Sunday, March 26, 2017

Those who can....

My first young student is a precocious little girl who was 7 when she started lessons. I had worked  pretty much exclusively with adults before I started classes with her, and I knew there would be different challenges in teaching a child the basics of sewing, along with the required safety precautions and some fun detours to keep her interest. I've had guidance from other sewing teachers
I have the good fortune to know as colleagues and friends, plus a really good road map for running a sewing school for children in the Seams Sew Cool® program that I purchased from Sandi Knutie. I had a feeling it would be a rewarding new direction for me in my business, and I haven't been disappointed.

I purchased a couple of new machines for use in my sewing classroom, refurbished basic computerized Brother machines, through one of favorite notions and supplies catalogs. I didn't know much about these machines in particular, just that some of the features they have in common with my Brother embroidery machine made me feel they'd be a good addition to my class setup.

It turns out that I really did make a great choice. Yesterday, I had a chance to observe my second young student learning on another machine she received as a Christmas gift, and there are some real differences between her Singer Talent and my Brother - some good features, in the case of the attachments for the Singer, and some missing features that offer a bit more of challenge to the student.
You can just see the speed control switch to the left in this photo, where the three arrows indicate the fastest speed.

The Brother machine has a couple of features that weren't standard on any machine I used when I was learning. The first of these is a switch to control the sewing speed. I set it to the lowest speed, which feels excruciatingly slow to anyone who's been sewing a while. Partway through her second lesson, 7-year-old Lexie asked "Does this ever go any faster?" I chose to concentrate on what we were doing rather than answer that question, and I hadn't pointed out the switch that controlled the speed. Later, I sat at her machine to quickly sew one seam, and bumped it up a notch for, well, expediency. As I expected, she reacted, all right - "Whoa! What was that?" But it wasn't until the very end of her 6-lesson session, after she'd gained some mastery over the fabric as it fed under the presser foot, that I let her select a higher speed. Even then, after the initial burst of speed, she preferred to dial it back until it was barely faster than she'd been sewing for 6 weeks. That didn't surprise me in the least. I have an adult student who uses her own Brother machine, and has it set at a pretty slow speed too. That's where the comfort level is.

The Singer has no speed adjustment, only the control of the foot pedal. Watching and guiding my new student, who's 10 years old, I was at first a bit concerned that I couldn't slow it down for her. For this "Mom and Me" lesson, her mother had come along so she could also learn how to operate the machine, and I had her try one of the sewing practice sheets as well. Although she'd never sewed before, she gained some control over the foot pedal pretty quickly, and that calmed my reservations - especially when I recalled that I'd learned on an old Singer with no speed switch. As Sadie continued to practice, working on pivoting corners until she'd completed the entire maze practice sheet, there were moments where she was able to sew very slowly and with a great deal of control. But most of the time she'd speed past the corner, speed backwards 10 or more stitches, then have to come forward again before finally pivoting a stitch or two beyond the printed corner.

The other feature that I now take for granted is the 'needle down stop' - my studio workhorse, a 25-year-old Bernina, has a button to command this; the new Brothers have it as the preset stop along with a button to lift the needle to end your sewing. It took a few moments for me to work in a reminder to "turn the hand wheel to bring the needle up" for Sadie as she got to know her Singer, and it was almost painful to watch her struggle to remember this at every corner she turned. It was only later that I realized that I, too, had to learn to do this in my early days of sewing. Now, it's second nature for me.

I spent a long time thinking about these "missing" features and the challenges they present after yesterday's lesson was over. When we were wrapping up, Sadie's mom asked if I thought the Singer was a good machine for a beginning student, and I only hesitated a moment before reassuring her that it would be. I was grateful that she hadn't taken me up on my offer to use my machine so she could practice beside her daughter. I think she might have experienced some buyer's remorse if she'd been exposed to these two features while using my Brother machine, and I wouldn't have been able to honestly say she'd made the best choice with the Singer machine. But the more I think about it, the more I feel that Sadie will become a really good sew-er because she's learning on this machine. I could see a bit of frustration as she worked, but mostly I saw the determination that she was bound to master this. And isn't that what teaching someone to sew is all about - instilling that drive and determination to get it right? She'll have to practice and work at developing the control over how much pressure she's putting on the foot pedal, so she'll be able to slow her stitching as a pivot point or end-of-seam approaches; and she'll develop the habit of turning the hand wheel to just the right point to raise the needle when she's ready to pull her work out from under the needle. But she will learn both of these things! I did, and I'll bet many of you did, too - because that was how our machines worked.


  1. Sadie is a lucky little girl to have you as a teacher and to have the machine she has. It is good to start with the basics as I believe it increases understanding of how things come together. Yes, you are right. I learned on a very basic bare bones machine that did a straight stitch only. It did not even go in reverse! Bravo to you for passing on the love of sewing to a youngster.

    1. Thanks, Tomasa. I feel privileged to be able to pass along my passion for sewing to these young students. I hope they enjoy learning as much as I do teaching!

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