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Teaching Teens to Sew

Knowing how to operate a sewing machine or even thread a needle and attach a button are skills many young people don’t have. A Maine retiree is tying up those loose ends

Teenagers learn to sew at the Boys and Girls Club in Augusta, Maine

Photo courtesy Boys & Girls Club of Augusta, Maine

Carol MacDougall (in blue) spends at least one afternoon a week at the Augusta Boys & Girls Club surrounded by teenage sewing students eager to learn from her.

The Boys & Girls Club in Augusta, Maine, was looking for creative projects to engage local teenagers after school. When Carol MacDougall, a retired nurse and active volunteer, heard that five sewing machines had been donated to the club, she wondered if the kids might want to learn to sew.

When nearly 15 teens showed interest (more boys than girls, in fact), MacDougall decided to stitch together a sewing program.

Having been sewing since age 11, when an aunt paid her 25 cents for each wool skirt she made, MacDougall had the necessary skills, but “the machines were old and missing so many parts,” she recalls. And the club had no other sewing supplies, such as fabric, scissors, needles and thread, or an iron.

MacDougall sought and received help from Augusta Age-Friendly, an AARP-related initiative that put out the word on Facebook. The posting yielded three working sewing machines. A woman who collected fabric donated some of it, and a local bank chipped in $200.

Adam, 15, got the hang of sewing in less than 10 minutes.

“I’m really good with machines,” he explains. “And working with someone older than I am is fun.” Among his creations: a red fleece blanket.

Bryan, also 15, became interested after spotting a piece of fabric decorated with the logos of wrestlers, including wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

When Bryan was younger, he helped his grandmother sew tiny sweaters and other ornaments for their Christmas tree. He loved it, and since “all my friends were joining,” he thought, “Why not learn to sew?” (Bryan later turned the wrestler fabric into a pillowcase for his cat Lacey to sleep on.)

That he’s learning from volunteers his grandparents’ age enriches the fabric of his life.

“They’ve been around longer than me and we get to learn lessons from them,” says Bryan. “We’ll be able to show our kids and they’ll show their kids.”

For MacDougall, sewing is the project but not the point of the program: “The point is to have an intergenerational back-and-forth, of getting young and old people to help and know each other.”

Harley, 15, had never used a sewing machine before joining MacDougall’s class, which quickly led her to think about making her own clothes, along with shirts, dresses and hoodies she can sell online. She wants to make a blanket with needlepoint on it for her younger sister — that is, once she learns to needlepoint.

“For me, sewing relieves stress,” says Harley. “I tend to have a lot of free time and get bored easily.” Plus, she adds, “I really, really like it!”

This article is an excerpt from the "Inspire Community Engagement" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Examples From America’s Community Leaders. Download or order your free copy.

Learn more about what AARP is up to in Maine by connecting with AARP Maine.

Article by Sally Abrahms | Book published June 2018 

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