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I was in my 7th grade Home Economics class and I was piecing together squares for a 9-patch throw pillow. I remember turning the finished pillow in and anxiously awaiting my grade of an A. I had spent a lot of time picking the perfect fabrics, my favorite one being a calico with delicate blue flowers on a cream background. I had been very careful when sewing my seams, trying to keep the stitching straight. I was crushed when it came back to me with a grade of B+ and a note that the corners of my patches didn't match up perfectly.
If you've ever sewn anything patchwork, you know how difficult it is to get all of the squares to align perfectly. My mother-in-law has been making quilts for 60 years and she still gives me quilts with misaligned squares here and there throughout. Whether it was perfectionism or insecurity in me, I don't know. But I do know it killed any desire in me to sew after that. In my mind I couldn't even sew a simple pillow with straight lines. Forget clothing! I went away with a misunderstanding that it is easier to sew a perfectly straight line than it is to sew one that is curved. In actuality, you're more likely to notice when a straight line is off than you are a curved one. But the extent of my evaluation from my teacher was that note that my squares weren't perfect.
I helped my mom cut patterns and helped her hand-sew pieces of projects together when needed but it wasn't until I had my first son that I felt the desire to try to sew on a machine again. I wanted to make a cowboy costume for his first Halloween. I couldn't find a pattern for a vest and chaps and I couldn't find a felt hat so I made my own. When I finished I realized that I could learn to sew. I began to understand that my personality was one that needed to be allowed to create with freedom from perfection. I found security in knowing that the mistakes I made (and I made a lot of them!) were either not that noticeable or were hidden. Not like that 9-patch pillow of my youth!
Considering my history with learning to sew, when I decided to introduce my young friend Reagan to the world of sewing I made 3 rules for the project.
I'd like to elaborate a bit on each point.
1. A 9-patch pillow is a great project for some kids and when you're in a school setting, I understand it is necessary to keep things as streamlined as possible because of the number of students a teacher has to help. However, most of us, especially young people, benefit greatly from being introduced to something new in a way that does not set us up with the potential for feeling we are being judged as inadequate. Seeing our finished project next to one an experienced person has created allows us to look ourselves for ways we can improve. Our first projects should be about discovering that sewing is a skill that will take time and practice. That is just as easily achieved through a project that 10 or 12 seams as one that has 30 and by choosing a project that still looks good, even with a bit of crooked top stitching. An added benefit is if the project turns out with more accuracy than anticipated, you've just helped build great confidence in someone!
2. You can't learn if you don't practice but when working with a young person who is learning to sew, I believe you should encourage them to try and if they get off track and ask for help, by all means help! Once you have them back on track, ask them to continue. If they want to go back and redo a seam, teach them how to rip it out and do it again. If they don't ask to redo it and it doesn't affect the construction of the project, leave the mistake there! Memories that you were there to help them are much more likely to foster a desire to keep sewing than memories of ripping out a seam over and over again until it was perfect. Perfection will come with practice and practice is far more fun on new projects than it is on redoing the same seam over and over again.
3. Another factor to consider when teaching a young person how to sew is their level of activity. If they are one who needs to get up and move a lot, asking them to sit for long periods of time and concentrate on a project can squash their desire to learn to sew. During childhood, sewing is always just a hobby and hobbies are supposed to be enjoyable, a break from chores and schoolwork. Reagan is very active and took several short breaks to hold my Italian Greyhound and play with my son's cat. I took her level of activity into consideration when deciding how involved to make the project. Originally I was going to have her cover the entire front of her journal cover with squares of fabric (no corner matching required!) When she arrived at my house and I saw how full of energy she was, I talked about my plan with her and we decided 3 wide stripes might work better.
We began by using the Sew Taxi to measure the journal cover to determine how big to make the base. Reagan watched as I did this for her. Measuring and adding in seam allowances isn't exactly fun and my goal was to foster a desire to sew again in the future. I measured the height of the book and added a 1 3/4 inches to this to allow for extra room for the book and 1/2 inch seam allowances. I then measured the width adding in 6 inches to create flaps that would fold over and create the pockets (each 3 inches wide) for the covers to slip into. I added another inch for hemming the edges of the flaps.
I used the 45 mm Comfort Grip Rotary Cutter, the 18.5 x 3.5 inch Acrylic Ruler, and the 18 x 24 inch Cutting Mat to cut the base to this size. For the sake of time, I did this for Reagan. If she had asked to do it I would have helped her learn to use the rotary cutter but since it is a tool that takes some time learning to use without getting off line I didn't ask her to do this step on her first project.
The next step was a fun step so Reagan was anxious to help with it. Using the Fiskars Heart Shape Template, I had her trace a heart onto the back side of a pink fabric she chose to use. We just used a pencil and at this point she got a little flustered when her pencil line strayed from the template. After assurance that the pencil lines would be hidden on the back of the heart, she was fine and continued!
I handed her my favorite fabric scissors, the No. 8 Razor Edge Comfort Grip scissors, to use to cut out her heart.
They were a little large for her hand and cumbersome for her to use so we switched to a small pair, the Micro-Tip® Softgrip No. 5 Scissors.
When it was time to cut the stripes I strayed from traditional sewing tools and got out my LED Surecut Folding Rotary Paper Trimmer. You cannot beat a paper trimmer for cutting small pieces of fabric into strips or squares. The arm holds the fabric tightly making it much easier to keep the fabric from sliding around while you're cutting and since the rotary blade is affixed to the arm and the arm is affixed to the base of the trimmer, there's no chance of getting your cut off line. If you need a strip that is longer than the length of your cutter, you can simply fold the fabric in half or even quarters to make it short enough to fit the length of the trimmer.
I asked Reagan if she liked fringy edges or smooth edges on her fabric and she said she needed smooth edges. This meant the strips needed to be hemmed. I ironed the edges of the strips over to the back side of the fabric to get started. Again, ironing isn't fun, and when working with small hems like this it's easy to burn your fingers. Since Reagan didn't ask to do this step, I did it for her. To make sewing the strips to the base of the cover easier, instead of pinning them we used the Glueglider Pro by Glue Arts. These have interchangeable cartridges and one of the cartridges is the FabricBond cartridge. It is similar to fusible web in that you iron it to make it permanent. It's different in that it has a slight tack to it prior to ironing which makes keeping it in place on your project a breeze!
After we ironed the strips to the cover activating FabricBond, Reagan got to start sewing! She straight stitched down the edge of each strip. She got to practice trusting the feed dogs to pull the fabric through for her, guiding the fabric left to right to keep the stitching even, and using the presser foot as a stitching guide. Her hair is wet in this photo because she had taken a short break to swim with the other kids.
The embellishing of the cover was finished by adhering Reagan's fabric heart over the strips with fusible web and top stitching around the perimeter.
The cover was completed by helping Reagan hem all 4 edges of the cover 1/2 inch and then folding the flaps over 3 inches to the wrong side of the cover, stitching them down along the top and bottom edges.
Through all the scrapbooking, altered project, and sewing lessons I've taught, the one thing I've learned myself is summed up by a quote by Maya Angelo.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Instructions are likely to be forgotten. Demonstrations are likely to need repeating. I've learned that if you cater to the personality of your student and their need to feel secure as they learn, they respond very well and your job is much easier in the end. They are more comfortable with making mistakes if you accept the mistakes (some mistakes even turn out looking very cool!) and encourage them through praise of what they did well, whether it's colors they chose, a creative touch they ventured to add on their own, or simply for continuing to try in spite of their frustrations.