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Prepare to Teach
You've sewn for years and you know what you're doing, but are you sure you're ready to start teaching someone else how to sew?
Start by thinking about going back to square one. Pretend that you have never touched a sewing machine before. Your student may have an older sewing machine that they want to learn to sew on rather than making a big investment. If you're not familiar with their machine, ask for time to test it so that you know it is in working order before the owner gets frustrated trying to sew with a broken sewing machine. If it is not working correctly, tell them to get it repaired before they attempt to sew with the machine. Have them obtain a manual for the machine if they do not have one.
Learn the parts of a sewing machine so you can correctly explain how things work and use the correct names of the parts while you are giving directions. Then, they can look up those terms in a book or manual when you aren't available.
Set up a supply list with the materials you expect the student to have with them. This can depend on a particular project or a complete sewing kit and sewing machine, depending on their goals. Their own sewing machine, bobbins, and thread are the bare minimum. A student is much better off learning on their own sewing machine whenever possible. Try not to overwhelm the student by asking them to have sewing tools they will not need immediately, but ask them to have enough tools that they will be able to practice and sew on their own when they are not with you. Part of their preparation for sewing lessons should be to sign up for sales fliers and coupons so they can save money by sewing. You may also want to suggest that the student has a folder or notebook to keep their own notes or scrapbook of their progress.Continue to 2 of 3 below.
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Set up a lesson plan. This does not have to be elaborate, and be prepared for your teaching schedule to change with the student's pace of learning. Remember that not everyone is going to take to sewing immediately, and no one starts off at the same pace as someone who has been sewing for years.
The first time someone sits down at the sewing machine, they must master controlling the machine. Because you have been sewing for years, you tend to forget just how much skill is involved in getting started.
Always begin with the machine unthreaded and sewing on paper. Mastering operating the machine without the frustration of thread tangling and knotting is much easier.
Mastering speed control is one step in getting full control of the sewing machine. Many machines have a turtle and hare setting to control speed, but some do not. Without even sewing paper, allow the student to experiment with how fast or slow they can make the machine go. Let them practice until they can maintain an even speed on the sewing machine.
When someone is unable to control the foot pedal, a small item, such as a thin bobbin or washers, can be placed under the edge of the foot pedal to prevent the pedal from going at full speed. This is especially helpful for young people who want to sew. If the item under the foot pedal slips out of the way, place a piece of tape, sticky side up, under the foot pedal and under the item to stop the full depression of the foot pedal and hold the stopper in place.
If your student's legs are too short to reach the foot pedal, place the foot pedal on a thick book.
Print out practice sheets. Your goal will be to have the student sew an even distance from each line, not on the line. It is important that they learn to focus on watching a guide, not the sewing machine needle. Start with straight lines, including the edges of the paper, using the edge of the presser foot as a seam guide, then move on to the curved lines. Teach the student that the machine will feed the fabric and their job is to just guide the fabric (or paper, in this case) under the needle as it is sewn. Forcing the fabric under the needle can result in bent sewing machine needles and machine malfunctions.
Move on to sewing the paper with squares, teaching them to stop with the machine needle down so they can pivot at the corners.
As a last step in learning to control the sewing machine, teach the student how to thread their machine and explain about keeping the thread tails behind the needle. Using scraps of fabric, allow the student to experiment with sewing straight and curved seams, keeping an even seam allowance as they sew.
A Sewing License
When you feel the student has mastered controlling the sewing machine, reward them with a sewing machine license.Continue to 3 of 3 below.
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The First Real Sewing Project
Once the student masters basic operating skills, it's time to start a real sewing project. The first project should be something that requires nothing more than straight lines and is simple enough to be finished in one lesson so that the student is able to have immediate gratification. Starting with an easy project so the student has a finished item is an important key to them learning before moving on to something more complicated that may take weeks to complete.
Choose a project and give the student a materials list so they are prepared for the next lesson. You can also prepare a kit so that they are ready with the appropriate starting point and materials. If you do make a kit, be sure to talk about the details, such as preshrinking, fabric grain, fabric options, and pattern choice so that they know what they should look for when they go shopping on their own. If your kit contains the fabric cut for the project, demonstrate how you cut the fabric so they are capable of cutting their own fabric if they want to make the project on their own.
Always have a print out of the directions for each student or a printout of the directions in each kit. This allows the student to make the project again on their own.
Choose a simple sewing project. An envelope-back pillow can be used by any age group, and a potholder is always a useful item. A simple tote bag is always handy to have on hand, and your student can take their work with them everywhere they go.
Allow the students to feel comfortable with finishing a project before moving on to a commercial pattern. Their first time sewing a commercial pattern should be a beginners' pattern, which helps the student to learn how to understand and read a pattern before trying to also learn more detailed sewing techniques.