1. Sewing is the ideal way to exercise “executive function.” Kids today have very few long-form projects, the kind of activities that develop executive function, or the group of cognitive processes that include memory, planning, reasoning and flexibility. Designing and sewing a garment or a quilt takes the sort of patient, careful, time-consuming effort that kids have so little opportunity to exercise nowadays. I want my boys to work on projects that take weeks or months, not minutes, to complete.
2. Learning how to follow a pattern is a critical skill. How many people do you know who can’t follow basic diagrams or even written instructions? Copying a pattern is “learning how to learn”—once you’re comfortable with it, you can learn to follow maps, recipes, blueprints and technical drawings.
3. It dovetails naturally with their interests. Like many 5-year-old boys, my son is obsessed with superheroes. He’s especially interested in costumes: the masks, gloves, boots and capes that Batman and others wear. He’s examined a superhero cape my friend sewed him, asked how it was put together and if we could make another one.
4. Everybody needs clothes. Just like everyone needs to learn to cook and clean, everyone should have a basic working knowledge of what it takes to sew on a button or repair a loose hem. The days when boys and men could be ignorant about these things—because women would do these chores for them—are long gone.
5. It’s a good way to teach them engineering and design. My son is crazy about building and designing things. His dad already draws and makes models with him, but I don’t want his interests to be limited by traditionally “masculine” design fields. Learning how to construct something beautiful and functional out of fabric is as instructive as building something out of wood.
6. A sewing machine is a naturally awesome piece of machinery. Sewing machines haven’t changed all that much in the last 100 years—they’re a nearly perfect technology. Understanding how they work, from the old foot-pedal models to the newest computerized bells and whistles, is a great primer on the evolution of technology, and what’s necessary and what’s not.
7. Crafting is a natural way into STEM subjects. As this Slate article points out, “Increasingly, sewers can integrate high-tech materials and components into garments, regardless of location and education level. I’m not just talking about sewing machines; new supplies like conductive thread, sewable circuits and programmable LEDs have become easily accessible through websites like Adafruit and Sparkfun.”
8. He shouldn’t think some subjects are “boy” things and some are “girl” things. The most successful people (and the happiest, in my observation) have broad interests. I remember a software engineer watching intently when I showed him what a bias cut is on a piece of fabric, and what it means for drape and fit. He was sincerely interested—because he was generally fascinated with all things construction and engineering. I don’t want my boys to be limited by outdated gender roles. All knowledge builds on itself.
9. Sewing—and textiles—are a way into learning about history and international trade. As this sewing blogger writes, “Sewing machines helped to emancipate women as it gave them a commercially marketable skill. As sewing became an industry, sewers organized themselves into unions so that those in the textile trade could make a living wage and support their families. Today, because of globalization and concentration of corporate power, we’re moving in the opposite direction. Sewing taps into a lot of academic disciplines and if we’re inclined to study it, we can learn a lot about the world we inhabit.”
Sewing to save money, like we might have learned in home economics class, is less of an imperative nowadays. But it’s still the foundation for so many practical skills (as well as being a creative outlet) that I’d feel remiss if I neglected to teach it to my boys. I want my sons to have the same lessons I did, handed down from my mother and my grandmother. First up: superhero cape.