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Sewing with kids: when do you start?

When I was visiting my sister a few days ago, her 13-year-old step-daughter was busy working on her first sewing project (after a lesson from her grandma). Even though she's clearly old enough, I was surprised at how well her little bib had turned out. The next day Everett and I were busy choosing projects from Amy Karol's fabulous beginner's book, Bend-the-Rules Sewing and the number of projects he demanded was, well, impossible. I started thinking about teaching him to sew...

When we were kids, we always begged to use the sewing machine, but mom made a rule: you had to be eight years old to use it. I'm pretty sure, though, we started in with hand-sewing before that (and you can bet our great-grandmas were sewing before they knew the alphabet). I'd love to hear your experiences (or plans) -- if you're into the textile arts as I am, when did you learn to sew? When did you, or do you plan to, teach your own children?

Oh yes: and if you're looking for that perfect gift for a teenager (or adult) who's taking up sewing, Amy Karol's book would be a nice place to start.


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The day they ask, that's my answer. I have two boys, 3 and 1.5. I love the fact that they're interested in sewing and knitting. Right now the little one just likes to take stitches out, but we're working on that! At this point, I involve them however they would like. The older has chosen fabric for his first real bed quilt and loves to watch me cut it out, choosing which piece is next. He even has taken some of the fabric to bed with him. He periodically picks up a ball of yarn and a knitting needle to "knit" which is basically him pushing the needle into the ball sitting next to me on the couch. I imagine one of these days he'll want more, and I'm happy to oblige. I've worked with kiddos in the 5ish range to "embroider" on burlap, which has nice holes for getting the needle in and out of and can make use of a more blunt needle. You can cut squares and they can piece as well. If you're using a big piece for embroidery, put a little masking tape around the edge or it ravels alot. You can also use aida cloth for the same purpose, just to learn how to go up and down through the holes, on the same side of the fabric, etc. I've also worked with little ones that age for piecing and they can get it if they have some patience and you don't demand perfection. And recently, I taught my 7 year old niece to knit. Actually, she was teaching herself from a picture in a kit she bought but loved some personal instruction. She proudly announced that the kit was for 8 and up and she was only 7! Consider too one of those knitting gadgets that has the nails in it and it makes i-cord. I can't think of the name right now. They're great for little ones. The youngest I've let someone use a maching was about 8, and that was with alot of help. I initially wondered if my boys would take an interest in these arts, and I love the fact that they do. It's great that yours is interested as well. Get him to some needle and thread!

It's called the "Knitting Jenny." I had one. I think I first learned to sew when I was able to thread my own needle. I have no idea how old I was. I remember we all took home-ec in junior high. My brother made a sock monkey and never sewed again. I made my mother a little purse sized duffle bag with her initials on it and she still uses it for her travel make up bag (24 years later!). Knitting was really my first independent project, and I must have been about 8 (after retiring my knitting jenny and moving on to real needles). It was a scarf. I used about 15 different colors and dropped and picked up stitches about every 5 minutes, it's atrocious, but I wore it anyway. It still hangs in my childhood closet. Anyway, I don't sew as a craft, but I keep a needle and multicolored thread in my drawer at work, and many of my coworkers are very impressed with my ability to sew buttons back on, or tack up a hem in seconds flat. It's my parlor trick.

I was thoroughly impressed this weekend when my 10 yr old nephew showed me one of his first quilt blocks. He did all the cutting and sewing himself with a little instruction from grandma. He did a great job! My husband and I got some wooden shapes at a craft store, drilled a bunch of holes in them and gave them to our 2 & 4 yr old boys with plastic needles and yarn and they "sew" while I do cross stitch. I think my 4 yr old is ready to graduate to using plastic canvas and yarn. Big holes and easy to use. My mom and I made a huge doll house out of plastic canvas and yarn. So many possibilities. As for the perfect gift, the Montavilla Sewing Ctrs have a variety of classes on both the east and west sides.

For little ones (like kindergarten and under) who are developing fine motor skills like learning to use scissors you can start teaching them hand sewing skills.

You can buy big childrens "needles" that are made from plastic and use it with yarn or silk or leather cording (1/8 inch thick). Then get some construction paper or sheets of that plastic foam stuff from michaels (it needs to be somewhat stiff so little hands can hold it). Cut these into fun shapes. Then use a hole punch (either regular or a smaller one, or a decorative one like hearts or stars) to punch holes along the outsides of the shapes and then use the needle to sew two of the same shapes together. You can teach a variety of hand sewing stitches this way!

I just finished a little project with my 5 year old niece that was from michaels that was a little foam purse you put treasures in. She loved it and picked up on the concept right away. She would certainly be ready to learn other stitches and graduate to a real sewing medium.

