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Threading a Forgotten Skill Back into Class


The days of home-economics sewing projects may be far in the past. But in teacher Deborah Trent’s art class, stitching and stuffing some not-so-pretty dolls — with a little help from Grandma — provided a classic lesson in needlework for girls and boys.

Kettle Lake Elementary School students fashioned dolls, based on UGLYDOLL characters by creators David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim. They made patterns and followed steps to put them together, securing their creations with careful up and down stitches.

Art teacher Deborah Trent explains how to stuff and sew the dolls
Art teacher Deborah Trent explains how to stuff and sew the dolls

“A lot of kids don’t know sewing skills,” said Trent, whose students come up with a design, learn to thread needles, tie knot and follow a pattern. She chose the UGLYDOLL project because the figures, often with mismatched eyes and crude shapes, are impossible to mess up. “You can’t go wrong,” she said.

She started the project two years ago and always asks grandparents to help out. Many have experience sewing. “It’s something they feel they can really contribute,” Trent said.

She wanted to include the life skill, which combines art and math and requires focus and patience, because most students don’t learn it anymore, she said.

Around the art room, her students were busy threading needles, stitching and naming their dolls. “The enthusiasm for it is just unbelievable,” Trent marveled.

Fourth-grader Katelyn Ferris enjoyed sewing her doll, which she named Loop-ti-doo.

Samatha Dunham said, “I’ve been sewing for most of my life”
Samatha Dunham said, “I’ve been sewing for most of my life”

“I thought you tied a knot to thread a needle. I was completely wrong,” she said. “Now I know how to hand-sew.”

Added fourth-grader Wade Cawson, “I learned everything. I didn’t know how to sew. I like the method.”

Sharon Nelson, grandmother to fourth-grader Asher Staskiewicz, volunteered on the project. “I think it’s important and it helps them with their small-motor skills, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment,” she said.

Nancy Matthews said she just wanted to spend time with her granddaughter, fourth-grader Addison Cook.

“All I had to be able to do was sew a straight line and thread a needle,” Matthews said. “I love volunteering with the kids.”

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5 Reasons Kids Should Learn to Sew

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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