For many, sewing can seem like a lost art form. For Judy Haning, it’s more than that—it’s a lost life skill. “I was amazed to learn that people throw clothes away because a button comes off,” Haning says. “It’s something that kids need to know [how to do].”
Not wanting to keep the next generation in the dark, Haning took matters into her own hands and crafted an answer: her own sewing school. With classes held in the basement of her Chanhassen home, Haning has taught the tiniest tykes to eager adults how to pick up a needle and thread—and how to create pride-worthy garments.
Haning was inspired to begin teaching after she purchased a sewing machine for one of her nieces. (A mother herself, Haning has shared the gift of sewing with all three of her daughters.) After giving her niece a few one-on-one lessons, Haning realized that teaching other young ones how to sew wouldn’t be a bad idea. “I hung up flyers at the grocery store and had an open house,” Haning explains, saying that she hoped word-of-mouth would help spread the news about Judy's Sewing School. For the past three years, Haning has taught students as young as 7 years old. “It has nothing to do with age,” she says. “I’ve had excellent sewers at every age.”
The curriculum is pulled from different books from the Kids Can Sew program, a nationwide program that allows hobby sewers to share their talents and skills with aspiring stitchers. Books feature easy explanations for rookie sewers, as well as patterns that are made with kids in mind, with both crafts and clothing being covered. “I had a student once who made a skirt and modeled it in a 4-H fashion show,” Haning says. “I was very proud of her.”
Instead of starting with hand stitching, Haning’s students are immediately immersed in the world of sewing machines, starting by practicing sewing patterns on paper and then moving on to working with fabric. In Haning’s basement, a number of Brother sewing machines are lined up on long tables that run the length of the room, each one ready for a student to use. Once they master the basics, Haning lets their imaginations lead them to their next project. “I give them a questionnaire, asking what they’d like to make,” she says. It’s not just limited to simple machine sewing, either. “Adults want to learn how to sew on leather, how to quilt or how to tailor clothes,” Haning says. “I can teach them all of that.”
Kids hoping to pick up the new skill can jump in at any time, with Haning offering classes for students of all levels year-round. Even if sewing isn’t a skill someone wants to pick up for the long term, they can take a quick crash course on the craft. Haning has also hosted Girl Scout troops in the area, teaching them how to work on a project they can take home that day (and earn one of those coveted patches, too).
“It’s nice to see the kids make those breakthroughs,” Haning says, describing moments of triumph her students have had over the years. “I’m just happy to encourage them along the way.”
Judy's Sewing School