This section is from the book "Progressive Lessons In The Art and Practice of Needlework", by Catherine F. Johnson. Also available from Amazon: Progressive Lessons In The Art And Practice Of Needlework.
The system of instruction in needlework, as given in this book, is the result of many years' study of the subject, and of practical application of the methods in the public schools of Brookline, Massachusetts. Experience has shown that careful preparation can make sewing as educational as any other subject of school instruction.
Drawings of the various stitches and kinds of work, with accurate written descriptions of the same copied into blank books for future reference ; drawing diagrams of patterns from measurements; fitting the parts of these patterns together for garments; cutting and fitting simple dresses, first cutting to a model and fitting to a form which can be easily handled, afterwards fitting to a pupil's form, - all these can be taught step by step in a progressive course. Such a course tends, not only to train the hand, but to develop, strengthen, and mature the mind and judgment. By these methods, sewing can be taught in our schools with the most satisfactory results, and may lead both teacher and pupil to a clearer knowledge of the many beautiful possibilities of the needle.
When the kindergarten is fully established in the public school system, and its value is understood, the first sewing, that on coarse canvas, may be done in the two or three succeeding primary grades. But when there has been no kindergarten instruction let this work begin in the primary grade or the lowest grammar grade. The methods used in the class work of the first three years are given in the form of questions and answers at the end of each chapter.*
Questions for the day's work, not exceeding three in number, should be upon the blackboard, and if for any reason a child is waiting for direction in her sewing she can write the answers. When questions are given to a class, great care should be taken to frame each in a complete sentence and to have the child's written answer in another complete sentence, in which the point of the question is embodied. This creates a habit of thinking and of expressing clearly.
I. The position of the body while sewing is of great importance, because a careless attitude may cramp the arms and hands and also be prejudicial to the health. The chair should be of a height to permit the feet to rest flat upon the floor; the lower end of the spine should be firm against the back of the chair, the rest of the body free and erect, and the work never nearer the eyes than is necessary for a clear view of the stitches. The shoulders should be kept well back to allow the chest full expansion, and the head should not be allowed to droop so as to affect the circulation of blood to and from the brain. The arms should never rest upon the desk while sewing. The position of a pupil indicates the amount of interest felt in her work; if the attitude be free and alert, the mind will co-operate, and not otherwise.
While most children rest their eyes more than sufficiently by allowing them to wander from their work, there are, occasionally, pupils who need to be cautioned against fixing their eyes too intently upon it.
II. When a class is large, it is difficult to keep all the pupils at the same point in the progress of the work even in simultaneous instruction ; the quicker ones are employed by various devices continuing active thought, such as assisting the slower ones or making a drawing of their own finished work on the blackboard and writing a description of this work and its use.
* A strict adherence to these questions and answers may not always be practicable; any ingenious teacher will be able to form rules and questions from her own idea of the needs of her pupils.
After correction, these drawings* and descriptions are copied into blank books for future reference. These books have been found invaluable.
III. The development of those senses which lead to quick and accurate perceptions of form and color is essential to artistic work in dressmaking and embroidery. This matter of taste is one of education, and should not be neglected. In the fifth year of sewing, possibly the fourth year, a pupil should be able to draw and color designs for garments, using crayons or water colors.
IV. From the beginning, a child should be taught to prepare her work in a thorough manner. Judgment is trained more in the preparation than in any other part of the work; on the sampler the short seams are easily prepared by the pupils, the colored threads and the varied work holding their interest and attention until more difficult work is undertaken in the second year of sewing. The most difficult part of preparation is first taught upon paper, the second year; this includes patches, bands, gussets, etc. It is helpful to use papers of two colors, - one to represent a garment, and the other showing distinctly the shape of the gusset.
Sampler work is adopted in the beginning, because progressive lessons in sewing can be more readily taught upon short seams. Afterwards these samplers can be used as reference for all future work, since all kinds of sewing are exemplified in them.
