The Home and Garden Journal of Kayla Pins

Scrap Vortex-ing with Eighth Grade Novice Sewists

Scrap Vortex-ing with Eighth Grade Novice Sewists

Although this is my seventh year teaching, it is my first teaching machine sewing to middle school students. I needed a quick project to get the concepts of seam allowances and “right sides together” down before we cut into our pillowcase project. The scrap vortex project (my sister’s version here and Crazy Mom Quilts’s introduction here) looked like so much fun I thought my kids would like it too.

Our quilt has nothing like the tiny pieces that Kelli is using. We haven’t been quilting long enough to have scraps. I have a big tub of donated fabrics of all shapes and sizes.

I stack them up

middle school fcs sewing project

And run my rotary cutter through them a few times.

rotary cutter cut fabric middles school sewing

I want the pieces to be small enough to give them lots of practice, but not so small that this becomes a whole ‘nother project.

how to machine sew middle school

You might cringe at this pile, but the kids LOVED it. They love digging for treasures, and what every kid considers a treasure is very different.

I start my sewing machine unit by saying that mistakes will happen and I won’t be mad. We have seam rippers and I’m a sewing machine mechanic. Just don’t touch the tension, don’t unwind the power cord by dropping the foot pedal on the floor, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD KEEP FABRIC SCISSORS FOR FABRIC! Other than those things, don’t be scared. You guys have run band saws in Industrial Technology before, how hard can this machine be?

(I learned this time around that I also need to show them the one and only lever they can touch on their bobbin casing because someone totally took their housing apart.)

I spent all of one class period setting the machine up, going over the parts, getting it threaded, and putting it back away. Students worked in pairs on this. It went about as well as showing a middle school student a tool filled with buttons and levers they aren’t supposed to touch can go. In other words, pretty awful. My hopes weren’t so high for actual sewing.

For day two I split the students into two groups. Half worked with my para on their hand sewing project and the other half did scrap vortexing so there was just one student to a machine.

Here’s how I demonstrated.

  1. Get a pile of scraps about the same width and sit at your machine with a fabric scissors.
  2. Put your first two fabrics pretty sides together and lined up neatly.
  3. Park your foot so the fabric lines up with the hole on the throat plate and the 1/4″ line.
  4. Hold your threads and hand crank your needle down. (Always only turn your wheel forward!)
  5. “Drive” forward about three stitches and then “Reverse” to the beginning, then “Drive” to the end of the fabric. Stop sewing when the fabric gets past the “skis.”
  6. Place your next two fabrics pretty side together, put them under the skis far enough for the feed dogs to bite, and drive.
  7. Clip your first pair off and add another fabric.
  8. Keep going until your strips are almost nine inches long. Park your thread saver.
  9. Press your seam allowances all in the same direction.
  10. Use the rotary cutter to square up the strips. (I still do this for them at this point)
  11. Sew your strips together to make a block. Add an extra strip if you need to to make it 9″ square.
  12. Press. Write your name in pencil on the back and put it in the fruit basket (aka my turn-in box).

I was so pleased with how these turned out! It was the perfect project for them to practice seam allowances many times over, while at the same time seam allowances mattering very little. Even the most rainbow-shaped “strip” can be squared up.

middle school how to sew
To demonstrate how each student values different treasures, one student was disappointed that I didn’t have enough of that red and green 80’s calico to make a shirt.

I had a few students go from having never touched a sewing machine to finishing their 9″ square in a single class period.

scrap vortex fcs 8

Can you believe these seam allowances?! He totally went off on his own and knocked this out with very little help.

seam allowance scrap vortex

Why 9″? I will sew these together to make a quilt top for Lutheran World Relief. I don’t want to take the classtime for each student to sew their own complete quilt, but I think they will enjoy seeing their squares in a finished product.

Once they got going it was total zen. Kids openly admitted to enjoying sewing which is huge at this age. They can be pretty hard to impress. I highly recommend a scrap vortex for a beginner’s project. There is no pattern to buy, and you will be surprised at the “treasures” kids find in your scrap bin.



10 thoughts on “Scrap Vortex-ing with Eighth Grade Novice Sewists”

  • Kayla, you did an awesome job teaching that and I am tickled to hear that they were getting into it. I can see you are channeling Bonnie Hunter and Nova Montgomery and doing a great job of it!!

  • A couple of other suggestions from an ‘old’ Home Ec teacher. Have them sew in socks, take their shoes off… they get a better feel of the foot pedal for speed control. Am laughing at the don’t drop the foot pedal… how many pedals have been ruined by kids doing that over the years? I think the pedal is heavier than they imagine when they look at it?
    Always had the kids take the first few stitches by hand using the wheel… gives them an idea of which direction the fabric is going to go when they start sewing.
    The worst challenge is to teach kids to use a serger… groan! I spent many of my lunch hours rethreading sergers for years and now, in retirement, have an air threading serger as I don’t want to ever have to thread another again in my lifetime.
    Make sure the kids have decent thread. I used to cringe when mom’s would give their kids spools of thread that belonged to their grandma’s and the thread would break just looking at it. Put masking tape over anything on the machine that they tend to want to fiddle with… won’t stop them but might make them stop and think before they remove the tape to move or change something. Also, always bought denim needles for my machines, they seemed a lot more durable for all sewing purposes. Good luck and the best part of your job is having kids rush into the classroom because they can’t wait to sew!

    • These are all great tips! Thanks for sharing! I’ve never heard of an air threading serger. It sounds heavenly!

  • Nice job, Kayla!! Teaching kids to sew is such a rewarding experience. One of my greatest moments was when one of the two special needs students in my class was the first to finish her garment! Kudos for using terminology that the kids can easily remember.

    • It’s amazing which kids really excel in this unit and can help other students. The class dynamic is wonderful.

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