Teaching Others to Sew

 

This last week was a first for me – I taught a friend how to sew! I’ve had other friends say to me they’d love to learn or ask if I could teach them but nothing ever came of it until now.

My friend, Virginia (who’s in a cool band called Pagelings, by the way…), wanted to learn to replicate a cool shopping bag that turned into a wallet, you know, since Austin recently banned plastic bags (I even made some resuables of my own!) so I went to her place to teach her the basics.

(virginia has a bunch of collections, including collections of ceramic squirrels on her mantle piece. the one on the left holds both a small child and some pixi sticks! wtf?)

She borrowed her sister’s machine but turns out the tension spring was busted and the machine wasn’t usable. Luckily I brought mine, too, but now she doesn’t have anything to practice with until she gets it fixed. 🙁

I showed her the parts of the machine, how to wind a bobin and threading. I taught her about stitch length, width, tension, needle sizes and a couple types of stitches. After stitching on a scrap she was off and I helped her make a tote bag from scratch (I had pre-cut the pieces and used woven belting instead of making our own straps, also to save time. Sometimes you need that first project to be quick, ya know, so you can feel accomplished right away and encouraged to try more).

She sewed the sides and bottom, pressed open her seams, pinked her seam allowances and stitched and pinked the bottom corners. Then she attached the straps and hemmed and top stitched the top of the bag. Quick and easy and she was already sewing!

After a break she sewed a practice zipper into some fabric. (I’ve forgotten the name of this type of zipper pocket…) We did it this way because this was how an outer pocket on her wallet looked and I wanted to teach her something relevant.

Sometime later I’ll probably go back and teach her how to make the rest of her bag/wallet but for now she’s learned enough to practice with.

(gratuitous cat photos! this is Harvey, Virginia’s cat)

 
All this got me thinking about what it’s like to be an absolute beginner. I’m mostly self taught through trial and error so I wanted to make sure she had the best habits to start with like beginning a little away from the fabric edge and back stitching, always turning your wheel forward to avoid jams and pulling your threads to the side so they won’t get tangled.

I read a couple beginner tutorials online and a sewing book trying to keep in mind all the things that I take for granted but that she wouldn’t know.

I also tried to let her do everything by herself hands on, only helping with extra tricky stuff like sewing over the bulky straps. Also the magnetic seam guide really helped to keep her seams straight! It’s always nice to feel successful on your first go at something new.

I had a hard time trying to not overwhelm her with different tools, techniques, supplies and fabrics. I tried to keep the lesson to specifically the things she wanted to learn. I’m proud of myself that I didn’t get too impatient, either, which is one of my faults. It helped that she was a quick learner. 😉

Getting into the mindset of a beginner is something I struggle with but it’s important especially when I’m designing pattern instructions so this was a good experience for me, too.

Have you ever taught anyone to sew? And if so, do you have any advice for me? Were you taught by someone else/took a sewing class and what was your experience? Is there a style of teaching you like more than others?

Oh and sorry for the bad quality pics. It was night time in doors and I only had my phone camera.

  • Perfect first project! I may be biased but I cut my teeth on bags (as you know), so I think they’re a great confidence-builder. And it’s a flush zipper pocket! Or at least that’s what Lisa Lam calls it, so therefore I do too, natch. 😉

  • I just volunteered to teach a friend to sew, which could be a disaster, since I can barely do it myself. 😀 I’ve taught plenty of people to knit; however, and I think trial and error is the best approach to developing the method. Mostly, I try to remember that I don’t need to teach them ALL the things at the same time.

  • I’ve been teaching my 15 years old sister to sew, and we both really enjoy it. I love seeing how accomplished she feels after finishing a project.

  • Rain B

    You did a great job! I’m pretty much a beginner at using a machine but I’ve been doing awesome because of people like you! I’ve thought about teaching someone to sew… But they would need their own sewing machine, because I only just got mine and I am NOT giving it up to anyone even for a little while!

  • How fun… Indeed it’s very hard to remember how hard things look when you just starting… I think most of us only realise what we learned when we teach someone

  • Great post! I remember there being things I found difficult, but now I can’t remember what they are! Perhaps you should ask her to keep a list of her questions or thoughts, and that way you’d know what beginners are thinking 🙂

  • I’m actually a very bad teacher and it’s for a reason you wrote about in the post – it’s hard for me to think like a beginner. Every time I start teaching, I speak at a level that they only would understand if they were an intermediate or advanced seamstress. It seems like you did a good job though – she sewed a zipper!

