The Joy of Sewing – and Teaching

I’ve been teaching sewing at Made on Marion for the last 3 months – a quarter of a year.

Teaching historical sewing is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I’ve also ended up teaching something that I didn’t expect to teach: beginners sewing.

I taught beginners sewing years ago, and I loved it at the time.  I’m loving it now.

I sometimes get funny reactions when I mention that I teach basic sewing classes.  The reaction is basically “Isn’t that a little beneath you?”  It’s phrased differently, depending on whether the person means it as a compliment or a snark.

The answer is “No, absolutely not!” for many different reasons.

First, everybody has to start somewhere as a seamstress.  When I teach advanced classes like corsetmaking and coats one of the worst parts is when I have to untrain and correct bad habits that advanced seamstresses have picked up over the years.  Teach a beginner correctly, and they will have a good foundation for all future sewing.

Second, it’s a great refresher for me in all the basics.  I rarely set in zippers with a machine these days: there isn’t much need with historical, and with my own garments I tend to set them in by hand.  Teaching beginners is a great excuse to pull out all my books, test my basics, and keep my skills sharp.

Which brings me to my next reason why teaching beginners is fantastic.

As seamstresses we take so many things for granted, both knowledge-wise, and technique wise.  My beginners students are always asking “Why do you do that?”  “What happens if you do it this way?”  “How do you get your knots to do that again?”.  I’m learning as much from their questions as they are.  Sometimes I know the answer, I just don’t think about it.  Sometimes I have to go look it up.  Sometimes even looking it up doesn’t yield a result: we just do things because we do them.  So with those ones, I’m testing all the alternative ways of doing them, so that I can really say “This is the best way to do this, because here is what happens with the other options.”  I do a lot of this with my own sewing anyway, because I’m very much a “Why” person, and I like to experiment, but I have even more excuse to do so now, and to test ideas and techniques that I wouldn’t have a lot of excuse to work with on my own (knits and synthetics are bigs ones).  Now I know why and what happens and how for all sorts of things that I didn’t, or didn’t think about, and I’m figuring out more every day.

Why else is teaching beginners fantastic?  Because they are so excited about it!  They are just discovering the joy of sewing, and are so pleased and thrilled with everything they do.  The over-it, ennui, and über-perfectionism that we can develop as our expectations of our sewing go up aren’t there – everything is wonderful!  I need to remember to be that enthusiastic and excited about sewing sometimes!

Also, teaching beginning sewing is amazing because of moments like this:

Perfect little line-following

See those precise little step stitches?  See the perfect little circle following and the letter L?

Soooooo amazing

Yeah.  That was the first time this student had ever been on a sewing machine.  I had her sew two straight lines, and said “and then, when you are comfortable with that, draw yourself some curved lines and see if you can follow them”.  Then I turned to the other students, and when I came back the yellow scrap was sitting by her machine.  I thought it was left over from the machine servicers testing them.  Nope.  First time sewer!  Totally made my evening!


  1. I promised to teach my sister the basics of sewing this summer. That stitching sample is giving me ideas!

  2. Fastest way to learn something is to teach it. That is why schools are starting to have students teach younger students. Works particularly well with kids who aren’t so excited about school. It empowers them, they pick up on the excitement of the younger kids, and they learn while teaching.

    I would take a beginners course with you even though I sew. I think you would be a great teacher and since I am self taught (mostly) you could break me of any bad habits I have learned along the way…habits that are, unbeknownst to me, messing up my current projects!

  3. Elise says

    This is EXACTLY why I like best teaching beginning Spanish and beginning computer science. And even after 18 years of karate, I always learn something new when beginner joins the dojo. It seems to be that things that take the most skill tend to be the most zen.

  4. That is such a great way to look at teaching! That is also how I feel when my students ask questions about science — it gets me thinking about things too! I’m curious as to what “basics” that self-taught sewists usually get wrong…

    • Elise says

      Or even what brilliant ideas non-traditional sew-folks come up with!

  5. Caroline says

    This was a brilliant post, and it’s so true for all kinds of teaching! I do a bit of historic crafts myself and whenever I’m teaching somebody I usually think “how did I learn this myself?” to try and break it down. But it’s so inspiring when somebody sees something with completely fresh eyes!

    This post made me happy, thank you!

  6. Black Tulip says

    Much as I love sewing, and it’s my go-to stress buster (well, most of the time!), the fact is that I’ve been doing it for about 7/8 of my life. I still get a real buzz out of learning something new, but it’s lovely to read a post like this and be reminded of the time when it was ALL new. Thanks.

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