First, and most obvious question: why on earth would a teen want to learn how to sew? Aren't there fifty bazillion way cooler things to do – most of which involve texting or tweeting or tunes or TV?
This generation is not as superficial as television sitcoms make them out to be. Having grown up surrounded by a never-ending stream of media messages and celebrity hype, they are actually quite aware of the facade. They love to peel back the mask, to understand the special effect tricks, to see everything that goes into creating the final image. The popularity of reality shows like Project Runway or America's Next Top Model have made stars of the people behind the scenes. Teens are fascinated by how it all goes together.
Sewing is the perfect fusion of technology and creativity
Both sides of your brain are firing when you're sewing. You're designing with the right side, while processing data and operating a machine with the left. Activities that achieve this kind of fusion are great ways to expand overall thought processes and boost problem solving abilities. Some studies have also shown sewing actually reduces stress. I would agree with this hypothesis, and think it may be because you're so focused; you're thoroughly concentrating on a task that is absorbing all your attention. I feel like I'm in a little bubble when I sew; annoying distractions just bounce off the bubble and don't bother me.
Teens are the ultimate multi-taskers (just observe one texting, watching TV, listening to music, chatting on Facebook – and doing homework all at the same time); they adapt quickly to the 'whole brain' experience of sewing. Plus, many of today's coolest machines have computer interfaces that may seem intimidating to you or I, but to a teen, look familiar and intuitive. Teens aren't afraid of touch screens or digital design tools, like drag-and-drop or cut-and-paste. In fact, before you know it, they'll likely be showing you how to use functions or digitize designs.
Finally, don't assume only the teen girls are interesting in sewing. Teen guys are watching Project Runway in almost as large numbers. And, the left brain components of measuring, assembling components into dimensional results, and interacting with a precision machine are all strong male draws. One of the coolest teens we ever met was a young guy who was bummed at being unable to find shorts that could hold up to his skateboarding antics. So, he figured out how to make his own! Pretty soon, he was making shorts for all his buds. And, they we're pushing him for sewing lessons.
Our current favorite beginner machine is a new one from Janome, called the DC4030. It is very easy to use, but has enough bells and whistles to keep your teen interested and challenged. The machine shown in our photos is the Janome Jem Platinum 760, which is a compact model – great for small spaces and light weight to tote around.
The elements of a good teen sewing setup
Like anything else, it's important a teen's first sewing experience is a good one. Take a little extra time to make sure you have the right environment for success.
A quality machine
We've stressed this over and over on sew4home, but that's only because it's so important. The better the tools, the more creative you become. Don't drag some funky old machine out of the closet or pick something up at the thrift store. Buy from a reputable independent dealer who can offer support. A quality machine is actually even more important for a beginner. Once you know the ropes (or would that be 'the threads'), you can often figure out how to work around a machine's idiosyncrasies. But, if you're just starting out, you need the basic functions to operate flawlessly, so you can focus on technique. Check out our Buying Guide tutorials for what to look for in a machine:
A comfortable workspace
You don't need to dedicate a whole room to the teen sewing experience. In fact, he or she may feel most at home in his/her own bedroom or on the kitchen table. Make sure there's a large enough space to spread out the project. They need to make a little bit of a mess when they get started. And be warned – homework, friends, sports, and more will still intrude, so pick an area where it's okay to leave things set up over a day or two. For the big picture, take a look at our article: Sewing Room Setup.
A fun project
Make sure your teen picks something he/she really wants to make. Let them decide the project, the fabric and the embellishments. It might not be something that floats your boat, but that doesn't matter. For a project to capture and keep teens' interest from start to finish, it HAS to be something they envision. Some good beginner projects for teens might be: a pillow or blanket for their beds, pajama pants, or a carry bag for school.
The freedom to make mistakes
Be there to help and pass on your experience and expertise, but don't jump in to solve every problem. Remember those words they screamed as a toddler, "By MYself!!" They're just as true today, and if you let them work through a tough spot, they'll better remember the lesson next time around.
As with everything in teen world, things are often better with friends. Encourage your teen to invite a friend or two over for a sewing project afternoon. With the holidays coming up, they'd have great fun making scarves or belts or bags (or skater shorts) for all their other friends.
Ya know ... I've always been a little cynical of that over-used phrase, "the gift that keeps on giving." But in the case of sewing and teens, a machine and a couple of lessons really is something they'll build on and benefit from for years to come.