Raising a Girl to Sew

Time and time again, I get comments from readers telling me how lucky I am that I have daughters that sew.  They are so right.  I am TOTALLY lucky that I can share my hobby with my girls.

We have three girls….Kelli is 24 and sews more than I do.  Kayla is 23 and sews a lot.  She also knits, crochets and other crafty endeavors.  Kalissa is 16 and she hasn’t caught the crafting/sewing bug yet…but she can sew and she loves to scrap book if she ever has spare time.  This weekend, Kelli talked Kalissa into sewing one strip together for our Perkiomen Daydreams quilt.  Here Kalissa is SO proud of the strip set she sewed…


Much to Kelli’s disappointment, Kalissa only hung around to sew one strip set….it didn’t surprise me though…Kalissa is 16 and doesn’t love sewing.  Will she become a quilter one day…time will tell.

Because of all the comments I get about my daughters sewing with me, I thought I would put together some tips for you to use to encourage your kids to sew with you.

Tip #1
Let them do the sewing.  You do the seam ripping.  My mom did this all the time.  She would be helping me sew, I would make a mistake and she would rip it out.  I miss my mom for that….I still make mistakes and she’s not there to rip them out anymore.

Tip #2
Do not continually tell you daughter how you would do it.  Explain directions, yes….Lord over them, no.  If they ask, you can give your opinion but never in a negative way.

Tip #3
Even if you think the pattern or the colors are hideous together, don’t push your choices (or thoughts) onto them.

Tip #4
Don’t act like your sewing machine is fragile, delicate, expensive, or breakable.  If you begin to tell you daughter that they need to be so careful because the machine can break, they will be too afraid to try.  When Kayla was little…6 or 7 years old, I gave her my old sewing machine.  It was a $200 machine but worked well.  If she got the threads tangled up, I didn’t say a thing.  She was willing to try to fix it and I let her.  There are sewing machines at Goodwill for $30.   (I have one!)

Tip #5
Pick projects for success.  Start out with a simple pillowcase, apron, curtain valance or doll quilt with squares.  Children are likely to be able to complete these projects because they are not long projects and require only straight sewing seams.

Tip #6
If there is a project they really want to sew….don’t say things like…oh that’s to hard for a beginner.  Instead say, WOW…you are ambitious.  That’s a project we might have to work on together.

Tip #7
Don’t harp on the child telling them how much the fabric cost…Yes it cost a lot but…if they hear you harping, sewing it is going to become a chore not a pleasure.  If cost is a factor, go through you husband’s closet and pick out 100% cotton button down shirts.  They make wonderful fabric.

Tip #8
Don’t tell them all the things they did wrong in the project.  Tell them EVERYTHING they did right….even if the only thing they did well was to clip the thread.

Tip #9
If you are not patient enough to teach your daughter to sew, don’t fret.  If you don’t have an Aunt Judy (my sister) available, quilt shops in the area typically have kids sewing classes.  Kayla and I continually clashed when she wanted to sew.  I would send her to my sister’s house.  My sister has patience beyond anyone’s imagination….Judy taught her lots!  I didn’t teach Kalissa a lot about sewing either…she went to several quilt classes at the local quilt shop.

Tip #10
Model sewing and quilting.  If they see you quilting, they will think it’s normal.  Make it seem fun!

Tip #11
Be available.  Typically my girls would sew at the kitchen table and I would be making a batch of cookies or making supper.  I was close and available but not stalking their progress.

Tip #12
Let them sew scraps at the their leisure.  One time Kayla, at age 7, sewed a dress from scraps for her visiting cousin.  She didn’t hem it.  It was a mis-mash of silly looking, poorly fitting, to tight, yet sagging fabric mess….but she did it!  No pattern…just a vision in her head.  She did it while we were visiting with the rest of family.

