What is a good age to start sewing?

By sheer coincidence, these two posts came on my Facebook feed yesterday:

  • Jennifer Van Meter DeShazer (Jennuine Design), in her new sewing FB group, queried “How long have you been sewing and how did you begin?”
  • My dear friend Robbin uploaded pictures of her granddaughter’s first day at the sewing machine:


I was completely charmed by this photo (thanks, Robbin!) because at the same age, I too begged my grandmother to let me use her sewing machine.  Another coincidence?  Or possibly is eight years old just a wonderful age for learning to sew? Of course every child is different, but it seems to me that at this age there is:

  • a natural curiosity about how things are put together (or taken apart!)
  • a maturity level that shows respect for machinery and safety
  • a growing personality and sense of independence and self-expression
  • the ability to read instructions: one of my daughter’s teachers explained it this way: “This is the age when the child shifts from learning to read, to reading to learn”.

And so in third grade I learned from my grandmother how use the sewing machine and to read patterns. I remember vividly the first garment that I made: a purple cotton nightgown (weird coincidence that I would later be a technical designer in the cotton sleepwear department of Victoria’s Secret?). It was a simple raglan peasant with elasticized neckline and sleeves.  Classic first sewing project, right? I wore it that night to a sleepover at my friend’s house next door. Her parents were having a cocktail party, and I was mortified that her mom insisted on showing my project off to her guests (people drank a lot in the suburbs, in the sixties).

Actually my first pattern experience was  earlier, hand-sewing with my mother’s fabric scraps. My mom used the guest-room as a permanent sewing room, much to the chagrin of my older sister, who argued endlessly that she deserved to have that as her own bedroom, instead of sharing a room with me.  I didn’t mind sharing a bedroom, and I loved spending time in my mom’s special room with a sewing machine and ironing board always set up, and a bureau full of fabric.  This was my very first sewing pattern:


I made every outfit in that pattern!  But the tutu was my favorite…..and although every other toy from my childhood is long gone, look what I still have:


A bit faded? The dress was originally turquoise (and her hair used to be HOT pink). I always say that I still learn something new with every project, every fabric, every pattern. The “firsts” for this project were:

  • reading pattern instructions
  • cutting out fabric to a pattern shape
  • gathering (by hand!)
  • sewing a sequin, with a pearl to lock it in place
  • a SNAP.  Oh my goodness, so many tears, I got it wrong over and over again….stitched to the outside, stitched upside down, etc etc.

I also made clothes for my Ginny dolls, but what I really wanted was a Barbie doll. My parents refused: they thought of her as “inappropriate”.  I just wanted her to dress her up. Nowadays whenever you want a new outfit for Barbie, you basically buy a new, already-dressed Barbie.  I recently  read a report that said the Mattel company “estimates that 90 percent of U.S. girls between the ages of 3 and 10 own at least one Barbie doll with those between 3 and 6 owning an average of 12 dolls each”. But back when I was little, girls had maybe 2 or 3 dolls, and lots of clothes purchased separately:


(“Picnic”, “White Magic”, and “Suburban Shopper” outfits; photos from eBay)

Or you made them. Since I didn’t have a Barbie, I would play with them at friends’ houses, and then borrow one overnight with the agreement that I would return her with a new outfit.  I loved LOVED designing Barbie clothes!  And here I was on my own: no patterns. They were available in the fabric shops, but again: inappropriate. Many years later in fashion design school, I aced Dart Manipulation while others struggled, and I owe it all to my childhood experience of figuring out how to fit fabric around Barbie’s well-endowed bust:


(winifred-aldrich, Metric Pattern Cutting)

It was very interesting to read the replies to Jennifer’s group post on FB. So many people (Jennifer included) share my story, learning to sew at home as a child, together with their mother or grandmother, making doll clothes out of scraps. A smaller group first learned during high school in Home Economics class, and a few are self-taught in adulthood, usually soon after their kids were born.

The latter is what I usually read in  pattern designers’ websites or Etsy “About” pages:  they taught themselves to sew after the birth of their first child.    And that’s great, any time somebody learns to sew, it makes me happy!  Yet I was even more pleased to hear this week  that a tradition continues of learning to sew at a tender age, one-on-one with a devoted family member. Like my friend Robbin.








  • Diane

    your first sewing project is very similar to mine that I made when I was 10, when I ran a sewing school, I took children as young as 6, but I thought third and fourth graders were the ideal age to attempt sewing with patterns

  • [email protected]

    There’s something special about that age…..children may have the interest when they are younger, but their analytical skills grow tremendously in the early school grades. That’s so nice that you ran a sewing school! I’ve taught small groups (Girl Scouts) and also one-on-one, but these days I don’t have the time….

  • Jen in Oz

    Hi. I’ve just discovered your blog … initially I was intrigued because my parents lived at 7 Pine St!
    My learn to sew story is different from a lot of people’s, I think. My mum sewed (and knitted) for all of us, and my older sister was taught to sew by her, but by the time she thought I was ready to learn (whatever that means) she had gone back to work (my younger sister had started school, so I guess I must’ve been 10 or so) and she didn’t have time to teach me. I spent what seemed like many school holidays learning to sew straight lines (on paper with no thread etc) and making pillow cases and hemming tea towels, but was unable to progress beyond that to clothes. One of the first assertive things I ever did was to look up school holiday sewing classes, find one and ask Mum to book me into it.
    We drafted a blouse and a skirt and made them up (I still remember going shopping for the fabric for the skirt) and Mum was never happy that they didn’t emphasise cutting off loose threads and general tidying up of your work.
    But I haven’t really looked back. I spent a year after school on a study programme overseas and when they asked for a volunteer who could either sew or speak the language I put up my hand and spent the year repairing overalls and making kids clothes. When I moved out of home (and across the country) the first real asset I bought for myself was a sewing machine. And now that my daughter has moved out of home (she was never interested in learning to sew, and took my sewing for granted), I’ve finally got a sewing room for myself, yay!
    I’ve enjoyed reading what I’ve seen so far in your blog and look forward to catching up on old posts.
    Jen in Oz

  • [email protected]

    Hi Jen! Isn’t it funny how life turns and twists, and how priorities can change between the generations? My daughter (20) also has no interest in sewing, except maybe for costumes. Clothes are unimportant to her, and dolls never held her interest. Shame that you missed out a bit when your mum went back to work, but how clever of you to look into classes! And look where that has taken you! Having your own space for sewing is such a pleasure….something I never, ever take for granted. I’m sure you don’t either! Best regards, Janet

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