T here once was a time when a sewing machine was a prominent piece of furniture in nearly every household. The ability to hem a skirt, mend a sleeve or create a new addition to one’s wardrobe was a necessary skill – as common as scrambling eggs or making coffee.
But with mass merchandising and the advent of department stores, the convenience and availability of ready-made garments made such homespun skills obsolete.
Now, thanks to the popularity of TV shows like “Project Runway” and social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram, the art and craft of sewing is enjoying an unprecedented resurgence.
“Children really are so inspired by what they see on reality shows,” says Cindy Beitzel, a professional seamstress who conducts sewing classes for children, teens and adults for the St. Charles Park District. “They’ll come to me and say, ‘One day I’m going to make something like that; [or] I want to be a fashion designer’ or something like that, which is really cool.”
But before they can get to the heady world of haute couture, students need to master the basics. Classes that stress the fundamentals – with an emphasis on fun – include Sewing Basics (for adults, ages 16 and older), Learn to Sew (for ages 6 and older) and Sew Together – Mom and Me (for children, ages 5 to 15, and a parent).
“A lot of [students] may come in a little bit nervous, but after I’ve taught them some basic techniques and given them some safety information, they start to feel better,” says Beitzel. “Once they’ve practiced first with paper and are ready to move to fabric, that gives them a huge leap in confidence.”
Students can utilize their newfound sewing skills into a variety of projects, from mom-and-me accessories to wardrobes for their favorite dolls. Each month, a different project helps refine their sewing skills and open their eyes to a world of creativity that can be as vast as their own imaginations.
“I have little girls who have come to me after doing a project – like making headbands, for instance – and say, ‘Miss Cindy, I’m selling these with my friends or with my school,’ and it’s great to know that they were inspired by these classes,” says Beitzel.
Sewing not only builds creativity, but it gives students the confidence to create and complete something of their very own; and it also helps them to develop physical and mental skills that can have wide-ranging applications.
“They don’t realize they’re using so much hand-eye coordination to stay on a straight line or to push a foot control,” says Beitzel. “It’s more than watching a stitch go; they are focusing, they’re staying away from their phones, and they are immersed in the project that they’re creating.”
Beitzel brings everything a student could need to her sewing classes, traveling with about a half-dozen Brother sewing machines, plus threads, scissors, patterns and materials.
“It’s frustrating for a parent, especially, to face a supply list and have no idea what they’re buying,” says Beitzel. “I bring it as a package, and then if a student wants to continue on their own at home, they have experience with quality products and will know what to invest in.”
Beginner projects, which can be as simple as making a drawstring bag or pillowcase, reinforce basic skills, such as straight stitching.
But children tend to love anything that can be stuffed, so Beitzel will include projects like the upcoming “Sew an Emoji Pillow” or, for the holidays, “Sew a Turkey Friend” – which entails creating a cuddly turkey stuffed animal just in time for Thanksgiving.
And kids love soft things, too, so the popular class “Sew a Mermaid/Shark Tail Blanket” allows kids to make a cozy, one-of-a-kind item to take home.
“Kids are very project-based learners,” says Beitzel. “I offer a different project each class, but go over all the basic techniques and safety practices each time and so they receive reinforcement every time they come to class, but they apply it to a new challenge.”
Older teens and adults, who already have some sewing skills to their credit, can take classes that reinforce and refresh what they already know. In this case, Beitzel will create projects that require the use of a pattern, such as creating simple pajama bottoms or maybe a jacket with pockets.
“Learning to read a pattern is like learning to read a different language,” says Beitzel, who helps students develop their ability to select patterns that are easy for them to work with on their own.
Developing skills in beginner, intermediate and project-based sewing classes produce immediate results – a pillow to cuddle or new pants to wear – and instill a skill that will last a lifetime.
“I hear students say that they love sewing because they can be creative, pick their own patterns and fabrics, and make something of their own from beginning to end,” says Beitzel. “It’s a life skill that they may not realize they are learning now, but when they’re older and perhaps have a family of their own, these abilities will help them make Halloween costumes for their own child or help them cost-effectively decorate their home.”
► For more information on sewing classes for all skill levels, contact Josh Williams, community center supervisor,