sewing camp and thoughts about learning to sew

Last week’s sewing camp was a success, I believe. The children enjoyed it (most important) and learned a few new skills. One sweet girl looked at me on the last day and said, “I can’t believe it’s the last day of sewing camp! I wish we could do this longer.” That made the whole three days of untangling thread and ripping out stitches worth it.

What I loved about the class was seeing the children’s ideas become reality. Their creativity was fun to watch and it was an honor to help usher their visions into reality through fabric and thread. One child appliqued a battle axe made from flowered fabric onto his bag. Anne frescoed a sailboat from fabric onto her bag. Their fabric painting was creative and diverted from my vision, but I wanted to let the children make decisions about what and how they wanted to create. I had boundaries (for safety and so that supplies would not get wasted or destroyed), but I did not have many rules for this class. It made the class easier to teach when I let them have freedom to make decisions, to make mistakes, and to be creative. I did have to do a lot of running around, though!

A mother of one girl in the class told me her daughter had gained a lot of confidence in her sewing abilities in the three days of the camp. The daughter had taken a sewing class the summer before at a fabric store but the teachers hovered over each student through the entire class to make sure the students did not mess up (go out of line, forget to put the presser foot down, sew the wrong seam, sew a fold into the fabric). This daughter liked this year’s camp better because I just “set them loose” to sew what they wanted, to pick whatever color thread they wanted, to make mistakes, to help them figure out solutions, and to use their imaginations. This girl went home on the last day of class wearing a new outfit that she had sewn. It was not part of my planned curriculum but she saw the fabric, came up with ideas, which I helped her shape, and then started sewing with a little instruction from me (and one major seam rip).

This got me thinking about learning to sew and how and why people do or do not learn to sew (or enjoy sewing). There is a recent Colette Patterns article about beginning sewists which I think is very accurate, and could apply to children as well. People (children, too) want to learn to sew because they are creative and want to bring an idea to reality. And, when the reality is a usable and (hopefully) beautiful object, it is a huge bonus.

My grandmother (an amazing seamstress) gave me my first sewing lessons (I’ve written about it before). I started out hand sewing Barbie dresses before finally progressing to machine sewing lines down a sheet of notebook paper to practice going in a straight line. I lost interest. I would never measure up–learning to sew would take forever, and I would never be good.
When I was in college, I lamented to a cousin’s wife at a holiday gathering that I wanted to sew clothes but had never learned to read a pattern or really use a sewing machine because I gave up learning from my sewing-perfectionist grandmother. This cousin said “That’s ridiculous! Sewing is easy! Come on, let’s go make something.” At that point I had an old black metal Singer that only did a forward and backward stitch. She found a vest pattern laying around the house, some fabric, and she showed me the basics of sewing from a pattern. She took the mystery out and gave me confidence. I couldn’t believe that in a few hours I had made a garment I could wear (of course I never wore it because it was a vest which was 10 years out of style made from what looked to me like polyester old-lady material). But, I was so proud and impressed!

That is the feeling I think (hope?) those sewing campers had when they finished.

I went to a sewer meeting recently made up of older women who were very creative and skilled and who knew a lot about sewing (much more than I). At one point in the meeting, a woman was lamenting the lack of young sewers and thinking of ways to attract young people to the craft. A few moments later, another woman was scornful of the many “easy” pdf patterns that could be downloaded from the internet. She thought these patterns were cop-out sewing—did not provide the challenge of tucks, fitting, and intricate detail. “People who sew those will not create like us.” I thought, “That attitude is exactly why young people aren’t sewing”. To think that a beginning sewer would be able, or even want, to attempt the details of an advanced garment is asking for failure. But to encourage simple-ness and creativity in “easy” sewing will give legitimacy and confidence to a whole new group of sewers. Those simple garments or projects teach skills which build upon themselves and allow someone to move on to the next set of skills. We would all love to sew couture garments or fancy quilts, but don’t have the skill (or frankly, the time—hello, 4 small children and 2 jobs). But, one day, we will, and we need older and more experienced sewers to provide encouragement and creative space, and to teach us their skills.

Sewing camp projects (items made at camp):

cloth book marks, painted (dyed) fabric, pillowcases, simple bags, circle skirts, heart pillow, elastic waist skirt, tank top, American girl doll skirts, pillow made from a sweatshirt




6 thoughts on “sewing camp and thoughts about learning to sew

  1. Thank you fortaking the time to share. Probably right about why I never learned. Who was the cousin that helped you? Great job

  2. So happy to see that you are passing along the tradition of sewing! It will be a lost art without people like you , Molly! So happy that I was able to play a part in sparking that interest in you!
    Love you bunches
    P.S. Next project ideas quilting a handbag, knitting, crocheting….

  3. What a lovely experience! I wish I could attend. I bought a machine for Christmas and still have not learned one bit of sewing.

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