Monday, November 23, 2009

The Skill of Teaching a Skill

Today was the long-awaited day for Rebekah.  She learned to sew.  I set my old sewing machine on her table, had her take out the thread and practice seams on paper.

Like all the women from my Mom's side of the family, Beka was a natural sewer.  She also naturally followed the family tradition of improving your skills by leaving your tongue hanging out of your mouth and pursing your lips in time to the hum of the machine.

When she easily mastered the straight lines, we went on to turning a corner with the needle down.  I made other worksheets to teach her to follow a curve, follow more complicated patterns and to backtack, stitching backwards to keep your seam from unraveling.  (I know how to do this, but I didn't know the term, I had to Bing it.)

When we finally began using real fabric and my new sewing machine, Beka  sewed and ironed a flat felled seam.

She was clever enough to figure out how to reach the presser foot.

Her final endeavor was to sew a doll pillow.  I couldn't find the stuffing, so we put our project away.  However, occasionally during the evening, she would sit at the old sewing machine and sew elaborate patterns onto paper.  Her "quilts" were so intricate, the corners so perfectly angled, that her Daddy was amazed with her ability.

As we chatted and sewed and spent a nice morning together, Beka was so happy, and so was I. Once she came over for a hug and said, "We have SO much fun together, don't we Mom?"

I couldn't help but reflect on how much better teaching my sixth child to sew was going than teaching my first child.  I taught Jana to sew and after the traditional doll blankets and pillows, we decided  to sew a piece of clothing.  I remember getting frustrated with her because she couldn't grasp my instructions on things like the facing and setting in the sleeves.

As I vented this frustration to a dear friend, Roxy, who is the same age, but older in wisdom, our conversation changed my life.

Meekly, she reminded me that these were very hard tasks, especially for a 9 year old, and that something like a simple skirt would have been a better place to start, because they could master it easily, wear it, and have that satisfaction of finishing a project.  It would also make them more eager to tackle another project.

She also gently encouraged me to not be such a perfectionist in judging Jana's sewing.  She pointed out that a seam had to really be off before it really affected the outcome of the garment.  If a seam needed to be ripped out, she did it for her children, to lessen the frustration.

Her advice turned my Type A Sewing Instruction into more of  the comfortable, fun, mother/daughter rite of passage it should be.

Using Roxy's advice, I taught the rest of my kids to sew, even the boys.  All our children are required to learn the basics and sew at least one item, just so they have that skill available for the rest of their lives.

My regret over my failed first lessons was appeased when Jana sewed adorable hot pink curtains with green polka-dotted trim for her daughter's room in their first apartment.

Sure, I teach my children how to sew, but my dear friend Roxy taught me how to teach. 


  1. I find myself wanting to sew and learn like that. :) Of course my mom taught me when I was younger, but it's been a while. We really don't have need/fabric to sew. It would be so fun. Ah well, someday. :)

  2. Can I come over tomorrow and sew cute monkey fabric with Becca?

  3. How sweet. Now will you teach me? I am afraid that I sew by the seat of my pants.

    That and I haven't had much luck with finding a reliable sewing machine. sigh.

    mama to 7
    one homemade and 6 adopted
    *expecting again...
    from Ethiopia!

  4. Wow. I think I need to get a sewing machine....


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