In the public school work economizing of material should be considered; the cost of these samplers is so small that they could be provided in the same way as all other supplies for the school.
The youngest pupils are given canvas in the first sampler, because judging of distances, size, slope, and direction of stitches are all made easier and given more exactness by the use of the coarse and even web. The second sampler is of unbleached cotton; the third, of bleached cotton.
* Several cuts in this book are made from drawings of the pupils of the W. H. Lincoln School, Brookline, Mass., and from the pupils of the South End Industrial School, Roxbury, Mass.
In the first-year practice in position, the use of the fingers and of the implements of sewing should precede actual work. Thoroughness in this is a safeguard against awkwardness and mistakes that otherwise would waste time and material. The class drill is given minutely in Chapter I (First Year'S Sewing). The drill secures prompt obedience, cultivates the faculty of observation, and trains the muscles for future work.
At the period allowed for the lesson one girl is selected to have charge of the box or boxes of cotton and of the needles. Whenever a pupil's work requires either cotton or needle different from that which she has, she makes known her wants and is supplied by the one having charge of the boxes. In this way every pupil soon becomes familiar with all variations of size, and understands what she needs and the reasons for it. In the third year's sewing, a piece of flannel is marked 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and one needle corresponding to each number is placed at the side of that number. This is kept in the work bag always ready for use. Small pieces of cloth for practice work should always be in the work bag, ready for a pupil to take up while waiting for the teacher's attention. When a piece of this practice work is especially well done, it may be fastened upon a sheet of card-board known as the "Class Card of Models." This may be considered an honor.
See description of work bag in second year.
VI. Each pupil should have a clean apron to wear in the class, or the work will soon become soiled; bags containing the apron, work, thimble, etc., may be collected and put away by some pupil after each lesson. This has a marked influence in making children careful and neat. When special sewing desks (Fig. I) are provided, the scissors stand in one corner of the waste pocket and the spools of thread with the pincushion and emery bag are left on the rod at the back or the side of the desk. Otherwise a teacher must use some device by which she can carry with her the things needed; a cord may be fastened on her apron, to which may be attached scissors, while spools, etc., are carried in the work apron pocket.
Fig. I. - Sewing desk.
VII. If the day's work be clearly mapped out in the mind of the teacher before she goes into her class, and diligent use made of the two hours a week given to the sewing, most excellent results may be obtained by following such a system as the one given in this book. When a pupil has reached the fifth year of sewing, she has gained sufficient self-reliance to work with less help from the teacher.
VIII. The first sampler is composed of Penelope canvas* worked with colored yarns. In the construction of this sampler nearly all stitches used in plain sewing can be taught. The strips, when finished, are joined by oversewing to make the sampler.
The transition is naturally to a coarse, unbleached cotton sampler, and by the time a pupil has finished these two samplers, she is ready for finer work upon bleached cotton. Having satisfactorily made the three samplers, the pupil is now trained to the point of doing good work, and can proceed to the cutting and making of garments.
IX. When the uncut cloth or a prepared garment is brought from home, it causes endless complications and hinderances, and makes it impossible to systematize the work or teach the cutting. Therefore, it is considered more practical for schools to provide material used in the grade work, letting the pupil pay for each garment as it is made, thus lessening the cost.
* Coarse Penelope canvas No. I or 2.
I.. Every child instinctively uses the teeth for biting the thread. She should be taught that she must never do this. It injures the teeth and soils the work. Never draw the thread under the little finger, but always over it. If the thread is grasped in the hand, it becomes dampened and soiled.
2. Never use a knot in sewing when it cannot be hidden completely.
3. Never let the scissors become too dull to cut well.
4. Never use a bent, rusty, or too large needle.
5. Never turn under a selvedge in a hem or a band.
6. Never hurry, especially in the preparation of work. However little is done, let that little be done thoroughly.
7. Never waste material of any kind.