Sew Old-Fashioned? The New Generation Of Children Learning To Sew

26/08/2010 12:21 | Updated 22 May 2015

Oh the shame of it. Whisper it quietly. I get my mending done for me. But it's worse than you think. I don't pay extortionate amounts of money to have something altered – my 11-year-old is doing it for free.

There, I've said it. I can't sew – a 40-something mother, successful in so many ways (if I do say so myself) – but ask me to sew on a school blazer badge, darn a sock or hem a pair of trousers, and my eyes glaze over, my mind starts to wander and I would gladly pay someone else to do the wretched task.

And it should all be so different. My grandmother was a professional seamstress in Ireland, my mother made every last stitch of my clothes until I rebelled at the age of 11 and refused to wear another lovingly hand-sewn item, and my mother-in-law - well she made every last curtain in our first marital home.

"There's a whole generation of women just like you who for a variety of reasons never did get around to really picking up a needle and mastering this most satisfying of trades," soothes my rescuer Fiona Howell, who is instructing my daughter in the lost art of sewing.

Hence it's not my knee Louise sits at, watching and learning as I intricately cross-stitch cushions and make patchwork quilts, but Fiona's. It's Fiona who tells her how to make a skirt, a bag, a spectacles case, a draught-excluder, a pair of bridal dolls for a cousin's wedding.

I should hate Fiona.

But I can't. She is gentle, kind and patient, and she happened to love watching her mother sew and make things, and from an early age made all her dolls' clothes and has now fulfilled her passion by setting up and running a wide variety of sewing classes for all abilities.

"There seems to be a whole band of 40+ mothers who either weren't interested or resolutely refused to get into the sewing thing," she explains. "Women who either thought it wasn't for them, or actively turned away from what they perceived as 'womens' work' and something their mothers had done and which they weren't going to embrace.

"But what is interesting is that their daughters (and some sons) have come back to it, and that's where I come in, because I love to sew and I can pass that passion on, and of course feed what's already there."

Indeed such is the demand for information that John Lewis now run occasional classes in-store across the country for budding tailors. When we bought our daughter a sewing machine for her birthday this year, the JL assistant, spotting my look of complete ignorance and clear absolute terror, almost pityingly offered to spend some time with Louise explaining how to use the thing. Of course it was a wasted, although much appreciated offer – my daughter gave me a withering look, set the contraption up in minutes, and hasn't been off it since.

Julia Dudrenec works on the haberdashery floor at John Lewis' Welwyn Garden City store and has led a number of sewing classes for customers, although at the moment the company is unable to offer the same service to children.

Julia, 46, laments the passing of compulsory sewing classes as part of the national curriculum, which is where she squarely bases the blame for a generation's lack of needle skills.

"The customers who come to our classes have a fabulous day, we include lunch in the price and they come away with a finished product. Sometimes it's all they need to get going themselves," she says.

As for me, well they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. So I'll pass on the classes thanks – and instead pass my make do and mending to my daughter. After all, why keep a dog and bark yourself?

How to encourage children to sew.

Don't buy them any more clothes. Ever.

Show them how much money Viviene Westwood and Giorgio Armani have made through their love of a needle.

Seek out a sewing class for them – it's a rapidly expanding industry.

Consider splashing out on a mini sewing machine for them. John Lewis produce a £50 starter model in funky colours – just the job to see if they like it.

Show your child how they can make their own individual look if they become handy with a needle and thread. Whilst some children like blending in, others are keen to express their creative and individual flair. Sewing their own clothes, bags and accessories is a great way to start showing their own personality.

Fiona Howell's website has details of her sewing classes.

Can you sew or is is a skill you turned your back on?

Are your children keen to learn?

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