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How To Help A Teen Start Sewing

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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:

The Top Five Things to Remember About How to Shop for & Buy a Sewing Machine

Top Ten Advanced Sewing Machine Features: What to Look for When You're Shopping for Your Dream 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!

Shower Curtain with Pom Pom Valance

Big, Soft Sweatshirt Knit Blanket

Stretchy Yoga Headbands: Pleated & Turban Styles

Oversize Zippered Clutch

Messenger Style Brief

Woven Border Print Pillow with Poms

Hot Dots Pinwheel Coasters

Safari Duffle in Canvas & Faux Leather

Sparkling Knit Infinity Scarf

Yoga Mat Sling Bag 

Hexagon Pillow with Wraparound Cording Plus Round & Square Companions

French Market Tote with Coco Chanel Style Chain Handles

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Comments (9)

freda said:
freda's picture

Janome is so SMART the eye catching colors, flowers, hello kitty. What a great way to get the kids to want to learn to sew.

Kitty Richmond said:
Kitty Richmond's picture

Want to learn my 19 yrs old daughter to sew, doing crafts.So she needs to learn this when she finish college,etc.

jay said:
jay 's picture

Hi! I plan to buy a handy and good sewing machine but have no idea which should i purchase. any suggestion? as i love to do some handcraft like dolls. at the same time i am a kindergarten teacher who wish to expose the sewing machine and the stuff to the children. ^^ 

Bettina said:
Bettina's picture

Fab article- I've been debating offering a sewing afternoon at the school I teach at and been thinking how to get started and what projects would be suitable- thank so much!

JaniceP said:
JaniceP's picture

Pillowcases can be made in an afternoon and are a terrific introduction to machine sewing. In one afternoon, my two granddaughters (10 and 13) each cut and sewed two flannel pillowcases with 5" contrast hems. The cases turned out beautifully and they were thrilled with their designs and newfound talent. Neither of them had any prior sewing experience. 

nellie44 said:
nellie44's picture

i would to love to enter give-a-way for the sewing machine ,they are the prettyist  sewing machines i ever seen ,oh i know my grand dughter would just enjoy using and learning to sew with this machine

Mama Lusco said:
Mama Lusco's picture

Great advice!  My 10 year old daughter enjoys sewing simple projects on her own basic machine. She is learning by watching video tutorials, online tutorials, PDF patterns and from sewing with me.I am so happy so happy she wants to learn!

Rosemary Bolton said:
Rosemary Bolton's picture

Oh I missed this!

So true. Both of my girls learned to sew on a machine at 9 years old. They were hand sewing before that, but it was hard and tedious. Machine sewing creates a product quickly. They enjoyed that.

I really enjoyed reading this.

Janome has very nice machines.

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