Teaching a Sewing Class

Ariadne

Well-known member
So I'm starting a sewing class this month for three 15 year olds and a 19 year old (and anyone else who wanders in). I spent the first lesson just getting them to understand how clothes are constructed, how the seams work and how curved shapes are fitted to the body to look like straight lines, etc. They've all decided to make cloaks as their first project but they will be all different types and lengths. I figure it's a simple pattern so it should work just as well as shorts or a skirt for beginners. I'm planning to use one of the cloak patterns to teach them how to make their own. One of them wants a shoulder half cloak which if I remember correctly is just a half circle with a band, easy pattern to make. After that will be selecting material and teaching them how to lay out the pattern on the fabric to cut.

Anyway, long story short, does anyone have any advice?
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
HUGE advice:

Teach them an "Introduction to Sewing Machine Operation" first.

How to thread it, how to wind a bobbin, how to avoid common mistakes (and fix them when they happen anyway), how to run the machine, feed the work, NOT get their finger involved with the needle, etc, etc. Practice running seams on scrap fabric, play with the dials and see what they do.

I have run into more people - women mostly of course, who are absolutely TERRIFIED of a sewing machine! Including my wife. Several of them got that way because of that "situation" in 8th grade where the girls are supposed to make a dress, and model it while serving a kind of High Tea for their mothers. I don't know if schools are still doing that or not, but my school did in California, my wife's did in Illinois, as did a couple or three others I've heard about in disparate parts of the country.

I helped my wife overcome her resultant fear - it wasn't easy for her!
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
Wow, thanks! I’ll make sure and do a full class of that before they start actually sewing. I think between my sisters and I we have enough machines for them all to have a dedicated machine they use.

Any chance I can get you to elaborate on common mistakes? I’ve been sewing so long I don’t even have to pin half the time, I just feed my fabric through using finger tension. I had completely forgotten how hard that is for a beginner till my son tried imitating me. I'm sure I’ve forgotten a lot more then that.

I don't know about high tea but my friends either had to make shorts or an apron. I didn’t take the class. I found out what it taught and refused since my mother had already taught me that stuff years earlier. Fortunately my advanced art classes were considered an adequate substitute. My friends who did take it almost universally came out hating to sew though. I couldn’t understand why at the time...
 
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Daimona

Moderator
Common mistakes... :think:

  • Not washing and ironing/shrinking fabric before sewing.
  • Too small seam allowance (i.e. cutting at the sewing line).
  • Snag and uneven tension of upper and lower fabric.
  • Pulling the fabric through the sewing machine, not letting the sewing machine do the job itself, instead of just guiding the fabric.

  • Sewing on the pins causing needle tips to break. Solution: Place them with head toward you and pick them out just before the sewing needle is about to hit it.
  • Sewing through too many layers of fabric (because the lower fabric had folded itself without the seamstress' knowledge).
  • Measure twice, cut once.
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
The classic one I've seen, and done, multiple times: Sewing the work to the backside of the garment because you lost track of what the backside was doing! REAL easy to do.

Your seamripper is your friend; so is your iron. If your seamripper is old and dull, toss it and get a new one!

Set your tensions! I'm going to be teaching my current teacher how to run her machine - she tells me that her M-I-L gave it to her, and the thread is tangling. I'm sure its a tension problem, but I told her to bring me the machine so I could service it and check the tensions.

Just about ANY machine manual published after 1950 or so will have inadequate oiling instructions!
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
Makes it twice as hard - you gotta find all the little oil cups and moving bits and oil them - without guidance.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Good on ya for taking on newbie sewers, Ariadne! I'll look forward to updates of your adventures.

My two cents worth of advice: make sure they understand the importance of pressing the garment between each sewing step, and make sure they understand the difference between pressing and ironing. One of my dancers made her wedding gown and did a creditable job except she didn't press a single seam during construction, resulting in a dress that couldn't be forced into shape after she put it on. Her bridal attendant did her best to finger press the seams into obedience but to no avail. Fortunately the bride's radiant happiness outshone any costume shortcomings but still... just a quick press of each seam as it was sewn would've made a big difference in appearance.

Circle cloaks are usually cut on the bias which will increase the possibility of stretching the fabric out of shape. Hemming a curve will be more of a challenge than hemming a straight edge even without stretching it out of shape. I don't think I'd add these particular challenges to a beginning project.
 
