Today I’m teaching one of my favorite classes of all time: Sewing Machine 101. Eight adult students will walk in the door in a few hours and each will be carrying a sewing machine. Some of those machines will still be in their boxes despite having been purchased years or even decades ago. Other machines will be a bit dusty, having been inherited from a grandmother or an aunt and then abandoned in a closet ever since. I’ll spend a busy, wonderful 2.5 hours with this group of women, watching as they go from nervous and hesitant to confident and amazed that they can indeed sew.
Operating a sewing machine is just hard enough that it really makes sense to take a class when you’re first getting started. Having someone there who can spot your mistakes and show you the right way is really valuable.
If you sew and are interested in teaching people in your local area to sew on a sewing machine, I think you should go for it! There is a need for this introductory class in every community, no matter where you live. And teaching is a terrific way to supplement your income and grow your business.
I’ve written before about how to prepare for teaching and shared some common mistakes new sewers make. Today I have 5 helpful tips for sewing teachers to use with their Sewing Machine 101 students. These are easy to remember terms, mneumonics, and just silly things that help new sewers thread their machines correctly and succeed quickly.
5 Helpful Tips for Sewing Teachers
1. The Goosehead – The thread take-up lever is perhaps the most vital part of a sewing machine. It must be threaded correctly in order for the machine to sew. And it must be fully upright before you pull your work out of the machine when you’re done sewing or the threads will pull and tangle. Most of the time when people think their sewing machine is broken it turns out that they aren’t threading the take-up lever correctly. Because of its import, I give this part of the machine a funny and easy to remember name: the goosehead. Why? Well, because it looks like a goosehead and because “thread up-take lever” just isn’t very fun. By assigning this part of the machine a funny, descriptive name I draw attention to it and make it unforgettable.
2. “P is for Perfect. No 9s.” – In almost all sewing machines the bobbin has to be inserted so that the thread unwinds counterclockwise. To explain this easily I say, “P is for perfect. No 9s.” If you hold a wound bobbin with the thread hanging down on the proper side it will look like the letter P. P is for perfect. If you hold it incorrectly it looks like the number 9. No 9s. Every time we insert the bobbin we say, “P is for perfect.” Problem solved.
3. The Bellybutton – See this little thing? It’s called the bobbin winder tension. Man, they give boring names to these parts! I like to refer to it as a belly button. New sewers often want to wrap the top thread around the belly button when they are learning to thread the machine. They figure that since they used it when they were winding the bobbin, they must need to use it again, but, of course, they don’t. So when we learn to wind a bobbin I point out the belly button and explain that it is only used for bobbin winding. That’s it. Once we’ve wound the bobbin, no more belly button. Easy.
4. Thread is like toilet paper. Sewing machines are almost always designed so that the spool of thread unwinds from the back, but that’s hard for new sewers to grasp. To make it easier to visualize I compare a spool of thread to a roll of toilet paper. Toilet paper can unwind in one direction, or if you flip the roll over on the holder, it can unwind the other way. Everyone can relate to that concept! Once you have that idea in your mind it’s easy to understand how to place your thread on the spool pin so that it unwinds from the back.
Photo by Diana on Flickr.
5. Just drive the bus. When I learned to sew in 8th grade Home Economics at Herbert Hoover Junior High School I distinctly remember trying to push and pull the fabric as it went under the machine needle. New sewers often imagine that they need to do a lot to make the machine sew straight. I will often take my hands off the machine entirely while I sew a short seam to demonstrate how little you really need to do. All you’re doing is driving the bus, steering left and right as needed, pivoting here and there. The machine does the rest. Clearly just as you should have both hands on the wheel as you drive, you should have both hands on your fabric as you sew, but no need to push or pull. Just drive the bus.
If you’re considering becoming a sewing teacher where you live I've put together a full set of curriculum materials in an ebook. It takes you through teaching this class every step of the way from planning, marketing, and pricing, to breaking down and explaining every concept, troubleshooting, and following up with your students.
When you teach someone to sew on a sewing machine you open a door to a wonderfully creative and practical tool that they can use for the rest of their lives and that is one of the most rewarding things I can imagine.