Tip #13
When your daughter is ready to use a rotary cutter, mat and ruler on their own, gift them to your daughter.  Tell her that she is ready for her very own set.  Kelli was completely happy to get my used but not used up set…I convinced her that mine were a little ratty looking and I was just going to throw them out anyway, so would she be interested.  Having the right equipment is critical to sewing success….help provide it.

Tip #14
Do not under any circumstances EVER become competitive with your daughter.  This has never happened at our house but I have talked to people that this is an issue.

Tip #15
If your daughter makes you something, and it is completely hideous….something like a table runner


that is made of colors that are not in your house….  Has a variety of thread colors…


and has “binding” that was turned over from the back to front very poorly…


…so poorly that the batting is sticking out and the raw edges show, tell her you love it.  Tell her you can’t believe how hard she worked to make something SO VERY SPECIAL just for you.  Tell her you so appreciate all the time thought she put into the project.  Show her how beautifully one of the corners meet together.  Tell her that you didn’t know she could machine quilt and for her first time ever……it is COMPLETELY and TOTALLY amazing.  When your friends come to visit, show them the AMAZINGLY WONDERFUL table runner that your daughter made just for you.  Tell them that she surprised you and how impressed you are with her work.  Tell them that the table runner is SO VERY SPECIAL that you do not keep it in the kitchen for everyone to see.  Tell them that you keep it on your dresser in your bedroom where you know nothing will get spilled on it…and each and every night, before you go to bed, you can see it and remember how VERY SPECIAL and COMPLETELY BLESSED you are that you have a daughter who would work SO hard to make you such an INCREDIBLE GIFT.

Kalissa made that table runner for me when she was 10.  It will always be SO VERY SPECIAL to me….each night before I go to bed, I see it and remember how VERY SPECIAL and COMPLETELY BLESSED I am that I have not one but three daughters (and two sons) who would work SO hard to make me so VERY proud of them!

22 thoughts on “Raising a Girl to Sew”

  1. Love this post! We have two boys here at home and I also have 2 stepdaughters don’t live with us but come to visit about every 2 weeks. :) I think both of the girls think that I am “corny” for sewing as much as I do. I never push my quilting on them but they do love when I make them quilts. I’m thinking that someday….they will want to learn to sew.

  2. You’re very lucky, as are they. I’m amazed sometimes that I sew so much now. My mother sewed since before I was born and while she taught me to sew, it was full of “don’t do this” and “don’t TOUCH my machine” and all the rest of her standard criticism. My mother’s version of a compliment was, “well, it doesn’t look TOO horrible.” She sewed all kinds of doll clothes, crafts, home decor, and apparel, but never quilting, so I guess I found the one niche she avoided. But even though she taught me how to read and work with a traditional sewing pattern, I still think my work is too horrible to even attempt. At least your daughters won’t grow up with my mother’s “not good enough” voice in their heads.

    The sad part is that I don’t know if I have the ability to teach my stepdaughters how to sew without doing it my mother’s way. But this post helps.

  3. Pat C in Washingon

    This probably wasn’t your intention, but your tips just brought tears to my eyes! You have totally captured the essence of how to ALLOW your children to learn to love anything, whether it is sewing, or baking or woodworking or taxidermy or whatever. It really is all about finding a way to put a positive spin on things – the ugliest table runner in the world becomes a precious topper for your dresser where it won’t get food spilled on it – just perfect. I learned to sew sitting on my mom’s lap while she “drove” the sewing machine and I fed fabric under the presser foot. She never made a big deal about doing things perfectly or being careful of her expensive sewing machine, it was always, “let’s try this!” She’s 92 and has advanced Alzheimer’s now and doesn’t know who I am, but your tips reminded me so much of how she was when I was a child. Thank you.

