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Teaching the Next Generation to Sew



For quilting to continue to be a multi-billion dollar industry, we must teach the next generations the art of sewing.

The majority of children and young adults are not learning how to sew in the home or at school like so many did in the past. Most quilters that I know are in their sixties or seventies and say that they learned in Home Ec or from a family member when they were young. Home Ec has not been offered in schools for decades and very few young people, in my experience, are learning to sew in the home.

If we want countless choices of gorgeous fabric, a wide range of machine choices and amazing tools to be available decades from now, we must educate and mentor new quilters. 

If we can STRUCTURE, GUIDE and ENGAGE new generations in sewing activities and give them the opportunity to feel joy and success as they learn, we can plant seeds for the industry’s future. I created this list from my own experiences and observations when teaching children to sew, and I feel that with these three main categories in place, many young people will have the opportunity to experience success in sewing.

Structure

• Teach fundamental skills on PAPER •

Paper is a more structured medium than fabric, so it may be easier for a new sewist to handle and maneuver while they get acclimated to the machine and basic stitching. Although you can simply draw lines on paper to follow, my Sew and Trace: Straight Lines worksheet is FREE for personal use, and I welcome for it to be used to teach someone how to sew. Most households have home printers and paper is cheaper than fabric, so it is a lovely place to start, for any age!

• Set SAFETY guidelines for using machines & tools •

Regardless of age, it is important to set safety guidelines for sewing. When my kids are young I like to use washi tape or painter's tape around the needle plate as a visual reminder for a "no finger zone". When my kids are older I ask that they let me know when they are turning on the machine. Some tools like rotary cutters or irons can only be used with supervision. Each family or situation will require different guidelines, but it is important to be on the same page to avoid injury or a negative experience (if they get in trouble).

Guide

• Let them PLAN and CHOOSE •

As human beings we all need free will and to feel like we have ownership over what we are doing and creating. If someone can design a block's colors with a coloring sheet, pick some precut fabricsat the store, choose the thread color, or even design their own quilt block after shuffling around triangles and squares on a design board, they are a lot more likely to get started on a project.

Still, as mentors or teachers we want them to experience success, so it is okay to set parameters or to offer a limited number of choices. These limits can help set them up for success, so that they do not struggle with curved or intricate piecing on their first quilt block, for example, and get discouraged. Just be careful not to over plan, or set too many limits, and take over the wheel. They are the driver, you are the guide.

Engage

• SHORT, confidence-building projects •

The keyword for this is confidence-building. The new generations are so used to instant information at the touch of a screen, and games and activities that do not require the same attention span required for many sewing and quilting projects-- so how do we grab and keep their attention? There are countless short sewing projects out there, but if we do not hook them with a confidence-building project that they can be really excited about when they finish, they may not be interested in tackling another project.

Stacy Iest Hsu's new Cut.Sew.Createline is a great example of short, confidence-building sewing projects for kids. These are projects where the pattern pieces are printed on panels of fabric, and categorized into beginner/intermediate/advanced projects. Most of these projects can be put together in an afternoon, but have more of a *wow* factor when they are done, since the art on the fabric make the products more exciting. Rather than just a pillow, they can create a cloud or rainbow pillow, just using straight and curved lines.

• Appropriately sized, COLORFUL tools •

Clover and Olfa are examples of two companies who have come out with many bright, trendy color choices for many of their sewing tools over the past few years. Purples, aquas, and pinks grab the attention of my girls more than the traditional tool colors. For another young person the yellows and greens from the original Olfa line may speak to them better. Find those colors or sewing notions that make them excited, and when possible let them have some tools they can call their very own!

The new Oliso Mini iron is another example of a great size for smaller hands to use with supervision (works well for big "piano hands" like mine as well!). Help them feel success by finding tools that they can handle independently, or more independently. As they feel more pride, control and success through their learning process, the more likely they will be to want to try more projects in the future. 

When is the right age to start?

I have been asked this question many times by quilters as I have started to spread this message to quilters and guilds in my local area, and the answer is a firm "every child or young adult is different". My six year old was three-and-a-half when she started to sit in front of a machine by herself. Some teenagers may still need a watchful eye. The most important thing is whether they are old enough and mature enough to follow the SAFETY guidelines that you (the teacher) establish. After that, if there is a desire, then it is a great time!

What if I do not have someone to teach?

Not all of us have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or neighbors who we can teach (or that are interested). That is okay! Pass the information along to someone who may be able to teach a friend or family member, or organize an event at your quilt guild or in your community to teach basic sewing and quilting skills to youth or adults.

We need to step out of the comfort of our sewing rooms, quilting bees or other groups, and reach out to the next generations.
Will you?