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Home » DIY Tutorials » DIY Sewing » Learn To Sew » Teaching Kids to Sew, Part 4: Intro to the Sewing Machine

Teaching Kids to Sew, Part 4: Intro to the Sewing Machine

Soooooooo, it’s 2 1/2 weeks into summer…….and the kids are getting restless.  Haha!  It’s always a crazy transition between them being completely scheduled during the school year and knowing exactly what needs to be done, where we’re going, etc……and then summer kicks in and there’s not a whole lot of schedule or routine.  We’ve actually had to change that up a bit and have some summer responsibilities and activities to keep everyone happy and busy, but this whole summer thing requires a little more creativity (and patience) for this mom of theirs!! :)

Anyway, I was just thinking about a series that I started on this blog called “Teaching Kids To Sew”…..but I never finished it, and that was 3 YEARS AGO!  Oh my goodness, what happened?!?!  I guess life happened…..but I suddenly realized the other day that I had every intention to teach Elli how to sew by now, but just haven’t.  She nine years old and the 3 lessons in the “Teaching Kids to Sew” series are all focused on teaching kids hand sewing skills, which is an important foundation for sewing…..so they can figure out how sewing actually works.

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And let me tell you, Elli has got those lessons down pat!!!  She hand sews EVERYTHING!  Doll clothes, bags, pillows, etc.  It’s crazy how much she wants to sew and that I haven’t even taught her the sewing machine yet……agggghh!!  Mom fail.  But that’s okay……because she’s gotten a little older and more responsible and her coordination has definitely improved these past 3 years.  And after seeing the kiddos so restless this summer and trying to figure out little things to keep their minds (and fingers) busy, I decided it was finally time to teach that little chickie how to sew!!!

And let me tell you…….this girl of mine felt like a SUPERSTAR!  I think I forget how much she watches what I do, and in her eyes, the fact that I can turn pieces of fabric into wearable items, is probably really amazing!  So she was so excited to join me in this adventure!

So the next lesson in this “Teaching Kids to Sew” series — an intro to the Sewing Machine!

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***Before going any further, these lessons aren’t just for kids.  These techniques would work with any age…..and are great practice for anyone trying to gain some skill and practice working on the sewing machine.  It just takes a little time but I promise, you’ll probably surprise yourself with how quickly you catch on.  And in no time at all, you’ll be sewing things you never knew you’d be able to make! :)

Okay, time to sew!

First of all, don’t rush the sewing machine.  I really feel like if you start with a complicated project and try and have them sew an actual project, it could really frustrate them if it doesn’t work out.  They really need to get a feel for this machine, how it works, and that they are IN CONTROL of it!!

So, sit your child down in front of the machine and teach them a few of the basic parts of the sewing machine. (You don’t have to teach them everything…..because that will come as you teach more and more. If you try and do too much, they’ll get bored and won’t remember anyway.) Show them the on/off switch, show them where the needle is.  Point out the buttons on the front and what they do.  Show them the foot pedal and how it’s connected to the machine.

Now, I explained to Elli that when you sew, it’s like you’re driving a car. The pedal on the ground is like a gas pedal and if you push it all the way down, it speeds up the motor and makes the needle go REALLY FAST.  But if you push lightly, the motor slows down the needle moves up and down a lot slower.  So, I made sure there was no thread in the machine and then gave her all power.  I told her to push down the pedal all the way and to listen and watch.  And then told her to push ever so lightly and watch how slow the needle moves up and down.

Just letting them play around with the pedal and get a feel for the machine helps them get a feel for how much power they have and what it requires to keep a constant speed.  Here’s Elli….watching that needle move up and down, up and down, testing out different speeds.

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Okay, next, the presser foot.  Explain to them that the presser foot is what sandwiches the fabric down in place, so that the needle can sew the fabric without getting bunched up.  Without the presser foot….the fabric would be too wiggly and the sewing would be a mess.  So, show them where the lift lever is on the machine and have them try that a few times, watching what happens.

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Next, using the needle.  I decided that before using fabric to sew on (which is more wiggly and can stretch and cause more frustration), it’s best to use paper.  Allowing them to sew with just a needle and NO THREAD, allows them to practice lifting and lowering the presser foot and learning control over the paper (and soon to be fabric).  Their brain will soon start to realize that the needle only moves up and down and that if they need to turn a corner, they have to make that happen by maneuvering the paper.

