Sewing and the National Curriculum

Heather Jacks (winner of this year’s Great British Sewing Bee) posed a question on Twitter this week: Do you think sewing should be back on the school curriculum?

It got me thinking about my own experience of sewing at school. All one half of a term of it. Seriously, I spent more time being forced to play rugby. My form and I trundled off to our Food Technology lesson only to arrive and find ourselves faced by a load of sewing machines. Quite rightly, we were a little confused. Our teacher then told us that for the next few weeks, we’d be making our own aprons.

At this point, you’d think that we were shown how to set up a sewing machine, how to do some basic stitching, or even just talked through some sewing jargon. You’d be wrong. We spent an entire double lesson designing aprons and our homework was to go buy some fabric, without even a hint as to which type fabric or how much of it to buy.

The following lesson we were let loose on the sewing machines. Despite always being around my Grandma constantly on her machine, I think this was the first time I’d ever sewn. I was quite excited, I thought it’d be easy because Grandma certainly made it look that way. Our teacher basically told us to put our foot on the pedal and guide the fabric through and that was that. Nothing about threading the needle, winding the bobbin, changing the stitch length, or even just some basic safety advice of “keep your fingers away from the sharp pointy needle”. So off I went. And promptly gave up about 10 minutes later out of sheer frustration. I just couldn’t do it. More importantly, I couldn’t see the point, why on earth would I ever need to be able to sew an apron? I didn’t need to sew anything, I had my Grandma to do it for me!

So for the remaining lessons that we were pretty much left unsupervised to sew, I spent my time gossiping with my friends. My Grandma found me some fabric for my apron, and she sewed it for me, bit by bit so it looked like I was making progress. She even threw in a few wonky stitches to throw my teacher off the scent. Her hard work paid off too; I got 10 out of 10 and a Good Work Certificate! I still have the certificate and the apron lives in my kitchen to this day.

When I was a teacher, I always found the best way to motivate children to learn was to give them a reason for why they were learning something. So maybe if our Food Tech teacher had spent that first double lesson explaining what a useful (and awesome) skill sewing is and going through the basics of a sewing machine, who knows, maybe she’d have got the attention of some of us a little better and just maybe inspired us to continue. As it was, none of us could have cared less, and it put me off going near a sewing machine for about 16 years!

So yes, I do think sewing should feature on the National Curriculum, but I think it just being there isn’t enough. It needs to be planned properly, not just thrown in as an afterthought. Sewing is a life skill, but it’s so much more than that; just look at social media, people are using sewing to connect with others, to escape the mundane, to relax, to have fun, to create, to express themselves. Look at how much interest the Great British Sewing Bee has generated, or the fanfare to which Tilly Walnes’s book has been published. Sewing is awesome and we owe it to our children to do it justice.

What do you think? Did you learn to sew at school? Do you think it should be on the National Curriculum?

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