Teaching Daughters to Sew

One skill I want my daughters to take from home with them is the ability to sew. As it becomes more and more difficult to find modest clothing, sewing almost becomes a necessity. Whether or not they ever sew their own clothes, they will at least find they need to be able to mend.

Sarah, now twenty-four, makes all of our custom-made clothing. I didn’t teach her how to sew so that she would become the family seamstress. However, now she has time to sew, likes to sew, and is willing to do the sewing so that I can invest my time in other areas of the family. I think Sarah was thirteen or fourteen when she learned to sew. I scheduled a half hour in the school afternoon for her to sew while I was with her. I would check schoolwork or do another project that I could work on while still being available to direct her and answer questions as needed.

My qualifications as a sewing instructor were minimal. I took one year of home economics in high school. One semester of that class was sewing. We made a skirt and a blouse over the course of those weeks. While I remember loving the pattern we were using and picking out beautiful material, I don’t think I ever wore what I made. I learned the skills, though, to read a pattern and follow the directions. In addition, I have done some simple sewing through the years. It was never anything complicated or fancy, but instead easy and functional.

At the time Sarah began sewing, we were finding it more difficult to buy store-bought, modest clothes. Plus, with three girls in the family, I had begun to make matching outfits for the girls. This became a task Sarah picked up and has carried on for us. In our sewing experiences, we have tears, failures, ripping out, re-sewing, and occasionally the thought of never sewing again. However, we also have many outfits in each of the girls’ closets to show for our sewing efforts. Even Grandma and our daughter-in-law have benefited.

Anna, at age thirteen, has also begun to sew. When we started, she was anxious to learn, but before long she discovered that it wasn’t as easy as it looked. Soon when I asked her if she wanted to sew, she would say she didn’t and tell me what she was planning to do instead. After a few months of hit-and-miss sewing time, I realized we needed to make sewing a scheduled, weekly mother-daughter project. Steve asked her recently if she enjoyed her sewing, and her response was that she did.

With Sarah and Anna, I had no idea how to teach them to sew other than starting with a pattern for a simple jumper and working our way through it. While this might not be the best way, it has seemed to work for us. After about three projects with me sitting beside the daughter through her sewing time, she would move to more independent work. At that point, she would come to me with particular questions.
Mary, at age nine, also wanted to learn to sew. We were concerned about safety issues with a sewing machine, so we decided to start with hand-sewing projects. I ordered three hand-sewing kits – a pencil pouch, a glasses case, and a penny purse – from a company called SewKits (800-882-5487 – You can request a catalog.), which is owned by a homeschool family. The three projects were inexpensive, gave us all the materials we needed for the projects, and included directions for making them. The projects were almost identical, but they had different uses and provided good experience for Mary. By the time she was at the last project, Mary needed almost no help from me at all.

In researching where to go next with her sewing, I found a learn-to-sew book for girls written by a homeschool mom. The book is called Stitches & Pins, A Beginning Sewing Book for Girls. In the book, they start girls sewing on a machine at age seven. Each family must decide safety issues for their daughter’s use of a sewing machine, but the book gave us the confidence to let Mary try the machine at age nine. The book begins with information Sarah probably picked up through her sewing years but which I didn’t specifically teach, such as the names of the parts of the sewing machine. It has the girls practice stitching on paper before fabric. In addition, it has fourteen projects to make, each building on skills learned in previous projects. I was pleased with the projects in the book because they were practical ones. I had looked at another learn-to-sew book where the children made a collection of stuffed animals. That book did not lend itself to our goals.

Two afternoons a week, after school, Mary and I have our sewing time for just half an hour. Because it is in the schedule, it now happens and is no longer merely a good idea floating around in my head. She is happily learning basic sewing skills. With great excitement, she shows every family member what she has made and begins using it as well.

Mary’s first project was a pillowcase. It was challenging enough for her because of her age, and she needed enough help that we decided she should make some more pillowcases until she could do most of it on her own. She made a second pillowcase as a Christmas gift for a brother and a third one as a birthday present for another brother. She has one more practice pillowcase to make. Now she is taking a sewing detour because she wanted to make pockets for several of her jumpers so she can carry witnessing tracts with her when she is out.

I would encourage you to consider having sewing time with your daughters to teach them to sew. You might be surprised at how quickly they are able to take off, work on their own, and soon be making their own and perhaps siblings’ clothes as well. If you don’t know how to sew, I think you could learn alongside your daughter with the book I am using with Mary. One of the biggest keys is to get sewing time into the schedule. I believe sewing skills will be blessings to our girls’ throughout their lives and that it is worth the investment of my time. Could I encourage you to begin sewing with your daughters who are old enough to learn to sew?