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Teaching Children to Sew Part 2 - Dolls and Sewing Patterns - The 1930s - Present

1940s sewing dolls amd dressforms
1940s Mannequins with dressforms and minature sewing patterns

The 1930s started with a bang. Well, actually a crash. The strong economy fell apart and many people went from living a comfortable life to begging on the street. Sewing and mending became even more important to learn. Many mothers, wives, and teenage daughters went to work in the "sweatshops" sewing for 8-10 hours a day with few, if any breaks. In addition to needing to know how to sew to earn a wage, the clothing that a family already had needed to last and be recycled by being remade into different garments for other family members. One of Dnad's shirts may end up being a dress for the baby and a shirt for a little boy. The book Make and Mend, c 1942, continued or rather, revived this skill.

When the 1940s rolled around the world economy was still struggling to recover from the Wall Street Crash of 1929. In the U.S. factories started producing warplanes in January 1942, a month after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. With this, the economy took a huge upswing. Men enlisted, and women went to work in the converted toy, car, and appliance factories building ships, planes, and other war-related industries. There was one caveat. Shortages. Now all raw materials were needed for the war effort. Women came to the rescue yet again. With ingenuity and creativity, they used the suits and shirts that the men left behind for the uniforms of war and created clothing for themselves and their children.

Books, like Make and Mend, gave ideas and instructions on how to remake those men's shirts and suits into a wardrobe for the rest of the family as well as handy accessories!

There are many books written especially for children. Sherri of Sew Betty and Dot has a wonderful collection of children's sewing books dating from 1913.

Easy Steps in Sewing for Big and Little Girls, by Jane Eayre Fryer Copyright 1913 is a much sought after publication. Lucky Sherri!

It even still has the pattern for the pinafore. How many books from 1913 are not only complete with all of the pages but has an insert that was to be used still attached ind in great condition!

Another 1913 book from Sherri's collection is When Mother Lets Us Sew By Mrs. Ralston.

What a sweet cover this book has. It's definitely for an older child. The book is well illustrated and gives detailed instructions on each lesson.

The drawings are well done and clear enough that you can see the stitching well enough to follow along.

Besides the lessons in school, during the 1940s and 1950s, books as well as sewing dolls, or Mannequins, emerged as a way to encourage young girls to sew. During WWII, there were shortages of fabrics. Women were encouraged to remake clothing using worn or outgrown garments instead of buying yardage. Because the mannequins were small and used scraps they were the perfect way for girls to learn. This kit included templates to make the simplest shifts and pullover blouses. This kit was obviously intended for a young girl. Probably 6 to 8 years old.

See and Sew a picture book of sewing by Good Houskeeping. Copyright 1943

I love the stitches on the cover!

See and Sew has great, quick, and easy projects for kids that are well illustrated and colorful.

1940s Sewing Mannequins for girls
2 Peggy McCall or Simplicity Mannequins. The one on the right I believe to be a little bit older.

Older girls had sewing dolls as well. The dolls had more mature bodies and more complex patterns as well. The pattern companies came out with dolls. McCall had Peggy McCall. She was available as a stand-alone as well as a deluxe kit that included patterns and a Dress Form made of plaster. Peggy McCall was one of the more popular Mannequins. Unfortunately, the available materials were not very durable.

The patterns for Peggy and similar dolls were not just a simple template. They are miniature versions of actual patterns.

Child's Book of Sewing by Jane Chapman, Copyright 1951. is written for small "new readers" With playful graphics to keep the child engaged, the book teaches basic skills such as the one shown, threading a needle.

This French Kit dating from the 1960s shows younger children using it however, if you look at the patterns, they all have simple lines but set-in sleeves, separate bodice pieces, etc., make it more advanced than for a beginner

The kit came with patterns, fabric, thread, needles, scissors, trims, and a mannequin.

