In a previous post, I wrote about my belief that every good sewist must be willing to take risks. I feel this is especially important for many beginners. Very often, on discussion boards, new sewists will ask advice on the best first project. Typically, suggestions to make pillow cases, very simple aprons or other non-challenging articles abound. For some people, this may be exactly where they should start. Success on a simple project will likely create a sense of accomplishment and inspire the sewist onward.
For others, this inauspicious start may result in boredom and a desire to pack it in and look for a different, more satisfying hobby. I fall firmly in the latter category.
My first foray into sewing was in grade 7 home ec class. First, we were all lectured on the safety rules associated with operating a sewing machine - which although not fun to listen to as a child, I agree is a necessity. Then the real tragedy ensued (at least for a kid like me). We spent days "sewing", sans thread, on pieces of paper that had simple shapes drawn on them. Our goal was to have a neat line of needle holes on top of each shape, which was supposed to help in the mastery of sewing straight lines, curved lines and turning 90 degreee angles. This was pure torture for me. I wanted to sew something real.
As a teacher and a self-proclaimed anal retentive, obsessive compulsive freak, believe me, I know that structure and learning the basics is the best way to teach a new concept. At least in the beginning, when your student is a clean slate. Once they begin to show an apptitude for the skill and express an interest in moving forward, it is time to provide more freedom and latitude. I never got that chance in grade 7 home ec. So, I didn't show an interest in sewing again until grade 12.
Fast forward 5 years. It was the 1988 Prom season and I had spent days trying on dresses and coming up empty. Anything that was reasonable in price was not what I was looking to wear. That was when I expressed an interest in creating my own dress. To mother's credit, she didn't even blink an eye. She set me up on her sewing machine, bought me the pattern of choice (Simplicity 8006* to which I added a "shawl" that attached at the front bodice) and took me to a wonderful independent fabric shop and helped me pick out fabric and notions. I cut out the pattern and made one quick trial dress. Ironically, back then I didn't even know that the word "muslin" existed, I just knew it would be a good idea to check the fit before cutting into the good stuff. Content with the fit, I proceeded onto the actual Prom dress. At no point did I even consider that maybe this was too difficult for a first project and thankfully, neither did anyone else.
In my opinion, my dress turned out pretty darn good. I got a ton of compliments from my friends, my boyfriend thought I looked great, I saved a bunch of money and I learned a valuable skill. The vision of the perfect dress that resided in my head was turned into a reality. I am thankful that I was allowed free reign and that I was only given advice when I requested it. Had I been told to take the safe route and sew a pillowcase first, I can't imagine I would enjoy sewing as much as I do today.
So, for anyone that teaches beginner sewing, whether formally in a classroom or informally in your home to a friend or family member, please let the students determine your curriculum (at least to an extent) based on their interests and capabilities. Provide knowledge of the basics, but then back off and let them blossom. It's amazing what can be accomplished when creativity is allowed to run free.
* I have long since lost/given way/disposed of this pattern, so I was tickled to find that it is available at Out of the Ashes Collectibles.