Teaching Resources

Kitting out the soft materials room

Sewing, now known as soft materials technology, is as popular as ever, and advances in furniture design and room set up make the lessons more enjoyable for today’s learners. Seamstress and sewing teacher Jo Ashcroft shares her insights into soft materials equipment.

“Many schools buy very expensive electronic machines but the machines I use are all mechanical, not electronic, and very simple. For most school sewing projects the students only need straight stitch, zigzag, some form of stretch stitch and a way of making button holes. 

“Mechanical machines take less troubleshooting as most problems arise from either the threading or the bobbin and once you train the kids to deal with that, then the teacher can get on with teaching and not troubleshooting.

“It’s useful to have all the machines the same so that they can share feet; you need an ordinary foot, a zipper foot and some form of buttonhole foot as a minimum. One high school I go to has three generations of one brand and each generation takes different feet!

“As students become more experienced and start to sew knit fabric, access to an overlocker is useful, but this isn’t essential for beginners.

“Sewing machines haven’t actually changed very much through the decades apart from the addition of the automatic threader. I usually end up threading machines for the younger kids. Invariably my younger students pick my older machines to use (Edna is my oldest at about 30 years old) as they are the simplest. 

All of the schools I teach in have their machines around the edge of the room on benches. This is a space saving technique as you generally spend the least amount of time at the machine during a lesson. One school has folding desks hinged at the wall which hold one machine, the desk being held up by one leg when raised-personally I think that’s a health and safety nightmare! Also sewing machines are quite heavy. I’d rather they stayed in one place as much as possible.

“Table space is far more important. Tables at the correct height so you can stand or sit at a stool to lay out fabric, draw patterns, and cut. All cutting, pinning, preparation and unpicking should happen at a table, not at the machine. One school I teach at has a mix of high tables and regular ones, whilst the others only have high ones. High is better especially if you have a larger number of students all trying to cut out or pattern draft at once.

“You also need access to ironing boards and irons; I always say that the iron is more important than the sewing machine as it allows for a more professional finish. I spend more time at the ironing board than I do anywhere else in the sewing room. One school I teach in has three three ironing boards which is brilliant.

“Access to sewing tools is important too. clearly labelled and easily accessible storage for scissors (fabric and paper), pins, thread, bobbins, seam rippers etc. And not all in the same place-imagine 30 teenagers all heading for the pins at the same time! Magnetic pin cushions rather than saucers (yes, tea saucers) that I see in some schools.

Sewing machines to last the distance
BERNINA, a name synonymous with sewing, has been supplying sewing machines to schools in New Zealand since the 1960s – “and some of those machines are still working today!” says Glyn Singleton,  managing director of BERNINA New Zealand.  
Today, the BERNINA 330, an entry level machine with “a touch of luxury” is very popular with school technology departments. “Schools tell us they love it, it’s at a fantastic price point, while offering extra features above and beyond what the older classroom machines have. It’s very easy to use, while being durable.”
The machine’s memory function is particularly useful for classes as it saves required stitch combinations for the next class. And the ultra-high contrast LCD display lets you keep track of what you are doing. The start/stop button and slide speed control, semi-automatic needle threader, automatic buttonhole and securing stitch function save you time and allow you to sew, quilt, and patchwork professionally.

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