Miss Patch's Learn-To-Sew Book written by Carolyn Meyer and illustrated by Mary Suzuki, Copyright 1969. The cover alone is engaging! The hand drawn illustrations make the book less intimidating for a child or even an a

Sewing Today

Today the craft of sewing is being reintroduced to children. It all begins with sewing or lacing cards. The selection of kits, sewing machines, and supplies on Amazon alone is overwhelming!

These cards are double-sided and come in sets of 5 different designs. Choose animals, mermaids, and rainbows, to railroads.

Available on for $12.95

As the kids get older, the next step is a kit. This kit uses felt and a plastic needle. Remember that every child is different and just because it says age 1 -6 doesn't mean that your child will be ready for it at age 1.

The great thing about this kit is the pre-punched holes. The needle doesn't need to be sharp. (Adult Supervision Required.)

As a child's interest increases as they get older with better hand-eye coordination, get them a good book on sewing. There are many excellent books available and which one you choose depends on your child's interests, reading level, and ability to follow directions.

Sewing School - 21 Sewing Projects Kids Will Love to Make (2010) is appropriate for ages 7 - 13. The projects have different levels of difficulting and teach different skills.

A Kid's Guide to Sewing (July,1, 2013) is written by this pre-teen with her parents' assistance. The book is intended for ages 8-14.

One review from the now defuct Kiki Magazine summed up the book very well. - "A beginner’s guide and visual dictionary for young people who want to learn to sew, packed with photos: “Some of the coolest projects we've seen.”—Kiki Magazine

As kids get older, assess their skill level as well as their level of interest to see if they are ready to move up to a sewing machine.

The options are many. The first option is finding a used machine. Many Thrift stores have them available but you need to test them before buying. The older machines don't have all of the electronic bells and whistles but, they are workhorses. Another option is to get a basic machine. You can get a decent machine for well under $100.

This Brother SM2700 27-Stitch Free Arm Sewing Machine is available on Amazon for $71.65 and has 4-1/2 stars. With 27 stitches, they will be able to do any project they can come up with.

If you want a brand-name machine, this is the best price that I could find. There are other machines for lower prices with good ratings also on Amazon. I found several for $60 - $70 with decent features and a good selection of stitches. I recommend reading the reviews so that you know each machine's strengths and weaknesses.

If you are looking for a fashion design set. Creativity for Kids makes Designed by You Fashion Studio is an example of what is available. At the time of writing this, it was listed for $34.99.

This kit includes a mannequin, fabrics, trims, a sketch pad, markers, thread, tape measure, pins, and needles.

Or. you could make a kit from scratch by using some scraps of fabrics and ribbon that you may have, some sewing notions, a pad of unlined paper, pens, and a fashion doll. Put it all in a decorative box (a.k.a. a decorated shoe box)

Depending on where you live, there may be sewing classes offered near you. Where I live they have schools where kids can have birthday parties! They provide the machines and the materials for a per person fee. An instructor walks the group through the project start to finsh and each guest leaves the party with what they made.

There are many of these studios from coast to coast

Southern California -

Northern California-

East Coast -

South =

Middle US -

Canada -

This is obviously not a comprehensive list.

We do not endorse the above businesses. I have not visited or spoken to any of these businesses and do not know anything about the business practices or finances.

It seems that other than public schools not offering sewing in most districts, things really haven't changed that much. From lacing cards to books, from simple patterns and kits to machines and mannequins. Sewing will always be necessary and is one of the oldest of civilized skills. Cave People sewed hides together to stay warm 45,000 years ago.

Give your children this skill. Boys and girls can both use it. - Mary Beth


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Unknown member
May 14, 2023

Fascinating! I didn't realize children's sewing classes were available. My mother grew up in the 1920s. Her parents were unable to buy her a book on sewing so she taught herself to sew by making doll clothes for her only doll using left over scraps from clothing my grandmother had made. In turn, she taught my aunt, who was three years younger. Eventually she was entrusted with the sewing machine and truly became a seamstress. I love this article and so would she.

Unknown member
May 15, 2023
Replying to

I love hearing how people learned to sew. The parties are a big thing here in California. Everyone leaves the party with an item that they made.

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