  4. JO, I love your blog and how your daughters love to sew. My granddaughter only 5 will sit in my lap when I sew. She has learned how to push the pedal. She has made several pillows and the smile on her face is priceless. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Your table runner reminds me of an apron which I made for my mom when I was about 8 or 9. I made the ties for it out of lace which had gold threads running through it. I thought it was the most beautiful apron in the world. Like you, she deemed it so precious that after the initial wearing of it (on her birthday), she put it in her cedar chest where she kept all her most precious keepsakes.

  6. What great advice! I wish all kids had such support on their endeavors. I too have those sewn articles proudly displayed. My daughter is now 5 and has been hand sewing for about a year. Many people ask how I taught her and we seem to be very similar in style. I haven’t ventured into letting her run the seewing machine yet. One tip I would add to your list is to have a designated area of “their” fabrics that they can use from at anytime. This way treasured fabrics or ones purchased for my projects are not accidentally cut in the middle =)

  7. I’m the mother of a 9-year-old sewer/quilter. And I live your advice every day – I do all the ripping. Only rip the most grossly imperfect things. I never criticize color/fabric choices. The scrap bin is fair game, even if it involves her fussy-cutting something out of the middle. She sews better on my (nicer) sewing machine than on her (craigslist) sewing machine – and she’s not broken it in 4 years of sewing. Hold your breath when teaching rotary cutting and start with a sharp blade. Sometimes sewing classes are a good thing – she learns things from Miss Macy and loves to show them to me. Perfection is overrated. Her first quilt is full of irregular seams, pleats, and baby toe-catchers, but she did it all herself. Don’t push it sewing…unless you’re on a deadline (and have entered a quilt in a show and the quilt’s not done!) Every once in a while, let her pick a fabrics she loves – and buy her a yard – even if it looks just like the upholstery on my great grandmother’s mauve tufted victorian settee.

  8. Wonderful pieces of advice. My grown daughter and I love to get together and sew. I still love to help her with the parts she doesn’t enjoy like pressing her seams. I think it makes her want to sew with me more.

    I have to admit that one of the saddest things I see are moms that complete with their daughters. When Bee successes it makes me glow with pride.

  9. I’ve been teaching a small group of girls at a weekly event… found things went much more smoothly when I gave each machine a thread catcher and showed them how to use it.

    We’ve been using vintage Singer hand-cranks, which suit the purpose fabulously.

  10. I had some improvement in their color choices, by having them make a whole pile of bright nine-patches from precut strips, then going through the pile, and talking about which ones we liked and why, with some “this print is ugly on its own, but look how nicely it sets off a plain solid” from me. (I tried really really hard not to speak poorly of anyone’s choices.)

    It just seems that putting two very similar colors or two busy patterns together is a mistake they have to make over and over before they catch on.

    I want to sit down with them and teach some actual color theory, but haven’t found my moment yet.

  11. Excellent list that can be used in so many areas of our lives not only as we raise children but also as they turn into adults.

  12. At what age would you recommending starting to show your little ones how to sew? Both my son (5) and daughter (3) have shown interest when I sew but I’m thinking they’re still a little young. I’ve seen children’s sewing machines (there’s a Hello Kitty one at Costco I lingered over last week), but I’m guessing those are more trouble than they’re worth.

    I lost my mother when I was 5 years old and didn’t have anyone to teach me how to sew, knit, or even craft. After I had my son I taught myself to knit and after I had my daughter I taught myself to sew (sorta…still a major work in progress :) ), quilt and make hair accessories. I’m not very good at any of it, but I keep trying and learning which, in itself, it’s something I’m very glad to demonstrate for my children. Thank you for the advice, I will absolutely use it as they get older and more involved in my new hobbies.

  13. one of the things I taught beginner students and my girls was that “it is just fabric”. And there is more! I taught each of my 11 grandkids how to use the sewing machine (on my good Bernina) and 9 of those are boys. They had to get their “sewing license” before they could make something…like a pillowcase or pot holder. The youngest one wondered if he could use his “license” at the library! All but one of them have made a quilt and he’s 24 and I think I missed my window of opportunity. Great bonding time!

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