Why kids should learn to sew (and I why I love teaching them)

wp-1466726946015.jpgI run a small sewing club for Grade 6 students at my school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those two 40-minute blocks, twice a week are often the highlight of my day, but even more so in the past few weeks.
The group I have now are my more “experienced” sewers and gave graduated from yo-yo,  scrunchie and rosettes to the very chic, lined zipper pouch. I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while, but two things happened this week that told me I had to write it like, rightnow.
Yesterday, one of the calmer girls was finally at the stage of turning her pouch right side out. We’ve been working on these since Easter, painstakingly cutting out and pinning pattern pieces, setting zippers, pressing seams and finally getting to sew with the machine. A lot has been building to this moment.
Losing her composure for a moment, she giggled and said, “this is actually really exciting.”
“It is really exciting,” I replied to her. “You just took something 2-D and made it 3-D. You made that!”

And then today, I had a really neat moment with another student. She wasn’t happy with one of her zipper seams – it gaped just a little at the top. And had attempted many times to fix it. She finally sat down, just a little bit heavily, and a little bit teary-eyed and said, “that’s just going to have to be good enough.”

“Yup,” I said. “That’s what sewing is. It’s not about perfection. It’s about it being good enough and learning something new every time you make something.” I then told her my most recent brush with not-perfect and some mis-matched fabric on the dress I’m attempting to finish by our Tuesday graduation ceremony. I tried to explain that I’ve been sewing for years and years and still make mistakes and am (usually) totally okay with it.

So, these two conversations (as well as so, so many others) have absolutely convinced me that kids need sewing in their lives. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Math. My students’ jaws drop when I tell them sewing is all about math, but seriously, after 20 years of sewing I can pretty much do an operation to a fraction. In my head. Really fast. You also need to know how to measure. Being off my 1/8 of an inch may seem small, but that can translate to your skirt being 1/4 inch too small, which is definitely a problem. Understanding geometry and translations and reflections of shapes comes super handy when laying out pattern pieces.
2. Fine motor skills. Practicing small, even stitches can absolutely help with messy handwriting. And who write anything by hand any more? We need to keep those muscle in shape some how!
3. Patience : Sewing is so slow. You have to be dedicated to that project to finish. There is no instant gratification here. You need to choose carefully your projects so you make something you’re going to like for a long time. You need to plan. You need to spend hours and hours to make something you could buy easily and cheaply, but decide not to.

4. Perserverence. You’re also going to make mistakes and have to fix them. One student was distraught when she realized she’d sewn a seam wrong and then totally elated to discover a tool specifically made for just these situations! Hands up if you love your seam ripper! Most mistakes in sewing are totally un-doable and that’s a beautiful thing.
5. Precision. Kids learn fast that your projects look a million times better when you take your time cutting or make sure to do teeny stitches when hand sewing.

6. Making stuff. This one seems pretty obvious, but maybe it’s not. Our kids spend so much of their time consuming abstract things, reading and digesting information, watching youtube videos and playing miecraft. Let’s unplug and literally just make stuff, shall we? The favourite part of my day is handing back to a child their freshly finished project and getting to say, “you made that.” It’s pretty magical.

7. Problem solving. Another pretty magical thing about sewing is learning how to look at something and know that, with some work, you can make it. It’s pretty empowerful to know that you are actually able to make exactly what you want by solving a series of sequential problems: Where are the seams? What part do I sew first? What do I make this out of? Do I make a rough copy first? I absolutely think reverse-engineering an outfit is up there with brigde building and software designing.

8. Body positivity. While on the topic of empowerment, let’s talk about young girls and confidence. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, 50 per cent of Grade 6 girls say they are on a diet. Let’s show girls that, if you can’t find clothes that fit you well (and let’s be real – there are very, very few of us who can say that we find great off the rack clothes), you can just make them. And make them fit you. With no judgmental numbers involved. It just fits and you feel great.

9. Better conversations. Women suck at icebreakers. I know this because one of my biggest day-to-day struggles involves the paradox of two of my favourite things: feminism and fashion. One part of me wants to talk sooooooo much about that adorable cardigan you’re wearing. The other part of me wishes soooooo much there was a less vapid way to strike up a conversation while passing in the hall. Teaching Grade 6, I get a lot of comments on my clothes from my students. My favourite part about wearing (largely) homemade clothes is that I get to change the conversation. Instead of talking about our mutual love of glitter (yes, I’m talking specifically about me and the 11- and 12-year-old girls I teach), I get to talk about problem-solving, and patience and perserverence.

10. Life-long learning. As a teacher, I am on a constant quest for new information and skills. Sewing is one hobby where I know I will always have a new skill to master or a new technique to try. I love getting to tell my students that I still take classes to learn how to make new things. As I said before, sewing isn’t about perfection. It’s about development and I think that’s a really important thing for kids to learn.

With all that said, I also benefit immensely from sewing with kids regularly. That conversation today reminded me that I don’t have to be perfect, that I’m still learning and that my mistakes are okay, too. I’m going to wear that dress Tuesday with the slightly off pattern and I’m going to wear it with pride.

4 thoughts on “Why kids should learn to sew (and I why I love teaching them)

  1. Awesome! Keep it up, I am so totally, completely frustrated by politicians who have this idea that to improve academically we need more math and science and theory in general, when what we really need is creative applications of the knowledge that not only grow other parts of the brain but makes visible why the theoretical subjects are needed. More sewing, woodworking, music and other artistic ventures, please!

  2. What a wonderful post, you have such a lucky class! I feel this way about the importance of knitting, and many of the same lessons are shared between the crafts. I recently did a crazy knitting thing with a lot of international knitters and learned that in Finland, they teach knitting in grade school for many of the reasons you’ve listed above (along with tradition I assume).

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