and only push their toe down. I talk about using their foot as a lever. And about how the pedal is actually manual, it is not an ipad or touch screen. When they start sewing, we work on scrap paper first. I have them sew along the edge of the paper. Then I offer a cut piece of paper with a gentle curve, and have them maintain a consistent seam allowance with that. Once they have shown me some good results on paper, we add thread and fabric to the equation, and start on a real project.
I feel like this is enough information for them to handle, and gets them to the place where they can sew a basic project.
Happy sewing people. May all your days be filled with the unbridled enthusiasm of a kid in an elective.
© 2005 – 2015 Kathy Lewinski & Susan Cornish