Oliver + S

sewing with little ones…how?

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    mela @mela

    I sew a lot FOR my almost-3-year-old. Now how do I sew WITH her? Lately she’s taken an interest in what I’m doing and is asking if she can help me make her stuff. I definately want to foster that interest and have her feel like she’s involved in the process, but I have no idea how. I’m wondering if any of you have ways that such little a one can “participate” without too much danger or disaster. Thank you!

    Liesl Gibson

    I think this is a great topic. I’ll be interested to see the suggestions from some of the other members here, and I’d love to do a little blog series on it if anyone would like to contribute. I’ll show you some of my early sewing and some of S’s projects, and I’d love to see what you and your kids have done, too!

    I think about this issue a lot. I can remember, when I was little, playing under my mom’s sewing table while she was making things for us. And I remember rearranging the pins in her pincushion, too. As I grew older I liked to watch her arrange the pattern pieces on the fabric when she was getting ready to cut something out. I think we might have sewn a few small projects together, but I don’t think I was as interested in the sewing machine as I was in hand sewing when I was younger.

    As S has gotten older we’ve tried a few different things. We started with her on my lap, pushing buttons when I needed to backstitch or to cut the threads, etc. (my fancy machine has lots of buttons, but it lives at the studio while my simple machine doesn’t have many gadgets and buttons to press).

    A year or two ago we started sewing on scraps and muslin together, and she pretty quickly got to a point where I trusted her to run the machine herself. She likes to take a scrap and play with the fancy stitches.

    Just recently we started making REALLY simple drawstring bags together. She loves them! I’ll try to do a little tutorial soon to show you what we make. It’s a 10 minute process, start to finish, and she’s so proud and excited to use them.

    But S is older, so these projects are more do-able at her age. Your 3-year-old might get more enjoyment of out “drawing” with needle and yarn on linen in an embroidery hoop than from working with the machine. We started this at a really young age, and you’ll spend most of your time threading the needle and making sure the yarn doesn’t get wrapped around the hoop. But kids are so proud of something that they sew themselves! Just don’t expect to get anything done while they’re crafting–at least not in my experience.

    Tamara @justsewit

    I am wondering if there is a way to enlarge the paper dolls and outfits from the Oliver and s paper patterns and set them on card to punch holes in around the edge? This at the age of three would be perfect for hand eye coordination and she will enjoy the process of sending her needle through the holes as if she too is sewing. You can get large plastic needles to use with wool that are safe from educational shops and possibly sewing shops as well – I had a big bag of them when I was working in another life in long day care.

    I did this with my two when they were small. I also sat them on my lap whilst sewing but it became difficult to see and my daughter nearly had the needle go through her finger so if you do this, be careful. I had a scrap pile for her to use also and I would put the setting on very s,ow and let her “sew”. My kids have grown up around the needle and thread and used the sewing cards to start with then progressed to drawing with thread on hessian and wool. My daughter has since acquired a simple sewing machine which was a Christmas present but only a toy and she used this while I was seeing for her and now with her first real machine she has started sewing on her own. She has made a Batgirl costume on her own with no pattern and a few cushions and bags. The thing we now need to develop is how to take care of the machine when the thread gets tangled etc. having the toy was great because it helped them both think they were helping but there are other ways to show them how to sew with simple safety rules being a must.

    JohannaO @JohannaO

    I just had this discussion with my daughter’s Montessori teacher, as sewing is part of their curriculum, and her teacher has never sewn before! We had the kids do running stitches around a quilt square, and then I sewed the squares together on the machine. (Montessori has mixed age classes, so the kids are 3-6 years) The quilt is still a work in progress (I just had a small, 7 lb distraction born), but the kids were very proud of their efforts. My daughter loves hair accessories, so I will let her grab a scrap from my stash, I iron it, and then she will do a running stitch down the side of it. When she’s done, we’ll pull the string, and start fashioning it into a rose, a leaf, etc. She then attaches it to an elastic headband, and declares it her “most favorite headband, ever.”