  • BohdanaS

    That’s a great idea for a beginner project. I’ve recently started teaching to almost beginners, and I really had to stop myself from nattering away at a milllion miles an hour. Simple projects, lots of hands on time and encouragement is the way to go I think.

  • Great post! Got me thinking about how I would do teaching someone to sew. Like you and others who’ve commented here I’m mostly self taught. Half the time not sure if I’ve made a technique up, read about it somewhere, saw a photo somewhere or had someone show me. You did really well especially including a zipper!

  • Last month I spent some time with my sister, teaching her how to sew up an A-line skirt. The experience was great and I think it worked out so well because of three things: she WANTED this skirt (never force a project on a beginner), I allowed her to do all the steps–even the serging and zipper insertion, and I only kept to the relevant things, (I avoided trailing off onto different subjects that she could be taught later on). I think you did well with your approach. I do hope your friend Virginia finds a sewing machine to use so she can start practicing! Having a sewing buddy is a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  • that’s the key, she wanted to make the skirt and she did everything herself. and keeping it relevant (something I struggled with). thanks for the tips Rebekah! that’s encouraging.

  • haha, i’m like you! where did I learn to do this technique or did i just make it up and luckily it worked??

  • thanks, what’s nice about doing tutorials on your blog is that most people reading them are at least at a level where they’ve mastered the basics and want to learn more complex concepts like pattern drafting. starting from complete scratch is kind of foreign to me.

    thanks maddie, i always appreciate your thoughts. 🙂

  • great tips! thanks!

  • that’s a good idea, i should do a little post-class survey. 😉

  • Eileen Hoare

    I was never really taught to sew, although I knew basics like how to take a hem up. Now I have a big Victorian house I’m teaching myself how to make curtains, blinds and other soft furnishings. I’m also learning how to make clothes for a murder mystery weekend where everyone has to be in 1930’s fashion. This is why I’ve been busy stalking various sewing blogs 🙂

  • Matt Gin

    Hi, it’s Virginia, Dixie’s student discussed above. I stumbled upon this post (in a very random way, which is a long story), and just wanted to say that Dixie was such a wonderful teacher! I did get my sister’s sewing machine fixed and have continued to practice sewing using the techniques Dixie taught me. Dixie was so patient and informative, I still have and still use the samples she brought me to explain stitching.

    I find it somewhat humorous to read this post now and see that you had concerns, Dixie, about whether or not you’d be a good teacher. When you walked me through making that bag, I figured you’d taught hundreds of others, you were just that great and that knowledgable. I was seriously so impressed by how much you knew and how you made the whole process feel easy to me. Though, I do remember, never having sewn before, I severely underestimated the amount of time it would take to do even a simple project. That being said, I was very thankful that you came prepared and chose something basic to begin with. I did feel successful afterward, and it made me want to create more!

    I don’t get as much time to sew as I’d like, but I do it when I can, and I’ve been successful in accomplishing my basic goal. I made a wallet with a zipper-pocket that unfolds into a bag. I’ve actually made 2 now! Finishing this project made me very proud, and very grateful to have Dixie as an instructor, and more importantly, a friend. Thank you, Dixie!

  • Matt Gin

    Hi, it’s Virginia, Dixie’s student discussed above. I stumbled upon this post (in a very random way, which is a long story), and just wanted to say that Dixie was such a wonderful teacher! I did get my sister’s sewing machine fixed and have continued to practice sewing using the techniques Dixie taught me. Dixie was so patient and informative, I still have and still use the samples she brought me to explain stitching.

    I find it somewhat humorous to read this post now and see that you had concerns, Dixie, about whether or not you’d be a good teacher. When you walked me through making that bag, I figured you’d taught hundreds of others, you were just that great and that knowledgable. I was seriously so impressed by how much you knew and how you made the whole process feel easy to me. Though, I do remember, never having sewn before, I severely underestimated the amount of time it would take to do even a simple project. That being said, I was very thankful that you came prepared and chose something basic to begin with. I did feel successful afterward, and it made me want to create more!

    I don’t get as much time to sew as I’d like, but I do it when I can, and I’ve been successful in accomplishing my basic goal. I made a wallet with a zipper-pocket that unfolds into a bag. I’ve actually made 2 now! Finishing this project made me very proud, and very grateful to have Dixie as an instructor, and more importantly, a friend. Thank you, Dixie!