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Teach a Friend to Sew

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By Cheryl Arkison

These days—for most of us—sewing skills are not passed on at home. Home Ec is no longer a regular part of the school curriculum. A lot of new sewers today actually learn online—like on! It’s not a bad way to go, but nothing beats a teacher’s hands showing you exactly how that Y-seam comes together. Let’s discuss teaching a friend to sew.

It is a brave quilter that offers to teach a beginner, but we must. We don’t want to keep the pleasures and joys of quilting to ourselves; besides, we want shopping buddies who understand the addiction and who stay up late sewing half-square triangles, friends who will gush at our latest finish. But being the one that teaches them? It might be a scary prospect for you.

It doesn’t have to be. Shea Henderson, author of School of Sewing: Learn It. Teach It. Sew Together. (Lucky Spool, 2014) says, “Don’t think of it as an overwhelming task. You need to start at the most welcoming point and achievable projects. Because once they figure out how to do one thing, they want to do the next five.”

Tips for the Teacher

Say you’ve decided to take the plunge and actually teach a friend to sew. Garnered from an informal poll of quilter friends (and teachers), these are some top tips for instructors.

Know Sewing Machines

It won’t help anyone if you only know how to load a bobbin in your machine.

sewing machine tips

Encourage Questions

There are no dumb questions. One teacher even hands out treats for students who ask the most questions.

Start Small—But Start

Sarah is a beginner sewer. Her frustrations illustrate the success of Henderson’s approach. “I took a class recently with an instructor who did too much lecturing and not enough hands-on practical instruction. It was five lessons; for the first two, we didn’t use our machines!” (Sarah hasn’t been motivated to sew much since.)

Don’t Assume Any Prior Knowledge

Students may come with a bit of experience, but most likely they won’t. You may spend as much time explaining jargon or terminology as how to cut out a pattern.

Empathy is Necessary

You were a beginner once, too—and it wasn’t easy, was it? Remember that when your students are asking questions and frustrated. “Your students need to know it’s okay to make a mistake and that you’ve been there too,” Henderson reminds us. “And, as teachers, we have the experience to share which mistakes were okay and which needed to be fixed.”

Tips for the Beginner

Maybe you’ve picked up Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting or Quick + Easy Quilts for the inspiration but haven’t taken the plunge into sewing yet. Or you’ve tried a couple of projects and are looking for a bit more guidance. Wherever you are in your journey, three key tips:


Know What You Want

  • Before you take a single lesson, know what kind of sewing you want to do. If hemming and mending are goals, it makes no sense to take a beginner quilting class. If you aspire to hand work, then machine quilting is probably not where you should start.


Don’t Just Learn Your Machine, Learn What Goes Wrong

  • It’s one thing to know what to do when your bobbin runs out, but do you know what to do if your stitches look funny? Taking the time to learn from mistakes and fixing common errors will go a long way to saving frustration, especially in a class setting.


Start Small

  • Rome wasn’t built in a day. And you won’t be free- motion quilting a king-sized quilt pieced from 3” blocks your first time out. Be realistic about your skills and your goals when you start.

And remember that all quilters were beginners once too. My first quilt was a simple Irish Chain that was stitched in the ditch. Over 24 years later I’m very thankful that I started small, because it was enough to get me hooked, not overwhelmed.

When setting out to teach a friend to sew these tips and tricks can help you have a plan and succeed.

Happy teaching & quilting!

This article was originally published in the Love of Quilting July/August and September/October 2024 issue and written by Cheryl Arkison.

Author, quilt designer, and educator Cheryl Arkison inspires quilters to laugh, play, and embrace both life and fabric as they come. Learn more at

More Resources:

On Quilting Daily, we have a go-to How to Learn to Quilt resource for beginners: How to Make a Quilt for Beginners. You’ll find links to The Complete Guide to Making Your First Quilt, along with free patterns curated just for beginning quilters.

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