I co-teach a sewing elective for middle school students. This is the second version, the first ended in some frustration, so we stopped offering it for a while, and I went on to be part of other electives.
This year we resurrected the idea, and I am co teaching with a colleague (great fun, and so much calmer). The first time I had taught the elective I ran into one big problem: I was the only one there who could fix the sewing machines; they broke all the time. Beginning sewing students often have trouble with the machines, and things get tangled and messy pretty quickly. In particular, the “heavy duty” Singer machines we have are not in fact heavy duty, and they seem to have chronic bobbin alignment problems. These problems are made worse when students just keep sewing, rather than stop as soon as they hear or see a problem.
So with 10 students and 5 machines, I spent most of my time untangling machines, and very little time was left to help with actual sewing projects.
The new model does not completely remove that problem, but it does offer a model that is more sustainable and allows students to move forward with sometime even if I can’t get to the machine quickly.
We now offer hand and machine sewing together to about 12 students. Half of them start out on the machines (we still have about 5, usually 4 working at any one time). The other half start out with my co-teacher on hand sewing. When they have completed their first project they move to the other group.
All the sewing machine students start out making a tote bag from a pattern I have put together, and all of the hand sewers start out making a small felt stuffed animal from a silhouette they find online. We then have a variety of projects for them to go on to more advanced sewing once they have completed the two basic ones. The most popular advanced machine sewing project has been a zippered pencil case bag. Getting a zipper in correctly feels a bit like magic, and they show off their new bags to everyone. We have offered the option of finding their own patterns or using some of the ones I have brought in, but so far we don’t have any takers for the task of learning to use commercial patterns. It is interesting that they are much more likely to go online and find video instructions.
We have run this elective twice this year (each one runs 8-9 sessions) and I think the new model is a success. I still have to fix machines, and there is some frustration, but we can spend more of our time working on sewing, and if all the machines break at the same time we can do hand sewing projects while I fix them. A few students have taken the elective for a second time, and they are starting to learn how to fix the machines themselves. They watch me clean out the loose threads from the bobbin case, and re-threading the machine each time, and they realize they can do that too.