Children seven and older can usually handle a sewing machine, I feel before starting with the machine your child needs to understand the mechanics of sewing. This is best learned through hand sewing. Once they understand about stitches, seams, fabric, thread, pins and needles, or how to attach fabric to fabric, they may be ready to try the machine.
I feel you should get them competent enough to enjoy hand sewing before trying the machine, otherwise they may not master both. To really sew, you need to know both.
But when you and your child are ready to try the machine, here a few things I recommend considering:
1. Test drive your sewing machine. If you already own a sewing machine but don't sew regularly, sit down before promising your child sewing machine time and take it for a test drive. Is it jamming and spewing clumps of thread? Is it making a strange rattling sound? Is the tension out of sorts? Your machine may be in need of a tune up. If you want your child's first sewing experience to be an exhilarating smooth ride, make sure the machine is in good working order.
If you do not yet own a machine and are thinking of buying one, beware, all machines are not equal. Some of the models of certain brands can quickly introduce your child to frustration. Do a little homework before buying.
2. Lower the table or raise the pedal. Most children under eight struggle with being able to reach the pedal. There are two easy solutions to this: either place the sewing machine on a child's height desk or table or place the pedal on a box.
3. Safety: There are a few rules.
For the teacher: If you can control the speed of your machine, put it on slow or half motor. This will still seem very fast for a child. I have children sew long straight seams on strips of fabric (as in from a jelly roll of fabric) to just get comfortable with the machine and hand placement. In the beginning an adult needs to be there watching. If your machine has a "needle down" option use this, it will ensure the needle is down when they stop sewing which keeps the fabric and needle both in a good place.
For the child: Always look at what you are doing while your foot is on the pedal. Not at the dog, the teacher, or your friend who is laughing. If you have to look away, take your foot off the pedal.
4. The speed of machine sewing is your friend and your enemy
Children love the machine for the same reason most prefer downhill skiing to cross-country. It is faster and more exciting. But mistakes can happen faster, too. So machine sewing requires concentration and focus so you don't quickly get into trouble. But the speed can also give you the freedom to try more things and get more creative. If you spend twenty minutes sewing a pillow and you want to try doing a variation, twenty more minutes to try something new is not a problem.
Your machine should not be sewing over pins and pins are pointy and sharp and hurt and tend to make kids worry. Wonderclips are just wonderful.
This post is part of a series done in conjunction with Trixi Symonds who teaches and blogs about hand sewing with children on her blog: Colouredbuttons.com. Part 2 of the series will be a project to start your child hand sewing or machine sewing.