You can also sew rectangles together to create pockets and envelopes. How about making some a pocket for your papers that you bring home from kindergarten?

Have fun!


When I was a child (I'm guessing I was about 8) my mother purchased a big sheet that had peanuts characters on it (Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Charlie Brown). She then cut it up into squares or rectangles with one character on each piece. The squares or rectangles were about 6-10 inches. Then with a plain backing fabric we made little pillows.

She used this to show us how to use the sewing machine. We learned how to start/stop sewing, how to sew straight, how to turn the corner, how to leave a space so we could turn it right side out. Then she also taught us how to stuff it with polyfill and close the opening with hand sewing.

I remember having so much fun!!! We gave them to friends, family, and even sold some at a holiday bazaar for a quarter each!

I have a related question: I woud love to learn how to sew myself, but have no idea where to start. I did just order Amy Karol's book but I don't have a sewing machine or any prior experience. I'm not looking for miracles, I'd just like to be able to whip up a jumper or dolly for my daughter. Anyone know where, or to whom, I can turn for lessons? I'd love to find someone who would work with me one-on-one through a simple project or two just to get my feet wet.

Philly started hand-sewing at her school somewhere around 5. She learned simple stitching and sewing buttons. She learned how to stitch up all the holes in her cotton tights (sure she may have used a whole spool of thread for one hole, but - hey - that's ok).

She received a kit for a birthday one year: the Alex My First Sewing Kit. It has tons of easy-but-satisfying projects like a pouch and little stuffed toys. http://www.amazon.com/Alex-My-First-Sewing-Kit/dp/B000F3V2MW

After the sewing, she really wanted to learn to knit. Over the holidays last year, someone gave her the Klutz Knitting Kit. Since I did not know how to knit, she and I learned from the book together: http://www.nakedsheep.com/klknkit.html

I sold my sewing machine a few years back, and I regret it.

Philly & I tried to get together with other knitty mamas last winter for some regular knitting. Finally, we have organized ourselves and - last week - we started a mommy & me knit class with another mama & daughter pair, a friend from her school. We are all a similar level in knitting, and we are excited to learn more together.

Julie: as far as I know, the best lessons in town are taught at Josephine's Dry Goods at SW 11th and Alder. I haven't taken them myself but the people there are fantastic and always have a detailed and experienced answer to my questions (it's where I got all the materials for my wedding dress & bridesmaid's dresses). Here's a link to their classes: http://www.josephinesdrygoods.com/Classes.htm

I don't think they're doing classes, but the women who own/work at the new fabric store on 24th and Hawthorne, Cool Cottons ( http://www.josephinesdrygoods.com/Classes.htm ) are also very helpful.

I've always wanted to do a mamas sewing 'club' but sewing together is so much harder than knitting together given the machines involved! Larissa and I have gotten together for craftathons before but it's a messy and gear-laden process. however, given that I have a whole room devoted to sewing and knitting (ok, with a corner for my home office), I'd always be happy to have a friend over for a lesson or to opine on fabric choices...

darn it, that second link should have been http://www.coolcottonsinc.com/

Also, check out Bolt Fabric. It's on Alberta, 23rd-ish. Next to Close Knit, for you knitters. They're great there and have classes.

I started sewing in preschool and really loved it. My daughter's almost 4 and she enjoys sewing as well. We do it two ways, we will sit together and work on a single project, like sewing on a button, or sewing one piece of fabric to another, i will also turn her loose with a needle, thread and one or more pieces of fabric. Her self-guided projects are most enjoyable for her as she's making them, but they don't always (ever) turn into the product she was hoping for. She also loves playing with the big bag of fabric scraps. Some sewing machines have programmable speeds so that you can sew at a set speed no matter how hard you are pushing on the foot pedal, but we'll be waiting for awhile before we tackle the sewing machine cause i just got a fancy new one and i don't want to share : )

Well, I pulled the machine out today for the first time in my 3 year old boy's life. He was fascinated by it. Very little interest in the finished product, a skirt for mom, but much interest in how the whole machine works. Couldn't stay away from the foot peddle once he learned that was how to "make it go." He did find it neat that I made a fat quarter into a blanket for his doll.

My 4 and 1/2 year old and I sew on the machine together - he can't get enough. We bring the foot pedal to the table top and "drive" together. We made a simple little trumpet case with drawstring for hsi new toy trunpet. Smashing success, if not the best sewing... Ought to doit more oftne. My Mom was quite asewer so I am forunate to have the know -how (and machine!) from her, but I am such an inexact person that I only take up projects where measuring and other such perfection are optional! Very fun.

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