Return to Headlines

Sewing relationships and opportunities at NVMS

Sue Tenkley started sewing when she was 13. It opened up opportunities — business and otherwise — she couldn’t have imagined. She wants that same opportunity for students at Nooksack Valley Middle School.

As part of the enrichment opportunities offered in once-per-week eight-week sessions at NVMS, Tenkley teaches sewing. “The goal for me is to inspire and encourage kids to have the opportunity to learn to sew and give them the basics so they might have it as a life skill and something fun to do other than academics,” she says.

Faithful to keep volunteering her time, Tenkley has spent at least five years teaching as many sessions of sewing a year as possible. Her last session included 24 students. A few new donations of sewing machines brings her number of machines in the class to nine, an “exciting” prospect that allows her to continue to grow the class.

To start, students first learn to sew without any fabric, simply practicing hand-eye-feet coordination so they can run a machine. They then work on stitching straight lines on paper, then circles and then pivot points. “We do that first and they learn to turn the fabric,” she says. “It helps them learn how to control the foot speed and when to go slow and when to go fast. When they start sewing on a project they are better at controlling the speed and become more confident and do a better job.”

Tenkley says she enjoys seeing a diverse mix of students enter the class, some who may struggle academically but find sewing as a place to excel. “It is something they have chosen and something they are good at,” she says. “It is encouraging.”

Throughout the class — Tenkley says she loves that students sign up, but asks that if a student does sign up they follow through on attending because the wait list to get in is so long — students work on projects they can finish within the proper timeframe. In the past, they have recycled pockets of jeans as storage tubes, created tote bags out of old sweatshirts, made stuffed animals and constructed stocking caps out of fleece. They have made small wallets, pillows and plenty more. “I try to vary it and offer something they like,” she says. 

“Most of these kids have not ever touched a sewing machine before and it gives them an opportunity to see if they are even interested in sewing,” she says. “It is an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise get. It is exciting.”