Friday, July 25, 2014

Don't Be Afraid of the Big White Machine: Using a Sewing Machine

Honestly, it's not that scary.
I sew...a lot.  Of course I have taught my daughter to sew, but only with a needle and thread.  I figured when her feet could touch the floor while sitting at the dining room table she'd be ready to learn to use the sewing machine.  Today she sewed her first project: a pillow.  And not just any pillow, a little patchwork pillow.  To make it truly hers I made sure she picked out her own fabric at the store.  I helped her a bit with color coordination, but in the end it was all her choice. She picked two nature scenes: a deer fabric and a pheasant fabric with a solid brown back.  It was very easy and can be made without a real pattern. I helped her make the patchwork pattern from regular paper.  There are certain areas of this project where my help was essential for safety reasons. I'll note them as they come up.  This will be a 2x2 patch pillow with a solid back.

If your child has never used a sewing machine before give her scrap fabric and let her just sew lines. Don't expect a straight line.  What she needs to get used to is not only sewing straight, but getting used to the foot pedal.  She needs to learn the speed she finds comfortable.  Sewing too quickly can lead to all types of errors, torn fabric, clogged bobbin thread, broken top name it. 

Step One: Making a pattern.  I give all of my projects a one in seam allowance (half an inch on each side) so to make a finished square of six inches we made a seven inch square. I made it on regular copy paper. It's thinner and easier to pin to fabric.

Step Two: Pin the pattern to the fabric.  In most cases you can fold a piece of fabric in half to cut two pieces.  We did that on the pheasant fabric because it was the same.  For the deer fabric Maddie pinned and cut out pieces individually so her favorite animal was featured.  When you pin a pattern down on fabric make sure the pins run perpendicular to the cutting edge.  My mother taught me one of the most important rules of sewing: pin pin pin pin pin.  Use your pins.  It keeps the fabric still and it makes for better seams and cuts.

Step Three: Cutting out the fabric.  Teach your child proper scissor technique.  First, purchase good set of  fabric scissors (the retail at around $10-20).  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever use fabric scissors for anything but fabric and thread.  One of my relations once picked up a pair of my sewing scissors to cut paper.  Please see the following video for my reaction:

It's important to cut properly.  Make sure you cut on a hard surface and keep the bottom of scissors on the table.  Don't lift up your fabric and cut it while holding it.  Chaos will ensue.  Open the scissors completely and cut until they are closed, then open and continue. Cut out two square each of fabric.

You can trim away extra fabric to make cutting easier
 Step Four: Pin the edge of one of each pattern together good sides faced together.  Do the same for the other two but make sure for the second two the sewing edge is on the opposite side. This means the pattern will be "every other."

Step Five: The big white machine.  Since this was Maddie's first sewing project I didn't expect or ask her to take care of some of the more difficult aspects of the machine.  I threaded the machine myself (this seems to be responsible for the majority of sewing anxiety.  New machines actually number the steps on the machine itself).  I also loaded the bobbin, threaded the needle, and pulled the bobbin thread up.  On my machine I have a piece of black electrical tape that marks off the 1/2 inch seam allowance.  It's a handy guide and it was an immeasurable help to Maddie.  Lifting the foot (there is a small lever behind the needle) Maddie put the fabric in. Lowering the foot holds it steady.  It's important to "lock stitch" the beginning of your stitch.
All this means is going forward a bit and go backward over what you sewed.  It prevents the seam from pulling apart at the edge.  This involves pressing the pedal, holding down the reverse lever, and moving the fabric all at once. I did this.  Once the lock stitch was finished Maddie took over.

Step Six: Once you have sewn the two sets together, open them up and put them one on top of the other to check the pattern.  Nothing is worse than sewing a seam, opening it up and realizing the fabric is upside down.  Then pin the two sections together along the long seam, right sides together.  Sew the long seam together and open.

Step Seven: With right side down, pin the patchwork down onto the solid back fabric (unless there is a specific nap or finished side to the solid, it doesn't matter which side).  Sew around leaving one section open. You will use this to reverse the pillow as well as use it as the whole for stuffing.  Take this time to press the wrinkles out.  Parents: This is your job.  Typical cotton fabrics need the highest setting and it is unsafe for kids to use irons at that setting.

The thread was light to show the portion not sewed. 
Step Seven: Turn the piece right side out.  Getting the corners to turn out is usually very difficult. To that end I use a seriously high tech tool: A chopstick.  Using the larger end poke into the the corners to turn them out. Don't force it.

Step Eight: Stuff.  Use the high tech chopstick to help push down the batting into the corners.  Use small tufts of batting as opposed to big chunks.  It makes judging the softness easier.

Step Nine: When your pillow is stuffed to your satisfaction sew up the small opening with a needle and thread. You can do it with the sewing machine but it's bulking and will be difficult for small hands. Pin the two pieces of fabric together, thread a needle and knot the end, and use a simple whipstitch.

Pinning the opening together

Whipstitch. Make sure to knot the end

Final hand stitch
Step Ten: Enjoy your creation!

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