Youngsters cut and stitch their way to confidence

April 16, 1995|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Special to The Sun

Julie Tabb, 8, is busy sewing a surprise gift for one of her teachers at Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School and doesn't have a lot of time to talk.

She pins and irons the pastel plaid fabric that she has carefully cut from a simple pattern, then sits down at a sewing machine and begins to stitch confidently.

Julie is one of 47 children and teens learning to make their own clothes, quilts and crafts at a Bel Air sewing school operated by Ann Majors, a Forest Hill resident and quilter.

Most of the children are from the Bel Air area, but a few come from as far away as northern Harford and Baltimore counties.

"My mother taught me when I was five and a half," said Mrs. Majors, who is 54. "She was very patient. I can remember sitting at the sewing machine and hardly being able to see over the top of the machine."

She accepts youngsters for classes at the age of 6. Some of them can barely reach the foot pedal of a sewing machine. "I've always wanted to teach children to sew," said Mrs. Majors, who )) has lived in Harford for 10 years. She and her husband, David, a distributor of packaging products, have four children.

"Kids are great," Mrs. Majors said. "They're so honest. And it's such a reward for me to see them learn. I really enjoy it. Sewing is something that's going to carry over their whole lives. It gives them confidence when they find out they can do it themselves."

On a recent afternoon, 8-year-old Elizabeth Mueller was hard at work on a new pair of sweat pants.

"It's fun," Elizabeth said. "Since everybody in my class knows that I sew, they're always asking me to make things. I like doing favors for people."

Her 11-year-old classmate Mary Crimmins, wearing a reversible vest she made, was stitching the seams of a peasant blouse. Katelyn Gotoff, 7, couldn't wait to finish a handbag.

"I like it because it's noncompetitive," said Katelyn's mother, Kerry Gotoff. "And I think it teaches them so much. They learn how to measure and they learn patience."

Mary Frances Dael, 10, has been working for several months on a floppy-eared, old-fashioned country bunny with apron, dress and bloomers that she named Annie -- for her teacher, Miss Ann.

Ashley Shelsby, 7, modeled a jumper she was sewing, and 9-year-old Stephanie McClure was cutting and stitching a denim skirt with a back slit.

Assisted by her daughter, Jill, Mrs. Majors teaches about five children in each of 14 weekly classes. Typical students are 9-year-old girls, but there are also teens and usually a few boys who sew kites, fishing vests, costumes and stuffed dinosaurs.

xTC "The boys are just as talented as the girls," she said. "They love to figure out how the sewing machine works."

Mrs. Majors uses a program known as Kids Can Sew, which was developed in 1983 by the Carolyn Curtis School of Sewing in St. George, Utah, and is sold nationwide.

As a licensed instructor, she buys exclusive rights in Bel Air to run her business using copyrighted patterns and sewing instruction booklets designed for children ages 6 to 16. Standard patterns available in retail stores are typically too difficult and frustrating for young beginners to master.

She opened her school in 1991, renting space inside So-Fro Fabrics, a sewing and fabric store in Bel Air behind the Harford Mall. The store sells sewing machines, and students purchase supplies there.

"It's been wonderful," said Karen Janny of Bel Air, whose 7-year-old twin daughters, Rachel and Frances, are in their second year of sewing. "I think that it helps them to be confident and interact with people. And it's really something for them to see something completed that they did."

The two girls sew with Mrs. Majors for one hour every Wednesday after school. Classes are held Monday through Thursday in the late afternoon and evening from October to May.

In the summer, several two-week sessions of daily one-hour morning and evening classes will be offered.

Ever patient, Mrs. Majors blends a ready laugh and quick smile with humor and an easygoing style that creates a relaxed class atmosphere.

That can be a challenge when teaching children who often sew the wrong seam closed and occasionally prick a teacher with a pin, bump her with a hot iron or snip her clothing with a pair of scissors.

"You have to keep a sense of humor," she said. "And if you have patience with children, they learn patience. One of the hardest things is teaching them to slow down. Don't worry about things being done quickly. I tell them we're here to have fun. We're also here to learn, but don't think you have to be perfect. Life isn't perfect."

The children show their clothes at Kids Can Sew fashion shows in the fall and spring. Some also enter competitions, such as 10-year-old Jennifer Cubbage, who has sewed for four years and won ribbons at local fairs.

The cost for one month of lessons is $30, plus fabric and patterns.

For information, call Mrs. Majors at 893-8565.

Children's sewing lessons are also offered at Sew 'N Save in Beards Hill Plaza, Aberdeen. For information, call 272-2226.

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