Sewing Lessons with Design Your Wardrobe

Zoe in Sew House 7 Free Range Slacks outdoors in winter

Teaching kids sewing is such a tricky subject. How do you teach sewing at an impressionable, malleable, and sometimes fragile age in a way that will support their independence of person, not bore them to death, and not be too complicated, all while navigating the odd sizing realm of tween? While there are a few tween/teen sewing patterns out there, I've found for my mileage, it's easier to alter the lower end size range of adult patterns, for example, with a small bust adjustment or grading out any hourglass-type curves. 

teen in faux jumpsuit

I've taught my older daughter (Hazel above) some sewing, and when Zoe said she wanted to learn some sewing, I had a few edits on my approach. 

I still wanted to start with something Zoe would actually wear. A lot of classes start with the pillowcase or bag, and while that's not wrong, I've found that doesn't really stoke the fire. In my experience, if they sew something they'd actually wear and are excited about wearing, you can keep that sewjo momentum going. Apparel sewing does require more hands-on teaching than a pillowcase, especially when everything seems to be in the "advanced beginner" category, and it will take longer than a pillowcase, but if the desired result is to make a life-long maker, I feel the extra effort is worth it.

Zoe sewing

Zoe wanted to start with pants. Of course she did. We went with the tried-and-true Sew House 7 (SH7) Free Range Slacks. I've made this pattern quite a few times, it is what Hazel is wearing up above in the rayon faux jumpsuit outfit, I know SH7's drafting and sizing, plus bonus points for pockets and elastic waist. Zoe picked a stiff, high quality quilting cotton with cats on it from Josephine's Dry Goods in Portland, Oregon. (If you know your quilting cottons, it's a Windham. Windham fabrics are generally more on the thick, stiff side and will hold up as casual pants for our purposes here, as opposed to say, Tula Pink or Kaffe Fassett which have the tighter weave, almost lawn-feeling, thinner quilting cotton.)

There are so many details we forget as we progress, all of these little details we do on autopilot, that I feel these sewing lessons are teaching me to be a better pattern instructions designer as well.

After Zoe finished her pants, she realized they were a bit light weight for winter wear and has mostly been wearing them as home lounge pants. Dear reader, you and I may have predicted this outcome, but I felt it was a lesson that needed to be experienced and this is why I let the quilting cotton as pants happen, knowing they'd likely be used as lounge pants until spring AAAANNNNND was the perfect segue into Design Your Wardrobe.

design your wardrobe landing page

I'm a big fan of Seamwork's Design Your Wardrobe series and being a member. Right now, there's an open sign up for the next series, but as a member you can always access past series. For me, it's a great way to plan and stay on-track both stylistically and just to get sh*t done. 

From a teaching perspective, it is perfect. Zoe and Hazel have both started the series guided by me, to plan future sewing plans. Now that they know what is involved with the actual sewing part and how long a garment takes, they can plan their next patterns and look at their wardrobes more holistically. 

DYW binder

Zoe is using a binder for her "class" with a see-through cover. This doubles as her mood board and fabric swatch holder. 

This is Zoe's first time doing DYW, so as with anyone, she's still getting a feel for it. Once you go through DYW a few times, this comes much more naturally and focused. Zoe's own words here are typical of what most adults put their first time too and I'm really happy with her work.

zoe's stash

Zoe pulled fabric from the Workhorse Studio for her own personal stash and inspiration basket. 

croquis for design your wardrobe

Zoe then took items in her wardrobe, her fabric swatches, and her ideas of future outfits, and combined them by drawing on some of the Seamwork provided croquis.

Before Zoe makes more final decisions on her next makes, we took her new Free Range Slacks and did a photo shoot with her current clothes to show how capsule wardrobes can be made, how to keep a cohesive aesthetic, and how to combine prints. Drawing on croquis and coloring patterns is nice, but it helps to see real life combinations and movement, even in dreary winter.

tween fashion shoot

Front and back shots with a basic cropped sweatshirt and her ride-or-die shoes of the season, oil slick Dr. Martens

tween fashion shoot

Some classic 90s grunge-is-back-again pairing...

tween fashion shoot

A brief freezing shot of just a polo, with cats naturally...

tween photo shoot

and a side shot to make sure we consider silhouette and fit. 

tween fashion shoot

And this is where we are at now. Next steps will be committing actual project plans to paper and executing those plans.

Let me know if any of this resonates with you! Do you use a sewing planner or vision board like DYW? Have you ever taught anyone to sew or knit and have insights that might help? 

**Not a sponsored post but for the sake of transparency: I do know some of the Seamwork folks, Seamwork does donate to the local Frocktails, which I organize, and I have submitted material to Seamwork. So while there is no sponsorship for this post, all opinions are my own, I pay for Seamwork out of my own pocket, and Seamwork has no idea I'm doing any of this, you may assume correctly I have bias from having previous pleasant experiences with Seamwork. 


  • Oh my gosh! I love Zoe’s style! I love these pants even though they are made of quilting cotton. I would actually wear these. I tried to teach Wylan to sew at age 7 but maybe he was too young. We made Pendleton wool pillows to give as Christmas gifts. He was really into it but didn’t want to do it again. He is not into clothing AT ALL so making clothes wouldn’t have inspired him. I do think that starting with something the student is actually interested in and will use is a great approach – the carrot. Pillow cases and aprons wouldn’t have enticed me either. I’m really impressed that Zoe made it all the way through the Free Range Slacks though. They are fairly easy but not the quickest sew for a beginner. I love that you are teaching your kids – nice work!

  • Thanks Karen! I’m so glad you get it! My mom always tried to get me to sew as a kid, but I resisted as much as I possibly could because I thought it was so dowdy and boring. I had no interest in gingham aprons either! I refused home ec and took pottery and photography instead. I’m hoping this approach has more success, but who knows, right? I like to think I’m improving on experiences as I go along, but is that what every parent and teacher thinks? I feel like I just have to admit I don’t know what I’m doing anymore than anyone else and all I can do is my best. :D

    Becky Jo - @workhorsepatterns
  • I love this blog post. My daughter was never interested in sewing so I’m holding out hope that maybe one of my granddaughters will want to. I love the way you are approaching the learning process! By the time I got to my first official sewing class in Junior High School I had already been seeing on my own – they started with an apron in gingham and I was so bored. Starting with a pair of pants out of cat fabric that your daughter chose is perfect. They look adorable with her current wardrobe pieces and seem to fit her vibe perfectly. Trying out different weights of fabric is EXACTLY what will help to learn what the best fabric pattern pairings are. In my opinion, some folks never quite figure that out. If a young person (or anyone) learning to sew becomes aware that they can create a look that is all their own, by carefully pairing patterns and fabrics to create garments they will love to wear, their life will forever be changed. And BONUS – they can pass the pride and enthusiasm on to everyone they know!

    Karen - @intostitches

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