Hopefully, you're reading this article for one of two reasons. Either you know a teen who really wants to start sewing, or you know one you'd like to inspire to start sewing. In both cases, you can help them on their way with a little guidance. In this day and age, when young adults seem to be devoted nearly full-time to social media apps, it's easy to think none of them could possibly be interested in something so archaic as sewing. But, while you weren't looking, sewing became cool. Read on for our Top Seven Tips to pave the way to a great experience for a young sewist.
Tip #1 - Don't act surprised when a teen wants to sew.
Don't be fooled by teen stereotypes, even if there's one slumped on your couch right now with their smartphone and a bag of chips. The teenage years are a time for seeking independence, for creating personal style, for wanting to be noticed for what you wear, have and use. "I made this!" is a powerful statement for a teen. It's accomplishment, pride, ingenuity, and fun; all rolled up and tied with a bow.
This generation has grown up in a heavily "manufactured" world. Everything they wear, eat, and watch at the movie theater has an overproduced slickness they're more than a little skeptical of. Their real heroes are other young people who actually make things, whether it's music, food, art, or clothing. When everybody can buy the same messenger bag on Amazon, the only way to ensure you're unique is to make your own.
It's 180˚ from when many of us grew up. Going to school in clothes that looked home made was a fate worse than death (or so we thought). Now it's the top designers who are trying to look hand crafted.
Tip #2 - Be willing to believe non-sewing teens will like it if they just try it.
Sewing is the perfect fusion of technology and creativity, something ideally suited to today's teenagers. 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 machines have icon-heavy interfaces that, to a teen, look familiar and intuitive.
Tip #3 - Don't assume only the teen girls are interesting in sewing.
Teen guys are watching Project Runway in almost as large numbers as the girls. 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.
Tip #4 - Make sure they start out on 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 up something 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:
Our current favorite beginner machine is Janome's Magnolia 7330. With thirty stitches, including six buttonholes, it has a nice variety. And it has some helpful automatic features like Auto Lock and Needle Up/Down. But what's really great about this machine for teens is that it's electronic. That means when you select a stitch, the machine automatically goes to the optimal default settings. On a mechanical machine, you have to stop and do these settings for each stitch. It's not difficult to figure out, but your teen is going to want to choose a stitch and start going. It's what they're used to with all their smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Tip #5 - Create a comfortable workspace
You don't need to dedicate a whole room to the teen sewing experience. In fact, they may feel most at home in their own bedroom or at the kitchen table. Make sure there's a large enough space to spread out the project and good lighting. Gather a few basic notions and tools: a cutting mat, pins, seam gauge, ruler, tape measure, seam ripper, scissors, and access to the iron and ironing board.
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.
Tip #6 - Allow them 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. Before the holidays, they'd have great fun making scarves or belts or bags (or skater shorts) for all their other friends.
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.
Tip #7: Make sure your teen picks something he or 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.
Below is a list of some recent projects our own teen panel thought would be pretty cool to make. Some are super easy, others a bit more challenging, but all would be rewarding and fun!