The fantasy goes something like this:
My darling daughters, inspired by my love of sewing, ask me to teach them. I show them how to sew by hand, and they fully engage with the process, enjoy the contemplative and soothing nature of the repetitive stitching motion, and produce divine hand sewn clothes for their dolls and gifts for their grandparents. They ask me to show them how to embroider, so I sit them down with a children’s cross stitch set and they work diligently and patiently, to produce gorgeous little samplers for their rooms and to personalise gifts for their grandparents.
They ask me if they can please use the sewing machine, and they sit quietly and attentively while I explain the safety aspects and show them how to thread the machine, and they confidently yet carefully produce row after row of neat, parallel stitching, smooth curves and sharp corners, and ask to make clothes for themselves. So I show them how to read a pattern …. And so it goes on, through to adulthood, by which time they have learnt a valuable life skill, learnt patience and perseverance, and have a satisfying and gratifying hobby.
I often let myself sink into this warm, soothing scenario. Isn’t it blissful? Can’t you just smell they sweet pea and honeysuckle wafting in through the open window and home-made bread proving in the barely-warm oven, butterflies flitting about in the kitchen garden, pristine lace across the kitchen windows, café-style.
Except, we don’t have any honeysuckle or sweet-pea in our garden, I don’t make bread, I haven’t seen a butterfly in an age and there is absolutely no lace to be found in our home. (Apart from in my vintage lace stash, which is to be looked at, touched, stroked, or even sniffed, but never used).
The mirror-side of this scenario is the one where they ask to be taught to sew (or, more likely, I have decided that they should learn and prise them away from Nick Jr to nourish their keen and eager minds), and none of us are prepared for the patience that will be required.
They get bored when it takes more than five seconds to sew a 2” seam on a pre-punched felt sew-it-yourself toy, throw a strop when the thread comes out of the needle, tantrum when it goes the wrong way, gets knotted or doesn’t look as tidy as the bit that I had started for them in order to show them how it’s done, and meanwhile I rapidly descend from excited-to-teach to mildly exasperated, frustrated, a bit annoyed, to full-on “I’m-not-doing-this-any-more”.
It probably doesn’t have to be like this though. Not all the time, at least.
There are loads of resources online on how to teach your children to sew, I’m not going to attempt adding to them – I doubt that I’m qualified to do so and I only have the experience of my own children. (I might change my mind down the line – ‘never’ is a very long time, and I reserve the right to make things up as I go along when it comes to my blog content.)
I can, however, share my own experience so far. It isn’t as impressive as those who seem to have their 4 year olds churning out cushions and appliqué bags on shiny vintage Singers, but I’m still pleased with the interest that the girls continue to show in my favourite activity.
My girls are still very young – at the time of writing they’re 5 and 3 years old. I have let both of them have turns at my Janome sewing machine, the elder child more so than the younger, naturally, but only for about 2 minutes at a time, before I get a bit twitchy and send them away to do something else. Partly out of fear that they’ll sew over their fingers (which is probably quite unlikely) and partly because I want my machine back (which might be a bit more likely).
Many commenters suggest that children should wait until 8 or 10 before sitting at their first sewing machine. I believe I was about 8 or 9 when my mum first let me sit at her Frister + Rossman, so I’m trying my best to be patient and wait for them to be a bit older, but it’s hard because I’m excited and want to share this wonderful hobby with them. (Although not my actual machine, obviously – I‘ll get them their own when we get there.) I should really also wait until they can reach the foot pedal. My Janome has a manual start-stop button on the actual machine that we’ve used when the girls have had a go, but using that means only having one hand to control the fabric at the crucial beginning and end of a seam, so it isn’t really ideal.
I started them ‘sewing’ with threading or lacing cards when they were about 2 years old. Initially I made my own by laminating some pictures from the internet, punching holes around the edge and giving them lengths of wool to ‘sew’ with, but I quickly bought a proper, wooden set, which has, to be fair, been very popular and regularly used. But the girls do still sometimes get frustrated with it, and I’m the one who’s expected to unpick all the stitching. Every time.
Then we moved on to those little pre-punched felt shapes with chunky plastic needles. They’re good if everybody’s in the right mood. If somebody’s in a bad or whiny mood they’re never going to cheer anybody up. And if the telly’s on – forget it.
Now, let me show you something wonderful. I saw these when I was at a trade fair in Germany with my friend in January – we saw this stand covered in little white 12” dolls, dressed in gorgeous little outfits, and I’m ashamed (although maybe also secretly a bit proud) to say that we both squealed like teenagers and rushed over to marvel and coo at the startled stall holders.
Dress Your Doll is a range of sew-your-own outfits for 12” fashion dolls, produced by Belgian company Roos Productions. The clothes are pre-printed on a knit polyester fabric which doesn’t fray and doesn’t need hemming, so your child can concentrate on the cutting and the sewing (sewing by hand is probably best as it’s slower).
A couple of months later I saw a prize draw on their blog which not many people had entered – so I had a go, and I won! Hurrah! Within hours of their arrival the first outfit was sewn and proudly modeled on a very lucky Barbie. This is the only outfit to have been made so far, I’m saving the remainder for the school summer holidays. Number 1 daughter really enjoyed making it, she cut the pieces out herself and, once I’d threaded the needle and explained how to sew the seams, sewed them together herself, too. As a first project, this was ideal, as the circle skirt has no seams to sew, and the boob tube has only one seam up the back, so it was a simple as it could possibly be, and a huge success for that very reason. The other costumes vary in complexity, some will require more help than others.
So – what have I learnt so far about teaching my offspring to sew? Take it easy, don’t stress!
Children are all different, have their own strengths and interests, and all develop at their own pace. While I really, really want them to love textile crafts as much as I do, I don’t want to put them off by expecting too much of them, too soon. And what if they prefer working with wood, or computer programming, or gardening, or painting, or PE, or engineering…? It’s all good, it’s all exciting, and I will encourage them in the directions that they show most interest in. I will try to let them experience as much as I am able to, to let them find their passion, whatever that might be.
But if they enjoy sewing as well – then of course that’s even better!