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Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
Teacher's sewing machine in-hand. Could tell in the parking lot what its problem is - at least ONE problem. The upper tension was set on "2". Uh, no. Not unless you're sewing with yarn...

I'll see what else ails it...
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
Oh, that would definitely be a problem...

Circle cloaks are usually cut on the bias which will increase the possibility of stretching the fabric out of shape. Hemming a curve will be more of a challenge than hemming a straight edge even without stretching it out of shape. I don't think I'd add these particular challenges to a beginning project.
Good point, I had forgotten that; fortunately there has already been a change of plans. To put it plainly their parents can't afford that much fabric this month so the cloaks are being put off to project two and I'm starting them out with something really simple first, sleeping masks. They're small, can be made from scrap fabrics, and can be customized with all types of fabrics.

So new plan for today. Instead of covering patterning a cloak we'll be starting out with burn tests of scrap fabrics, discussing what different fabrics are best for, and then cutting out their "masks". If there is still time, and I'm going to try and make sure there is, then I will finish with showing them how you use scraps from your cutting to test your tensions first and let them play with the machines AKA Zorba's suggested "Introduction to Sewing Machine Operation". If there isn't then that will be next week.
 

Daimona

Moderator
How cool to use scraps for sleeping mask sewing project.
Would be cool to join you, but kind of difficult with travelling.... ;)
 
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Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
My teacher's sewing machine lives! Cleaned and oiled, adjusted the belt tension, adjusted the thread tension, and ran it through all its paces without problems!

YAY!

Now I can teach my teacher "basic SM operation"...
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
I am jealous. All I know how to do is oil my machine. I don't even know if my machine has a belt tension.
... it's probably time to oil it again now that I think about it.

How cool to use scraps for sleeping mask sewing project.
Would be cool to join you, but kind of difficult with travelling.... ;)
Just a little. :)

It went really well. We didn't have time to do the "Introduction to Sewing Machine Operation" but I don't mind since the reason is they were having too much fun burn testing. I pulled out my textiles sample folder where I could positively identify what the fabrics were and demonstrated the different results while they read off a description sheet. After that they went to town ransacking the scraps and remnants and testing everything. By the time that was done all we had time for was to make the pattern and for two of them to begin cutting out the fabric.

A small disclaimer. We used a VERY WELL VENTILATED area. Just in case anyone reading this wants to give burn testing fabrics a try don't forget to ventilate well! Most man made fabrics give off toxins when burned. Also do not forget a bowl of water to extinguish any flare ups that don't want to go out. Instructions can be found here: https://www.fabricmartfabrics.com/Burn-Test-Chart.html
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Burn, baby, burn.

Amazing what captures the imagination of children though fire fascinates almost everyone.
 

Daimona

Moderator
Cool that everything went well. Nothing beats that.


And thanks to this thread I remembered to press every seam (almost at once) of my sewing project last night. The only common mistakes I did was not paying enough attention to fabric folding up while sewing and had to unpick an inch And I should absolutely change the needle. It is blunt and I haven't even manage to break it yet! (i.e. a blunt needle is something I rarely experience)


Edit: Aaaand with less than 1 inch left of the seam (was fixing the bottom hem of a tunic), the needle broke!


Another typical error is mixing fabrics with different elasticity, or using the wrong fabric for the wrong project (i.e. thick cotton for a baggy harem pant made was not a good combination...)
 
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Shanazel

Super Moderator
Another typical error is mixing fabrics with different elasticity, or using the wrong fabric for the wrong project (i.e. thick cotton for a baggy harem pant made was not a good combination...)
Gives a whole new meaning to the term "balloon pants." ;)
 

Ariadne

Well-known member
:lol:

Oh I have definitely been guilty of that! Experience has taught me to pay close attention to what the desired result is when picking my fabrics.

I have also broken more then one needle, it always scares me. I get images of little sharp metal pieces flying toward my eyes.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Once I started wearing glasses about twenty years ago, I worried less about broken needles flying toward my face. About the same time, I started removing pins from the fabric as I sew though I used to sew over them with great confidence and abandon. The older I get, the more I realize it CAN happen to me and the more steps I take to avoid that chance.

Ariadne, if you're interested, there is a site called Pattern Review that offers a number of different threads and articles on sewing, including sewing for beginners. https://sewing.patternreview.com/
 
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