It’s always exciting to introduce kids to sewing! You’ll be helping a young person unlock their creative passion, and develop practical skills they can use for life. However, many parents and instructors find that it’s more challenging than you might think to teach kids to sew.
There are some easy, stress-free ways to introduce sewing so that neither you or the child in your life becomes overwhelmed. Here, we’ve outlined a basic progression you can follow to take kids from holding a sewing needle for the first time to working on a full sewing machine.
Whichever stage you’re at in the instruction process, there are a few key things to bear in mind. First, sewing is supposed to be fun. Even if you’re hoping that the child will put their newfound skills to practical use, you’re going to have to make it fun if you want them to take it up on their own. Second, go slow! Rushing is the most dangerous thing kids can do while sewing, so be sure to slow them down, go step by step, and make sure they’ve mastered each technique and concept before you move on.
So, without further ado, here’s how to take a child from no experience with sewing to confidence on a full sewing machine!
Introduce the mechanics
So many of us adults take sewing for granted, in that we all know how it works, and how it’s done, even if we’re not any good at it ourselves. But for kids, the simple concept of a needle, thread, and fabric is going to be entirely new. You’ll need to get them to work through the idea of a stitch, both physically and mentally.
The best way to do this is to use a big, dull needle (tapestry needles are perfect), thread, and paper/foam plates. Start by helping them get set up with a piece of thread, taping one end to the edge of the plate. Then, show them how to push the threaded needle through the plate, and then back up again. Help them notice that you have to keep going back and forth, and that you’ll always be coming up and going down in one direction.
After they’ve seen you do it a few times, let them play around! They can sew through the length of thread, and see how their stitches create visual patterns on the plate. It’s a good idea to give them a bunch of these, so they can go from exploring to making one or two plates they’re proud of, which they can hang up afterward.
Help them start sewing by hand on embroidery hoops
Once you’ve spent an afternoon or two on plates, you can start working with the real tools of the trade. Hand sewing can be tricky for the most adept kids to master, so make it as easy as you can at first.
Embroidery hoops are the classic way to begin. When you use a hoop, you give them a firm structure where the fabric won’t move as they stitch. They can draw an outline on plain fabric, using a pencil or marker, or you can do a design for them.
At this point, you’ll want to teach them how to thread, and how to knot a loop so that the thread doesn’t pull through the fabric. Again, using big needles with a large hole tends to be the best approach.
Have them trace the drawn lines with stitches. Let them experiment the first time, but as you move to the second or third hoop, you can start explaining how they can take more control over what their stitching looks like. Explain stitch length: whether you want a cohesive line with many little stitches, or one with lots of jumps from big stitches. Have them try both, so they can see what it looks like.
Practice ending stitches with locking off and tying the end of the thread. They’ll need to master this skill before they start working with unfastened pieces of fabric.
One fun idea for a hoop they can hang is to have them sew their name! They can even make the blueprint themselves with a marker and then sew over it. The results will be something they’ll want to hang in their room.
Start them working on freestanding pieces of fabric
After a few hoops, you can safely assume the child is ready to work with free fabrics without the hoop!
Felt is an easy place to start, with thick thread and relatively large needles. Start with basic squares, and let them do the same thing they were doing on the hoops, stitching designs or letters.
Then, you can introduce the concept of a seam! Use two square pieces of fabric, and teach the child a simple seam–either a straight stitch along the edge, or a looping stitch if you want to get fancy and know they can handle it.
Have them make a pocket, with three seams around two squares of felt. Then, use a square and a rectangle, and help them attach a button to make a functional pocket!You can size this to hold something of theirs, like a cell phone or a packet of tissues.
This is a great way to keep them motivated and give them tangible results to feel a sense of concrete achievement. You can come up with lots of similar hand-sewing projects, like a change purse, glasses case, etc. Just look around on Pinterest for lots of ideas.
Walk them through using a machine safely
After a few hand-stitched projects, it’s time to make the big jump to using a machine! This is the most daunting leap your child will make, but chances are they’ll be raring to go. It’s getting over your own apprehension that’ll be the biggest challenge. You want to make sure you keep your child safe when you teach them how to use a machine for the first time.
When you move to a machine, treat it as a completely new object. Even if they’ve seen you sew using a machine before, take the time to go back and start from scratch. Go over all the parts: on/off switch, pedal, needle, bobbins, etc. Make sure they know where each part is located, and what exactly it does.
The pedal and needle relationship is especially important to nail down, if you want kids to stay safe. Have them think about it like a car: the harder you press, the faster it will go. Have them experiment with different levels of pressure, so they can get a sense of how easily the needle jumps up to a higher speed.
Explain how the presser foot keeps things secure. It’s one of the biggest differences between sewing by hand and using a machine. Show them sewing without it, and with it several times.
In many ways, using a machine is the opposite of sewing by hand. They’re moving the cloth, not the needle, which is a totally different concept. It’s a bit counterintuitive, so help them learn to guide things into the presser foot and needle assembly.
You don’t need to waste thread or fabric to do any of this, by the way! When they’re first sitting down to use the machine, avoid the mess and waste by getting some scrap paper and using an old needle. Trace lines, and have the child follow along. They should practice straight, zigzag, and curved lines to begin with, so they can figure out how to do them with a presser foot vs. a hand needle.
Next, introduce the actual materials. Get a relatively old, cheap needle, one that can pierce paper but isn’t too sharp. Walk through threading, bobbins, etc. We won’t get too specific with tips here, since all those things depend on the specific make and model of machine you’re helping the child to use.
When they’re first using thread, you can use dot-to-dot outlines to help them trace, just like they did when they were first learning to sew by hand. You can find dozens of fun kid designs online for free. Print them on sturdy paper, and you’ve got an easy way to teach presser feeding without wasting fabric.
Once they’ve mastered the basic use of the machine, get them started with fabric projects, and let them spread their wings!
There are many other things to teach a child about sewing: how to cut fabric, why not to cut paper with fabric shears, etc. The list can go on forever, so try not to get bogged down by trying to teach everything at once. Trust the process, and remember things will come up as you go along without you having to stick to a strict list.
The key thing: don’t overwhelm kids. Keep the sense of fun, exploration, and creativity! They’ll learn more quickly, and be more likely to stick with sewing for life.
For advice on choosing a sewing machine for kids, and to see our recommendations in this category, check out our helpful buying guide!