Sewing in Makerspace
We are teaching our students to sew in Makerspace. Our school is a public elementary school with around 500 students in grades Tk – 5th. Students use our lab during recess, lunch, and sometimes during class time. One of the first pieces of equipment that I purchased was a sewing machine.
What I ordered:
- A Brother sewing machine from Amazon for about $180
- A pack of different colored spools of thread.
- A pin cushion and straight pins.
- Extra bobbins
- 2 Pairs of regular fabric scissors and one pair of pinking shears.
- An iron
- An ironing pad that lays flat on a counter.
Fabric for Sewing
We started with lots of left-over fabric that I had at home. After students brought home things that they had sewn or parents saw pictures on social media of what we were doing they offered to send in fabric donations. We now have plenty of fabric to choose from.
Teaching Students to Sew
I’m not a great seamstress, but I can sew straight lines and I know how to thread the sewing machine and rethread the bobbin. My main goal was to teach our students basic sewing skills and I came up with a project to do that.
First Sewing Project
Our first project was fabric bookmarks. I let the students choose one cotton fabric and one piece of felt. At first, I would cut the fabric to size and then have them cut along the edges with pinking shears. Because they used the shears we didn’t have to worry about the seams fraying. They lined up the cotton fabric in the middle of their felt fabric and added a straight pin to keep it together.
Learning to Sew
Once they have their project ready I sit down at the sewing machine with them. If it is their first time sewing I give them a brief explanation of how the machine works. When they are ready I help them line up their project and help them get the hang of how to use the pedal and how to guide their fabric through without pushing. When students are just learning we keep the sewing machine at the slowest speed. The bookmarks are a perfect first project because the felt keeps the fabric from moving and because the bookmarks are a rectangle the students only have to sew straight lines. After the two fabrics are sewn together I let them choose a few specialty embroidery stitches to add to the middle. They love this part and it helps to make everyone’s bookmarks unique. When they are done with the embroidery they pick out a ribbon for the top and I help them sew it on.
Students Learn to Sew a Pillow After They Finish a Bookmark
After students have used the sewing machine to make a bookmark I let them make a pillow. They first pick out their fabric and then decide what size they want to make. If their fabric needs ironing I generally do it. I have a few 5th graders that I let iron. After they cut out their fabric they use a few pins to keep the fabric together. Usually, if they are sewing a pillow, they are more comfortable with the sewing machine and I can just be in the area, but I don’t have to sit with them. Using straight lines they sew the sides leaving one side unsewn. After sewing, they turn the fabric with the right sides out. They use stuffing to fill the pillow. We cheat to sew up the 4th side. I use the iron to fold down the seams and then they use the sewing machine to sew a straight line on the right sides of the fabric. This is easier for the students and allows us to speed up the whole sewing process.
Sewing on Their Own
Students that have made bookmarks and pillows move on to make other things on their own. They ask me for help when they need it, but they have the freedom to be creative. They have made a lot of purses and bookbags. Sometimes they make patterns out of paper first and sometimes they just cut their fabric. Lots of times they make a project and during the process, they figure out a better way of doing something so they make another one.
What Students Are Learning From Sewing
Learning to sew is an amazing skill for our elementary school students to have. So many students have told me that their grandma or mom has a sewing machine, but the students are not allowed to use it. At the basic level, they are learning a skill that will last them a lifetime and on a much bigger level, they are learning how to develop an idea from a concept to an actual product. They are learning how to follow rules about safety and respect in both the machinery and our space. The list of what they are learning from sewing is ongoing and it is definitely one of their favorite things to do in Makerspace.
Answers to Questions
- Am I a great seamstress? No, not even close. I can do the basics. If I run into a problem that I can’t figure out I Google it or watch a YouTube video.
- How do I control who gets to sew? At the beginning of the year, I start with the 3rd-5th graders. Once I have a few students that are proficient I open it up to younger students. We have a sign-up sheet next to the sewing machine and they add their names to the list. I usually have a few students that already have their projects cut out and are waiting to sew.
- Has anyone ever got hurt? No. Knock on wood we haven’t had any sewing accidents.
- Do the students know how to thread the needle and rethread the bobbin? Not really. I have had a few older students that can do it, but for the most part, if a needle becomes unthreaded they yell for me to help them.
- Do only girls sew? NO. It is probably 60% girls and 40% boys ratio. I had one boy that loved it so much he asked for and received a sewing machine for Christmas.
- Do I change the bobbin thread and thread for each project? No, I don’t have time for that. I try to use neutral colors of thread. They get what they get.
- Where do you get the stuffing for the pillows? We sell pencils in the library for 50 cents. I use the profit from the pencils to buy the stuffing using a 50% off coupon from Michales or Joanne’s Fabric.