The Sewing Machine as a Tool for Artists and Educators

Sewing is one of my favorite things to do. I love how quickly you can see progress, and how it’s relatively simple to make something impressive. Fabric hoarding is in my blood, and I have boxes, baskets, and bins labeled “small fabric pieces” and “trims/pompoms”.

My mom tried to teach me how to sew when I was little, but the frustration quickly overpowered the enjoyment. I didn’t decide to really jump back into formally learning how to sew until I was in high school. My high school had a “fashion arts” program that became my safe space for four years. I blew through the elective courses offered in the space, and by my junior year I was in Ms. Simon’s class more periods than out of it… using my mornings, lunch, and study hall time to work on the clothing garments I was learning to make. I spent countless hours in the back of her classroom swearing under my breath about an invisible hem or misplaced pleat.

In college I learned to see the sewing machine as a useful tool. My university didn’t offer sewing classes, but I used my trusty Brother A-Line to whip up curtains to spruce up my garbage apartment, patch up holes in favorite jeans, make presents for friends or roommates, and eventually make sculptures! It was a creative break through when I realized how freeing it could be to use the machine without a pattern! The sewing machine became an artistic tool that I used as frequently as a pencil sharpener.

When I graduated from college, I began working with kids and found that the way I saw my sewing machine had changed again. From a way to escape math class to an artistic tool, my machine became an important feature in the maker space where I was working with kids. Learning to use the machine created this sense of pride that was so amazing to witness as a young educator, that it quickly became my favorite thing to teach.

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“Fiber Fridays” during the summers at the library filled the back room or maker space with laughter and creative sparks as learners left wearing homemade shorts or sundresses. When kids hear that I am going to let them use the machine, their eyes light up with some combination of fear and excitement, and usually they ask how fast they will be allowed to go. The feeling of empowerment and strength that comes from using the foot pedal and “steering” the fabric is usually worth all of the stress surrounding getting little ones on the machine.

I just finished teaching a camp where the end result of three days of sewing was a handmade skirt. I loved seeing the fabric choices and unusal combinations that these creative kids decided on. At the end of the three days, I was completely exhausted, but also totally inspired by the pride that these young seamstresses exhibited when strutting their creations through the library and neighboring tea shop.

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For me, it’s really important to remember that it was too hard for my mom to teach me how to sew because of my frustration. Sewing is hard! It requires patience and accepting imperfection as not only a possibility but a reality. That’s something I still struggle with!

Do any of you use sewing machines in your work with kids? Share your experiences below! I would love to hear from other educators!

 

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