How to Teach Sewing Lessons for Adults and Children

Hand sewing tools

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You've sewn for years and you know what you're doing, but teaching someone else everything you know can be daunting. Where do you begin when you're teaching sewing lessons?

First, come up with a supply list with the materials you expect your students to have with them. Most classes require students to bring their own sewing machine, bobbins, and thread are the bare minimum. Inexpensive fabric, like fat quarters, is good for those first few lessons too. Try not to overwhelm the students 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. 

While it's cumbersome for students to carry their sewing machines to their lessons, it's best for them to learn on their own machines, as each model has its own quirks to get used to. It's common for new sewers to come to their lessons with cheap or old sewing machines because they're hesitant to invest money in a newer model before they've perfected their craft. If you're not familiar with their machine, take a few minutes to test it out before you start your lessons to make sure it's working correctly––if it's not, a novice sewer may not even realize it.

Sewing Lesson Plans

Your lesson plan does not have to be elaborate or detailed. It's good to be prepared for your teaching schedule to change with your students' 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.

learn to sew printout of paper to sew and sewing machine licenses
Learn To Sew Printouts. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

Speed Control

Mastering speed 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 it 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 pedal on a thick book.

Sewing Paper

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 students 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 students how to thread their machine and explain about keeping the thread tails behind the needle. Using scraps of fabric, allow the students to experiment with sewing straight and curved seams, keeping an even seam allowance as they sew.

Sewing License

When you feel a student has mastered controlling the sewing machine, reward them with a sewing machine license.

The First Real Sewing Project

Once students master 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 each 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 students a materials list so they are prepared for the next lesson. You can also prepare a kit so 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 printout of the directions for each student. This allows students 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 handy to have on hand, and your students can take their work with them everywhere they go.

The Front of an Envelope Back Pillow
The Front of an Envelope Back Pillow. Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

Allow the students to feel comfortable with finishing a simple project before moving on to a commercial pattern. Their first time sewing a commercial pattern should be a beginners' pattern, which helps students learn how to understand and read a pattern before trying to learn more detailed sewing techniques.