Basic rules for teaching an 8 year old:
#1 A sewing machine is a machine. When we operate a machine we wear safety glasses.
If we are not willing to wear safety glasses, we are not allowed to touch the sewing machine.
#2 The sewing machine must be well lighted and arranged solidly on a solid table and to fit the child comfortably. Please do not ever put the foot pedal on a fat pillow! Foot pedals work by variable resistance and they get warm. They need air circulation or they can overheat, such that burying one in a pillow could potentially start a fire.
Bricks (or hefty boards) are better for a foot pedal platform than books, if needed. Books slide much too easily! Bricks (or hefty boards) do not slide. You must build a wide platform with plenty of room for both feet and the foot pedal. You must have both feet of the child solidly and comfortably resting on that even and solid platform as though it were the floor if you must use a foot platform. Feet and foot pedal must be even, comfortable, not slipping, and not dangling, and all cords must be tucked far back out of the way.
#3 Get a long piece of masking tape. ( If it is much too sticky and you’re afraid of residue on your machine bed, stick it to your t-shirt or jeans and pull it off so that it picks up a tiny film of lint to take down the excess stickiness.) Stick the masking tape firmly to your machine bed along your desired seam allowance guide, running all the way across the bed of your machine, straight and square, front to back. You’ve now got a seam guide for the child to sight on that looks like the white line on the edge of the freeway and that cannot be missed, and that will train the child to sight on and align the fabric long before it gets anywhere near the needle.
#4 Demonstrate and explain the machine: On/off switch. all buttons, knobs, dials, controls, foot pedal. Demonstrate how this machine runs and sews all the basic stitches. Explain that you need to find the slowest stitch mode for her to learn on. Run through all your basic stitches on scrap fabric and FLOOR IT. Floor it in front of the child, demonstrating that this is not a toy. It runs a sharp needle. It makes noise. It grabs the fabric with its feed dogs and pulls it through. It is to be treated carefully and with respect. One’s hands have to be kept back, far away from the needle. One has to always wear safety glasses, because needles can snap, and we don’t ever want a broken bit of needle to go flying up and get into our eyes! ALL SEAMSTRESSES AND PEOPLE STANDING NEXT TO RUNNING SEWING MACHINES ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GLASSES. No exceptions and no excuses.
Demonstrate the machine, running through all the basic stitch patterns and find your slowest stitch mode. Your upscale machines will have a “slow mode” for topstitching that is WONDERFUL for using when teaching children. Even completely floored, it’s always nice and slow.
A regular reverse cycle machine will not have a slow mode topstitch for precision topstitching, but will generally have a reverse cycling reinforcing or stretch straight stitch that goes one stitch forward, one back, that is its slowest basic stitch.
Set the machine on its slowest stitch mode. Set proper tension and needle size for your scrap fabric, and get some nice contrasting thread. Friendly blue on old white sheet is good. You want plain fabric so it’s easy to see the contrasting stitching and there is no distracting pattern for starters. Demonstrate lining up the fabric along the masking tape, keeping one’s hands forward of the machine bed and nowhere near the needle, and gently guiding the fabric as the machine pulls it through and sews it all on its own. Demonstrate how one barely needs to touch the fabric at all, and the machine pulls it through.
#5 Remove the thread, needle, and bobbin. It is now the child’s turn to explore the machine.