Do you love to stitch, love to sew? Do you make your own clothes or wish you could? Do you want to instill these gifts in your children? We know just the woman!
I caught up with Katharine from Katharine Ornido’s Sewing School to talk about when to introduce sewing skills to children, how to encourage practice and the classes she offers from her base in Foster City.
First up Katharine, tell us when you learned to sew and how sewing became such a huge part of your life.
I started sewing when I was 15. I was thoroughly enjoying my first summer with my best friend who was newly crowned with a driver’s license! We found ourselves at the mall almost every day, and I was equipped with my parents’ credit card. I was always itching to buy new clothes for myself.
Unfortunately, I hardly liked anything within my given budget. Even if I liked it, there was something about it that I just didn’t care for, such as the fit, fabric, color or a certain design feature. My friend and I found ourselves wishing we knew how to make our own clothes.
One of those summer days, we caught sight of a sign in the window of a local fabric store advertising sewing classes for teenagers! I took a couple sewing classes from them and continued sewing on my own clothes for years after that.
When I had my kids, I started sewing their Halloween costumes and things for around the house for the sake of fun and saving money. My sewing fever kicked into high gear, so I took up fashion design evening classes at Canada College which is where I mastered my craft over a 4 year period. Sewing is like learning a musical instrument; take classes to build a strong foundation of the right know-how and ‘tricks’, and the rest is up to you…practice, practice, practice.
At what age is it appropriate to introduce sewing and sewing crafts to our children?
The appropriate age for machine sewing depends on the child. Some kids are very coordinated with their hands and feet and have great fine motor skills early on, and others take a little longer to better develop these capabilities. I teach kids as young as 6 years old, but I first assess their readiness before they enter my classroom. I invite young child to a free class or personal lesson to see how he or she does. Most of my students are 8-12 years old and teenagers.
What if I am not crafty myself but I see my child drawn towards such activities, what would you recommend doing to encourage this skill?
So many parents come to me saying they are not crafty and laugh that their child sews better than them! I strongly believe everyone has a creative side. But, creativity is like a muscle that must be exercised to strengthen it. I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone and try doing something creative. I bet you’ll love it and that’s because creativity is naturally in all of us. We just need to give it an outlet.
When I was young, I would borrow craft books from the library and do all kinds of little projects at home using crayons, construction paper, cardboard, fabric scraps, glue – essentially anything I could find around the house. I encourage parents to introduce their kids to these kinds of simple craft projects. There are also so many inexpensive craft kits at the toy store, and they are a good way of introducing a child to skills such as jewelry making, hand sewing, knitting, fashion design and much more. I did all these things when I was young, and once I was older, all this crafty energy veered towards fashion design and sewing.
You run classes for beginners. What sort of activities do you do in these classes?
I have classes for beginners as well as the more advanced. I have developed a syllabus for every class level. My students learn certain skills/techniques they need to know, and they progress in a way that they are always challenged just enough. My classes follow the school year and are typically about 3 months in length.
In each course, my students will complete 2 garments and a bonus 3rd or maybe even 4th project, if time allows. The class is paced by the students. My afterschool classes focus on making garments and fashion accessories from patterns, and the students do everything from cutting their own fabric to sewing the very last stitch. My classes are both technical and creative. I teach the kids how to read and follow patterns because I want them to be able to sew not just with me, but also at home. They also learn how to do basic pattern manipulation for better fit or desired design.
And as the children get more advanced, what sort of things will they learn?
I offer 3 levels of Beginner classes. In these classes, my students are introduced to patterns and proper fabric layout. They know how to sew a shirt, skirt, pants, buttons/buttonholes, and zippers, amongst other things. After finishing all the Beginner classes, my students enter an Intermediate class.
In the Intermediate class, it’s time to get more creative. My students propose their own sewing projects, and they shop for their own fabrics and project supplies. The fabric store can be very intimidating, so before the first class, I take my students on a shopping field trip to at a local fabric store. The kids LOVE this (and parents are usually relieved!). Don’t worry, parents, your kids will know how to shop!
In the Intermediate class, the students work independently and at their own pace. Although the students propose their own projects, I make sure they choose projects that are a little challenging. I start every class with the “Technique of the Week”. I demonstrate and explain a technique in great detail, and then students will try it themselves. Their technique sample is added to a binder which becomes like their Sewing Bible, and they’ll have this to refer to for years to come. This is how I learned in college, and it’s the same way I teach the kids.
Occasionally, I will have special sewing workshops for things like pattern drafting or unique sewing projects.
How can I encourage sewing and sewing crafts in the home.
Kids really look up to their parents. The best way to encourage sewing at home is if a child watches a parent sew. If this isn’t possible, ask a good friend or relative to do a little project with your child. There are also sewing and fashion design TV shows you can watch with your child. These shows inspire me! Also, encourage craftiness through simple projects like I mentioned earlier. But the best way is to sew with your child. If you make mistake after mistake, who cares! Laugh at your mistakes and savor the precious one-on-one time with your child. Plus, making mistakes is the best way to learn. (Believe me, I know!)
How does the art of sewing benefit our children. As well as them making cool stuff, I have always thought that there is a certain poise and patience to sewing. Am I right?
Old and young alike learn patience, perseverance and pride in themselves through sewing. Sewing takes time so it slows and calms the mind. I find it very therapeutic and I see this same effect in my students.
Like anything else, when you learn to sew, you will make mistakes so you will need to fix things before going on. You may get frustrated and maybe even vow to never sew again (I sure have!). But, in the end, you will be SO proud of what you made with your own hands. I have kids and adult students who are so proud of projects like pajama pants that they model them at school or even at the office!
Sewing is not just any skill, it’s a life skill. Once you learn it, you’ll have the skill for the rest of your life. Without practice, you might get rusty, but it’ll all come back to you just like swimming or riding a bike. When you’re young, you might be sewing just for fun. But when you get older, it may become part necessity. Not everything you need or want is sold in stores. There are few experiences as fulfilling as thinking of a good concept and then actualizing it into something you use or wear.
Tell us a little bit about your summer camps.
My camp kids come to me 3 hours a day, Monday through Friday. I offer camp in the mornings and afternoons, so kids can opt to stay a full day by signing up for both the AM and PM camp for that week.
Just like my afterschool classes, I only accept a maximum of 4 kids per class. This may not be the most profitable way for me to run my school, but my primary goal is to do a good job teaching the kids. The kids receive plenty of attention from me, and I maintain a safe learning environment.
My summer camps are more about sewing for fun and are not as technical as my afterschool classes. I have camps with different project themes like Summer Dress, Random Fun Stuff and Clothes for Me & My Doll. During the week, we’ll make at least 2 projects pertaining to the week’s theme. If there’s time, I have the kids vote on the next project(s). I keep them very busy.
My campers tend to be younger than the students in my afterschool classes, with most in the 7-10 year age range. My campers do get a little older every year though, as many of them come back to me every summer.
Is there anything else we should know about sewing for children?
Parents, don’t assume your child is too young or not capable. You will be amazed at what your child can do with her little hands! Some of my 8 year olds can sew better than the teenagers and adults! You will be so happy to see the confident smile and pride on your child’s face when she wears something she made.
You can find out all about Katharine’s Summer Camps and after school classes here: Sewing Camps and Classes