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Prepare to Teach
You've sewn for years and you know what you're doing but aren't sure you're ready to start teaching someone else how to sew.
The first step is to think about going back to square one. Pretend you have never touched a sewing machine before. Most people will have an older sewing machine that they want to learn to sew on rather than making a big investment. If you don't know their machine, ask for time to test their machine so you know it is in working order before the owner/student gets... frustrated trying to sew with a broken sewing machine. If the machine is not working correctly, tell them to get it repaired before they attempt to sew with the machine. Have the machine owner obtain a manual for the machine if they do not have one.
Learn the parts of a sewing machine so you can correctly explain how things work and use the correct names of the parts while you are giving directions. Saying the "thingamajig or the whatchamacallit" is not the way to teach someone because they will never find those terms in a book or manual when you aren't available.
Set up a supply list with the materials you will expect the student to have with them. This can depend on a particular project or a complete sewing kit and sewing machine. This will be a decision you will have to make. Their own sewing machine, bobbins and thread are the bare minimum. A student is much better off learning on their own sewing machine whenever possible. Try not to overwhelm the student by asking them to have sewing tools they will not need immediately, but ask them to have enough tools that they will be able to practice and sew on their own when they are not with you. Part of their preparation for sewing lessons should be to sign up for sales fliers and coupons so they can save money by sewing. You may also want to suggest that the student has a folder or notebook to keep their own notes or scrapbook type pages of their progress.Continue to 2 of 3 below.
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Set up a lesson plan. This does not have to be elaborate and be prepared for your teaching schedule to change to meet the student's pace of learning. Remember that not everyone is going to take to sewing immediately and no one starts off at the same pace as someone who has been sewing for years.
The first time someone is learning to sew, sitting down to the sewing machine requires them to master controlling the machine. Because you have been sewing for years, you tend to forget just how much... skill is involved in controlling the machine.
Always start with the machine not threaded and sewing on paper. Mastering operating the machine without the frustration of thread tangles and thread knotting is much easier.
Mastering speed control is one step in mastering full control of the sewing machine. Many machines have a turtle and hare setting to control speed but many do not. Without even sewing paper, allow the student to experiment with how fast or slow they can make the machine go. Let them practice until they can maintain an even speed on the sewing machine.
When someone is unable to control the foot pedal, a small item, such as a thin bobbin or washers, can be placed under the edge of the foot pedal to prevent the pedal from going at "full speed". This is especially helpful for young people who want to sew. If the item under the foot pedal wants to slip out of the way, place a piece of tape, sticky side up, under the foot pedal and under the item to stop the full depression of the foot pedal to hold the stopper in place.
If someone's legs are too short to reach the foot pedal, place the foot pedal on a thick book.
Print out practice sheets. Your goal will be to have them sew an even distance from each line, not on the line. It is important that the student learns to focus on watching a guide, not the sewing machine needle. Start with straight lines, including the edges of the paper, using the edge of the presser foot as a seam guide and then move on to the curved lines. Teach the student that the machine will feed the fabric and their job is to just guide the fabric (or paper in this case) under the needle as it is sewn. Forcing the fabric under the needle can result in bent sewing machine needles and a lot of frustration because of the machine malfunctions that will result from a bent sewing machine needle.
Move on to sewing the paper with squares, teaching them to stop with the machine needle down so they can pivot at the corners.
As a last step in learning to control the sewing machine, thread the sewing machine, teaching the student to thread their machine and explaining about keeping the thread tails behind the needle. Using scraps of fabric, allow the student to experiment with sewing straight and curved seams keeping an even seam allowance as they sew.
A Sewing License
When you feel the student has mastered controlling the sewing machine, reward them with a sewing machine license. (The sewing machine license PDF file offers full-size scrapbook pages or small licenses.)Continue to 3 of 3 below.
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The First Real Sewing Project
Once the student masters the sewing machine, it's time to start a real sewing project. The first project should be something that requires simple straight sewing. It should be a project that is simple enough to be finished in one lesson so the student is able to have immediate gratification. Starting with simple projects so the student has a finished item is an important key to them learning before moving on to a complicated project that may take weeks to complete.
Choose a project and give the... student a materials list so they are prepared for the next lesson. You can also prepare a "kit" so everyone is ready with the exact same starting point and materials. If you do make a "kit" be sure to talk about the details, such as preshrinking, fabric grain, fabric choices and pattern choice so they know what they should look for when they go shopping on their own. If your "kit" contains the fabric cut for the project, demonstrate how you cut the fabric so they are capable of cutting their own fabric if they want to make the project on their own.
Always have a print out of the directions for each student or a printout of the directions in each kit. This allows the student to make the project again on their own.
Choose a simple sewing project. There are many free beginner sewing projects to choose from but the ten easiest are the best place to start. The first three projects listed on the ten easiest would be my first suggestion. An Envelope-Back Pillow can be used by any age group and a potholder is always a useful item. A Simple Tote Bag is always handy to have on hand.
Allow the students to feel comfortable with finishing a project before moving on to a commercial pattern. The first time sewing a commercial pattern should be an "Easy to sew" type of pattern. This allows the student to learn how to understand and read a pattern before trying to also learn more detailed sewing techniques.