The resurgence of the retro hobby of sewing is spawning a new generation of stitchers inspired by their crafting parents. These children are learning sewing skills for life as their grandparents did: through watching and sewing with their moms. Of course, one of the most helpful ways to create some vintage textiles is with the delights of the trusty sewing machine. Here are some tips to help you teach your child how to use one.

Equip yourself
Consider investing in a children’s sewing machine. They are lightweight, simple to operate with large dials and clear labeling, and have in-built safety features, such as an automatic stop. Fun additions include stitch selectors offering multiple styles from zigzags to scallops. There’s an array of machines on the market for you to explore.

What’s what
Give your child a brief guide to the different parts of the machine – the stitch selector, tension control, presser foot, feed dogs, needle plate etc. And before giving them free reign, it’s a good idea to go through some safety rules. Obviously hands away from the needle when stitching is top of the list, together with remembering to switch off when threading. Also, impress on your child the sensitivity of the foot pedal. You might want to use the analogy of driving the car – press down too hard and you’ll end up speeding and losing control!

Paper practice
Lots of kids love sewing on paper practice sheets; they’re a fun way to get used to controling the machine. You don’t even need to thread the machine for this! These sheets will help your child learn where to position their hands to guide the paper and control the direction of their stitching. Show them how to turn a sharp corner by leaving the needle in the paper, raising the presser foot and pivoting the paper. This will give them the skills to tackle mazes and dot-to-dot sheets.

Go for a test drive
When your child is ready, thread the bobbin and machine together, carefully following the manufacturer’s instructions, and move on to fabric. There are a few additional things to show and tell your child at this point: how to reverse stitch and experiment with different stitches, remembering to raise the needle out of the fabric beforehand; how to use the foot plate lines as guides for sewing in straight lines; and remind them to cut thread with plenty of excess length to minimize the need for re-threading. Now it’s time to let them play and go for a test drive – under your watchful eye, of course!

Get inspired
When your child has mastered the basics, it’s not difficult to find simple sewing project ideas on the internet. You could for instance start with a very simple drawstring bag. With just two straight seams and two lines to make the casing, the bag was completed in minutes. Now, there’s no stopping her!


Photo by Annie Spratt

Lisa Harrison
Written by Lisa Harrison
Lisa is the Deputy Editor of Vintage Life Magazine and Publisher at Dragoon Publishing. She is avid bookworm, collector of vintage homeware, loves travel, lazy weekends away and eats way too much cake!