Eight girls signed up for this years teen fashion camp at Rosewood Art Centre in Kettering. Can you imagine trying to build confidence while unjamming machines, breaking needles and trouble shooting sewing machine mistakes on the first day? Here is how I build confidence and give the girls a great experience behind the machine all while sharing my love of sewing with eight.

Day 1

The machine basics, “All the boring stuff first,” I say. I quickly demonstrate how to clean the machine, change a needle, needle sizing and naming the parts of the machine, including just a few feet. Remember, I lose them after 20 minutes of talking if I don’t get them involved. I say silly things that help them remember and get their attention like, ” If I went to work and was hemming Suzy Sunshines chiffon prom dress with a denim needle, what would happen?” I also assure them I will not talk for too long because our goal is to get to the fun part – the machines.

I like to demonstrate to everyone step by step the bobbin and threading at the same time and then go around individually. The older students can usually get it from the group demo and can start practicing stitches.

“You get good by doing it a lot and making mistakes over and over, that is how I am a pro,” I repeatedly say on the first day. Positive reinforcement and letting them know those mistakes are best made with someone that can show them why they are happening is a huge asset. Mistakes alone at home can be frustrating and time consuming.

After the first day they all got it! I had two students that knew how to use the machines already, one that took my camp the year before and another that taught herself to sew though perseverance. It also helps that the two with experience were caring enough to help the person next to them with little things.

After this it’s best to totally change it all up. We move out of the class room to somewhere we can all sit in a circle to learn to hand stitch and sew a button on.

The last thing we learn is how to sew a zipper in using the zipper foot for zipper pouches. This sounds silly but if no one ever told you zippers were hard do you think they would be so hard? The kids loved it and every time they were finished early they would make a zipper pouch, sew a button on something or embellish with those skills.

Day 2

Everyone comes in and rethreads the machine. When they leave I know they can use the sewing machine successfully. We talked about how to use the irons, safety and settings for different fabrics.

Next, we made simple A-line skirt patterns from our measurements. I drafted everyones pattern using the same symbols we use on patterns including grainline, place on fold, how many to cut and seam allowance. We picked out our vintage fabrics, made eight patterns, cut them out, seamed them together, finished all seams with a zigzag stitch and set it aside for day three.


Day 3

Elastic casing can be tough to get at first and I know that if I simply showed them all at once we would be picking out stitches all day. I individually taught each teen how to mark, press pin and sew the waistband casing and then how to run the elastic through it. The students that were finished could work on side projects while they were waiting. This time is great for them practicing seam allowance and figuring out how it all works on their own. Problem solving at it’s finest.


Day 4

They were all independent by day four and my job got easier. Some made a second skirt while they waited to be helped cutting out the shirts.

This year I chose a simple kaftan style pull over shirt, free pattern here. Most chose vintage fine fabrics where we got to see first hand how important needle size is.

Hemming all the edges of the big square was great practice and then hemming a neckline circle was the big challenge of the day. Last we would top stitch two lines on the sides.

Most of the girls went on to make tube tops using the method they learned with the elastic casing of the skirts. I was overjoyed with their enthusiasm to take it to the next level.

Day 5

We did a professional photo shoot, cleaned the room and talked a little about modeling. We also practiced runway modeling.

I know the students really enjoyed our camp. All of them told me thank you and what part they enjoyed the best from the class. One student even asked if I could host a teen sewing night!

I am so happy Rosewood invites me to do this every year. With my business gaining popularity in the alterations field I do not get a lot of time to mentor.

Behind the scenes~ There is still time to sign up for my next class.

I will also have two basics classes listed this fall!

Thank you for reading,

Tracy McElfresh

Dream it! Sew it!



Tracy McElfresh
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