Middle-School Memories: An Update

If you’re reading The Cutting Table blog, chances are you’re a quilter. So how do you feel about putting in a zipper?

For many of us, middle school Home Ec class was the last time we tried and the memories may not be all that sweet. And the thought of buttonholes is downright terrifying. Quilting is our happy place now.

Choosing fabric is half the fun! Here students learn to choose fabric that works with their project.

But sewing is one of the most versatile skills around. While stitching couture gowns may not be on your radar, there’s a lot of appeal to whipping up a bunch of zippered pouches for your son’s teachers or a tablet case for a special friend. With just a few basic skills it’s possible to do all that and more. There’s a lot to be said for stepping outside quilting comfort zones and expanding our sewing horizons.

Learning to sew includes learning to use the seam ripper.

Enter Shea Henderson, the author of School of Sewing. Now in its third printing, the book was written to bring new sewists into the fold, but it works just as well to help quilters learn additional sewing skills.

Shea Henderson, author of School of Sewing

Its genesis came when some friends asked if Shea, a modern quilter, would teach them to sew. Before she knew it, eight friends, neighbors, and former colleagues were gathering, some with sewing machines still in their boxes, to learn to choose appropriate fabrics, work with different kinds of interfacing, make simple pleats, and yes, even create buttonholes.

Tote Bag project from the School of Sewing book

What’s fun about these lessons is that when you’ve completed them, you’ve got a project. So, you won’t just learn how to install a zipper, you’ll wind up with a zipper pouch. The French seam lesson results in a pillow case and the boxed corners, a tote bag. Shea, a former middle-school math teacher, has clear instructions for each project.

The zippered pouch project from School of Sewing

Some of these techniques may be perfect for getting you started on using Moda’s new substrates (the fabric that designs are printed on—most Moda fabrics are printed on quilting cottons). Bonnie and Camille’s Smitten lawns will be shipping in the next few weeks, Debbie Maddy’s Machi lawns and rayons are coming in November, and so are Jen Kingwell’s Looking Forward lawns. Carrie has touted lawns here and here—they make lovely, light quilts.

Shea helps beginning sewing students choose fabric appropriate for their projects.

But with these new fabrics and so many great independent patterns available these days, you may decide to dip your toe into garment sewing. While School of Sewing doesn’t include clothing patterns, the techniques will help increase your comfort level and confidence for branching out.

If you’re a shop owner, School of Sewing is a great way to bring new sewists into the fold (the shop where I work has run a four-session class based on School of Sewing for 2.5 years and there is always a waiting list).

Shea Henderson’s first students head into a quilt shop to prepare for sewing their first project.

It also provides a perfect framework if you already know how to sew and want to teach friends. And Shea has been impressed by the number of people who’ve used the book to help a young neighbor or grandchild to learn the basics. (Her favorite story is from a woman who used the book to teach women in a refugee camp to sew so they could provide an income for their families—“Hearing that was a really big deal to me,” she says.

Some may question the need for teaching others to sew when seemingly every skill can be found on YouTube. But as Shea says “You can’t ask YouTube a question. You can pause it and replay it, but you can’t ask.”

Basting can be fun! Shea Henderson’s students share quilt basting and a laugh

And finally, there’s that sense of community we love so much. If you gather several newcomers to teach, you all learn from one another and friendships develop. Shea remembers that her eight beginners, who met for monthly sewing sessions, went from being strangers to becoming friends. “Pretty soon we were running into one another at the grocery store,” says Shea. “We went through nearly every life event together—two of the women even had babies. We grew a good little community.”

Have you ever taught a newbie to sew? What’s on your list of sewing techniques and tricks you’d like to learn?

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7 thoughts on “Middle-School Memories: An Update

  1. I’ve been sewing for many years and never knew what this type of fabric was called. Always something new to learn. Now I’m anxious to try a lawn quilt. Thanks for the lesson!

  2. Teaching newbies to sew is my jam! I have worked with kids as young as 5 on up to adults. I have used the School of Sewing book and it is a great place to start, packed with so much valuable information. The joy in the face of a teen when she finishes her first pillowcase is reward enough. We need to promote this craft so the skills are not lost but also to get faces away from screens, foster verbal communication, and built community. The ground is level at the sewing machine!

    1. So agree, Barbara! Many of the people who have taken the School of Sewing class at the shop where I work are women in their 20s and 30s. They get SO excited and then come back to sew more. I think they’re happy to be away from screens and make something tangible. It’s really gratifying to watch.

  3. How to understand their sewing machine. Threading- thread quality, oiling and cleaning their sewing machine. Also how to get a good
    stitch. Things that I would have valued many years ago.

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