So draw some lines on a paper…..straight ones, curved ones, and jagged ones……..and have them start at one end of the line and try to line up their needle with their first line.  (If you want to use the practice sheets I put together, you’re more than welcome to use them by clicking HERE.)

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But first, the Hand Wheel.  Show them that if you turn the hand wheel on the right side of the machine TOWARDS YOU (and always towards you), it will make the needle move up and down.  Explain to them that this gives them more precise control over the needle and is usually used to put the needle down in place to get started with your stitching.

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Now, let them sew.  Remind them about the presser foot and how they are in control of how fast or slow it goes.  Show them that they must guide the paper with their hands so that the line of sewing moves where they want it to go….and then just step back and let them give it a go!  Remember, there’s no thread in the machine….so they can’t really do any harm.  But I bet it will surprise you how well they do!!! (***A quick reminder: teach your child that they should never place their finger near the needle while it’s sewing.  Machines are powerful and will stab right through their skin, causing them to pull away, and could cause injury and yeah, blood.)

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Once they’ve mastered the straight line, let them sew a jagged line.  Remind them about the presser foot and the lever that lifts it when they have to turn a corner.  Explain to them that once the presser foot is lifted, the must turn the paper with their hands until it’s facing the direction they want it to sew.  Also, sewing down a jagged line is great practice for them to get used to lifting and lowering that presser foot over and over again.

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Now, a curved line.  This can be a little more tricky but show them how to guide their fabric around a curve with their hands and to slow down the machine as they’re sewing.

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And once they’ve sewn through their lines, show them how to lift their lever to pull their paper out and then take a peek at what they’ve done!  You might be surprised at how closely they stayed to the line!  (I was seriously shocked!!!  This girl is ready to sew!)

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Next, threading the machine.  Now that they’ve gotten used to the needle and the foot pedal….it’s time to load it up with thread.  Show your child how to load a bobbin and explain that there’s always a top and bottom thread working together to create a line of sewing. (Sorry no picture.)

Now, sewing with thread.  Before even sewing on fabric with thread, have them practice sewing with thread on paper.  They can always go sew right on top of lines as they practice using thread….but it’s always fun to make it more interesting!  How about a Dot-to-Dot?!!

When I handed Elli the paper, she had no idea what it was…..so that made it really fun for her to figure out.  (I just googled “easy dot-to-dot” and found several that would work. However, if you want to use the practice sheets I put together, you’re more than welcome to use them by clicking HERE.)

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Dot-to-Dot sheets are PERFECT for practicing control though.  They have to lift and lower the needle a lot, they have to re-position the paper so that the presser foot is pointing at their next dot, and they have to gauge where their machine will sew and fix it as they go.

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And then, once they’re done, they get to see what they actually created!

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And then have them do another one….and keep repeating, if it looks like they need more practice!

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Another fun way to practice that doesn’t require exact lines, and so they can focus on consistent speed, paper positioning, and direction……is sewing through a maze.  This is fun for them to figure out and practice looking ahead to where they have to go.  (I just googled “easy maze” and found several that would work. However, if you want to use the practice sheets I put together, you’re more than welcome to use them by clicking HERE.)

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Once last thing that Elli really wanted to do….was free sewing.  And I thought that was a great way to continue practicing her sewing and to become even more familiar with the machine.  And there you have it……a flower. :)

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And that’s where we ended the first lesson.  If your kiddo isn’t quite grasping these techniques — repeat until they get the hang of it and feel comfortable with the machine.

Elli surprised me with how much control she had…..and I think she’s ready to move on!  I’ll be sharing what we work on soon, so hopefully that will be helpful to some of you who have been wanting to teach your kiddos to sew! But like I mentioned above, if you’re a beginner and are wanting to learn yourself, these are great lessons for any age to use and practice!

So if that’s you…..stay with it, and good luck!!!  Soon you’ll be sewing skirts, aprons, and couch pillows! :)

-Ashley

 

. . . . .

To take a few steps back, check out the first few lessons in this “Teaching Kids To Sew” series.

Intro To Hand Sewing

 

Using Fabric, Tying Knots, and Tracing Designs

Hand Sewing: Sleeping Masks & Super Hero Masks

 

Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with my craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!
Teaching kids to sew, part 4: intro to the sewing machine
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Comments

  1. Michelle J. says:

    This was a perfect place for my homeschooled daughter (8 years old) to begin her machine skills…especially since i have very little knowlage on sewing myself..we are learning together! Im curious what comes next…is there another post on this series yet that i haven’t found?? If not, will you be continuing this series?

