On Learning to Sew

by teri on April 18, 2014

Lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about how to teach kids to sew (and you’ll see some of the fruits of those brain labors in our May-June 2014 issue due on newsstands 4-22, woot!). And we started talking amongst ourselves:

  • How old were we when we learned to sew?
  • Who taught us?
  • Did we have sewing in school as a class?
  • Any memorable kid-sewing stories?
  • Have we/are we teaching our own kids to sew?

Of course, we have to share the answers with you:

Melissa Thompson Maher, editor-in-chief–

How old? I learned to hand-embroider at age 5, sitting in my grandmother’s un-air conditioned farmhouse kitchen. She probably set me the task so I would be quiet.  I still have the dish towel I embroidered way back then with a simple outline design.
I learned how to use the sewing machine at age 7 or 8, and probably made a simple (somewhat icky) lined vest, which was one of the 4-H projects I could choose from as a beginner. I was a 4-H member for at least 10 years, and sewed many garments throughout that time.

Who taught? My mom. Four girls, all learning to sew. Patience of a saint, I tell you!

Sewing in school? Yes, in high school. I remember being the only one who really did not need basic instruction, so the teacher basically just left me alone. (Yay!) I could even do zippers, collars and linings (although time has probably dimmed my recollection of how well done those actually were.

Tried to teach your kids to sew?  My girls have each done some sewing. Both can use a machine and do basic things. One has even made a quilt. And the other–the happy recipient of her great-aunt’s Featherweight– has since started working on her own to improve her sewing skills.


Michelle Freedman, advertising manager–
How old? 7
Who taught? My mom and also my neighbor Christin, who was one year older,  taught me to sew. We sewed together and she was already a year into it.

Sewing in school?  Yes, it was supposed to be one semester but, I had surgery and couldn’t do PE so I took it all  year. My teacher was evil (a.k.a. Old School) and made most people afraid of sewing. However, she had those Butterick and McCalls pattern books and I stayed on her good side because I was obsessed with those and got to look at them every day, planning what I was going to sew next.

Memorable kid-sewing story:  There are a few. My favorite was at a friend’s quinceñera. (A celebration of a Hispanic girl’s 15th birthday.) She had a fortune teller who told me that I was going to write sewing and cooking books. I thought she was crazy and I was disappointed. All the other kids were getting more “worthy” information:  They would have families, careers, marry doctors, be rich – what the heck?! – I was going to grow up to sew and cook? I wrote it down in my diary, reading it years later when I was home from college. (I was in New York City studying Fashion Design.)

In high school I made prom dresses for all my friends. I would remake stuff from Goodwill or copy vintage dresses I saw in magazines (loved those 1920′s dresses). When the movie Pretty in Pink came out I was so mad! They stole my story (thought it was kinda cool) I would have made that pink dress so much prettier!

Tried to teach your kids to sew? I’ve taught more than 100 kids how to sew, including my own. It’s one of my most favorite things to do. I started teaching kids summer sewing camps in 2008. I read about another gal in town who was doing that and though it would be fun. I invited my daughter’s friends and we had a blast. I have done this every summer since, expanding into something I do professionally.

Teri Lucas, associate editor – online/special projects–
How old?  I seriously do not remember.

Who taught? I think my mom taught some and I do remember having home ec in 7th & 8th grades.

Memorable kid-sewing story:  I have a crochet moment, kinda related. My mom showed me how to crochet, a basic chain stitch. I went to my room and made a little purse.

Tried to teach your kids to sew?  No. Ain’t got none. However, I have given my nieces lessons on how to use their sewing machine.

Variation on the theme: Would I teach kids to sew? I’m pretty patient with kids and enjoy helping them choose fabrics for their projects.  Teaching, no. Why? I enjoy kids and I love their enthusiasm, however, at the ripe old age of 40-something I know my limits. I can help the kids, but spending several hours? Mmm, no.

Megan Dougherty, associate editor–
How old? My mom decided to try to teach me to sew when I was about 15. For some reason, she chose a pattern for a terry cloth, one-piece romper that I seriously doubt I ever would have worn. My mom was a wonderful seamstress, but not even her skill and her workhorse Singer 301 could handle the approximately 700 layers of terry cloth that came together in the crotch of that thing. “Crotch-rock” was a private joke between us for years: “How did those new pants fit? Any crotch-rocks?” But years before that, when I was 8 or 9, she taught me cross stitch and needlepoint.

Who taught? I really taught myself how to use a sewing machine and all the sewing I know how to do today has been self-taught.

Did you have sewing in school? No.
Have you tried to teach your kids to sew? Yes. Both girls have used the sewing machine to piece quilts and make pillow covers and pillowcases. Devon has also done straight-line quilting on a doll quilt.

What happened? No crotch-rocks, that’s for sure. Both seem to find the process a little tedious at this point, mainly because they are too scared of everything to sew faster than one stitch every two or three seconds.


Joan Phelps,  Creative Director (now retired)–
How old?  7

Who taught?  Mom, of course.

Did you have sewing in school? Yep, in middle school and high school

Memorable kid-sewing story?  One summer I was spending a week with my grandmother (my dad’s mom) and she was always sewing something, often quilts. I was about 7, I made my first and only quilt, but for my doll house. It  was about 3″ x 5″ and the blocks were all squares and about 1/2 inch each, all hand sewn, made from scraps from old clothes. I also learned to use my great-grandmother’s treadle sewing machine that summer.

Tried to teach your kids to sew? My mom taught our youngest daughter to sewm it was a great experience for both of them.  :)

Now, how about you? Tell us your learn-to-sew stories!



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