  2. Claire says:

    This is such a great idea, I saved this post a while back and only jut read it! I will apply the paper method when I do my first sewing classes in January, it’s a new venture for me, I have done classes before but now I’m going to do private lessons, so in order gauge how well the child can sew, this would be a great starter point. Thank you so much!

  3. Chris says:

    What a great tutorial!
    My grand daughter is 12 and in high school and has a real flair for craft. I have an older sewing machine which is no frills, but has been serviced and I am spending tomorrow with her for her first machine lesson.
    I was initially thinking of inexpensive materials (fun colours), but after reading your suggestions using paper, I will do this first.
    I learnt to sew when I was her age but can’t remember how my Mum introduced the machine to me (I am now 65).
    This will be so rewarding, spending this time with Mikayla.
    Thank you for a great web site.

  4. Elaina King says:

    Wow, what a great way to give a first lesson on a kids sewing machine! I could see a beginner getting frustrated on the pretty new pink sewing machine if we tried to do too much or a real project first. My youngest daughter just got a new mini sewing machine, and I am going to try this approach with her. I could see how the first day on the new sewing machine for kids could be overwhelming, but I think this approach will make it fun and easy! Thanks for the detailed tips!

  5. Sofia Pinelli says:

    This is a great tutorial. Thank you for all the detail. The maze is a great idea to help them build coordination. I have friends who want me to teach their kids to sew – my boys are not interested at all! Nice images too.

  6. Oma K says:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial and the free paper pages. I can’t wait to start teaching my 7 y/o granddaughter how to learn to use the sewing machine and then sewing something. Thank you again!

  7. ANN says:

    I have just started sewing again in the last year after not sewing since high school — 47 years! My 5 yr old granddaughter was very interested in my sewing so helped her make a Barbie pillow. Now 6, she is making pillows and blankets for all her friend’s dolls.

  8. GrandmasBeans says:

    I have two granddaughters, 8 yrs & 4 yrs old, both love sewing. I started out letting them sit on my lap while I was working on projects. I’d explain how the machine works, letting them gently touch the needle tip, and telling them how important it is to keep their fingers away. When she was 4, the oldest helped me make a blanket for her new cousin, and later hemmed curtains for her Mama’s office. She was so proud! For Christmas after her she turned 5, we got her a sewing machine. Not a “toy” machine, or a “kid’s” machine. But for just a little more, we got her a no-frills Brother, one that is sturdy enough that she can use it for years. Last year, her then 3-yr old cousin helped me make the top for my Dad’s lap quilt. She will be working on a couple of small projects on her visit later this year. If she still enjoys sewing, she’ll get her own sewing machine next year, after she turns 5. They also have their own table in Grandma’s sewing room for their machines and for crafting projects. Be sure to take pictures, so they can share the memories later!

  9. chisme4rina@hotmail.com says:

    like your idea will be using this soon

  10. Crystal Silvas says:

    Wow, Elli is getting so big! I am a long time reader. I first found your site, gosh, I guess it had to be 4 or 5 years ago because my daughter Chloe was a baby and I found your pettiskirt tutorial. (I’m a pro at them now—-THANK YOU!) Anyway, this is a great post! My kids are really into hand sewing but I have yet to introduce them to machine sewing. My son (now 7) learned this skill in his Waldorf kindergarten class and came home and taught his sister. They have been begging me to let them use one of my machines. Your paper/line method is just brilliant. Thanks again. It’s always a pleasure. :)

  11. Jamie B. says:

    I love this!! I earmarked it when you first wrote it but am just now getting to read through it! The paper lines?? Genius. I teach Interior and Apparel Construction (Sewing!) at my local University and about 80% of the students I teach have NEVER touched a machine. Week 1, I tell them what to buy for class, week 2, we sew!! It’s always a little scary, they are very nervous. But I think letting them sew without thread, on paper, will be a game changer. I hope you know how much I appreciate your talent for sewing, crafting, parenting and writing! I’ve been a faithful follower since you only had 2 kids!! I can hardly wait till August, have a great summer <3.

  12. Ashley says:

    Thanks so much Katiasafia! I speak English and Spanish, but not French…..but I can pick out enough of the words to see what you’re saying! So thank you! (Maybe I need to study French too!) :)

    Ashley

  13. Ayla says:

    Fantástico, me parece un método ideal para aprender, con niños es como jugar para ellos y eso les mantiene el interes, lo cual es muy importante para que no digan puffff y lo dejen. Y yo diría que hasta para adultos es ideal si no conoces una máquina, para cogerle la práctica antes de coser cosas de verdad y ver que se convierten en un desastre.
    Bessote!!!!

    1. Ashley says:

      Gracias Ayla! Y si, los adultos pueden usar las lecciones tambien! Gracias por dejar su comentario……es buena para mi a practicar mi espanol. ;)

      Ashley

  14. swetha says:

    Using dot to dot and maze for practice is brilliant! ill recommend this for my tailoring institute. Thanks a lot, Ashley and good job Elli!

    1. Ashley says:

      It really was so fun for her….and was so much stop and go, which was great practice. The surprise at the end was just the icing on the cake! :)

  15. Tiffany says:

    Love this! My son really wants to learn how to sew and I wasn’t sure exactly where to start. He’s 9 too. I’m going to have to come up with boyish things for him to sew though to keep him interested!

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh good! My almost 8 year old Connor really wants to learn now too, so I’ve been thinking of projects that would suit him a little better too. But he’s excited because it’s a machine that he gets to “drive”!! :)

    2. CJ says:

      My son loves to help me sew! The first project we started with was a pillowcase (easy straight stitches), with really cool “boy fabric”- I think the first one was Scooby Doo and then the next one had soccer balls and nets and “goal!” on it. We moved on to Capri Sun pouches (lots of tutorials for that on youtube. If you have pets, he can make some fun stuffed toys for them. My son also liked to make cushions for sporting events, using team colors/fabrics. Oh, and also luggage tag holders with fabric that had the team logos. Those were a little harder, but still doable for a 9 year old! Have fun. :)

  16. Renee says:

    Thanks for the detailed instructions, it’s been fun getting to see Elli and Connor growing up. I’ve pinned the four lessons for when my granddaughters are a little older. Already the four year old stands behind me on my sewing machine so she can watch every step I take when I sew for her. She is hand-stitching felt toys, although they are probably a bit too complicated at this stage. I’m going to get some styrofoam plates today!

    1. Ashley says:

      You’re so welcome! And ooooh, sounds like she’s already super interested! I bet she’ll love the hand-sewing lessons first. Elli was doing that at 6 and Connor was 4 and they both loved it! (In fact my son still cross-stitches sometimes on a boring afternoon!)

      Best of luck!
      Ashley

  17. Jenny Judi says:

    I love this! Even though it’s simple, i think I’ll have my 12 year old daughter do and I’m sure her brothers (10 and 7) will try too. Thanks for the idea! Can’t wait to do this one afternoon. (We’re still in school for two more days.)

    1. Ashley says:

      Oh good…..I hope it helps them (and you!) and that they’ll get the hang of it and enjoy sewing! :)

  18. Prislee says:

    Wow, that’s great that she’s enjoying learning to sew and is interested. I am teaching myself how to sew as an adult via playing around with my sewing maching & practicing. I wish I would’ve learned it a long time ago, like your daughter is. I told my 5 1/2 year old daughter & soon to be 4 year old (in July) son that I want them to learn at least basic sewing machine skills when they’re 7 & if they enjoy it then they can continue learning more. Thank you for sharing your skill & family with us.

    1. Ashley says:

      Yes, I love that!!! Teaching them young while they’re interested is something they’ll carry with them in their back pocket of skills! I love it!

      Thanks Prislee!
      Ashley

  19. CJ says:

    Boys, as well as girls, would enjoy this summer activity. I taught my son how to sew, on my machine, when he was almost 10.He’s 12 now and still sews, with me. I think that boys like it because it is using something that is “electronic”. Though, my machine is not nearly as fancy as yours, Ashley. When I taught him, we started out with him learning basic stitches, forward and backward, going around curves, making corners, etc. I like your idea to teach kids. I used old fabric swatches and had him “trace” the designs. Since I am not an expert sewer by any means, I can only teach him basics, but he still enjoys it. We’ve collected capri sun juice pouches and made bags and pencil pouches, pillows and pillow cases for family and friends, tote bags for teachers, cut down too short pjs and made pajama shorts, table cloths and matching napkins and a few other fun items. Have fun with it!

    1. Ashley says:

      I completely agree. In fact, my almost 8 year old Connor walked by while Elli was sewing and said, “hey, I want to learn!”

      That’s all it took for me to say…..uhhh, YES!!! And I think you’re right, it’s like driving a remote control car. They like the power!

      Thanks so much for making the suggestion for others to see too! Thanks CJ!

      Ashley

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Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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