    My 6 year old son can thread the machine, and sew on a basic button- which was an elective for his Cub Scout program. All the boys in his den earned a sewing badge for making their den flag to attach to their spirit stick.

    My kids also love making sleeping bags for their animals, and busy bags for the car.

    mela @mela

    Thank you so much for these ideas! I think I have an idea now of how to get her involved. It seems handsewing is the way to go, and after reading these suggestions, I remembered that I used to go to my grandma’s house and handsew very simple clothes for my dolls. I think rearranging the pin cushion and drawing with needle and thread would appeal to her. I have big needles (not sharp at all) that would be great for thatMaybe that will serve as the gateway for sewing little bags and clothes for her dolls, then one day clothes for herself!

    beachmom @beachmom

    Handsewing is a good start. All of my kids have started there. We spend the day at my parents’ house once a week and I “play” with my mom’s sewing machines and serger while the kids play/spend time with grandma and grandpa. Often times, when the my mom is helping me with something or hanging out talking with me, the kids will come in and start a small sewing project. The older 3 graduated to making pillows on the sewing machine with a helping hand from grandma and to other small projects. My 2 oldest have made pencil bags for school (zippers and all!) and my first born has made several simple bags/purses.

    At home, I only have one kid around during the day….my 4 soon to be 5 year old. She loves to sort the loose buttons into piles by size and color. The pins are a big hit too. I save the empty spools that the thread comes on for her to play with. She pretends they are people or stacks them up. I also keep a few toys in the sewing room that are for use only in there. Right now, there’s a bucket of Potato Heads.

    I think it’s important when they show an interest to take the time to do a fun, little, age appropiate sewing craft with them. After all, you’re fostering the love of sewing for the next generation!

    janimal @janimal

    I have an embroidery machine – and my little girl loves to “sew” with me on it. I made little stuffed teddy bears as party favors for her birthday. I bought an embroidery program for the bears, and had my little girl (not quite 2 at the time) hit the button to stitch. I changed the color thread, and she got to hit the button again. And of course, after all her hits of the button, we had little bears. She LOVED seeing the faces of the bears stitch out and really enjoyed sewing with me. She really likes to see the pictures the machine stitches out. I have also handsewn some small felt animals, and she likes to help stuff them before I stitch them shut.

    For actual sewing, I bought some plastic needles for her to use – just haven’t gotten them out yet. She has strung laces through some cardboard shapes, so the plastic needle with yarn is our next step. I need to get some fabric for that. I kind of remember learning to sew at school with simple handsewing on fabric placemats with big holes.

    I have a TON of fabric scraps – so one of our upcoming craft projects will be to mod podge a bunch of them on canvas to make a fun collage. Not quite sewing, but my little one accompanies me to the fabric store and really likes all the fun patterns and colors, so I think she’ll enjoy that. And I’ll have art for my sewing room.

    I seriously can’t wait for her to be old enough to actually sew. I hand sewed doll clothes for my dolls as a kid, from pattern my mother drew. The thought of doing that with my daughter just makes me melt already.

    Robin @Robin

    There’s a treadmill in my sewing room that doesn’t get used quite as much as the sewing machine. When Sophie was 4 she wrapped the entire treadmill in fabric scraps secured with straight pins. That kept her busy for a long time. We have a drawer with craft felt in it. Sophie likes to draw dolls on the felt with a fabric marker and then cut them out. She makes little clothes out of felt and other scraps too. Sophie likes to play with the 2 1/2″ squares that I cut out of left over fabric. She sorts them, makes patterns and pins them together. Drawing pictures of dresses is popular too.

    bren5kids @bren5kids

    I am so happy to see that Liesl allows her daughter to use a real sewing machine, or I never would have had the courage to tell you that I let my 4 and 6 yr old daughters sew with my machine! They started begging to try it awhile ago and my immediate response was a resounding “NO”. My husband encouraged me to at least let them try, so very much against my better judgement, I did. And was amazed at how well they did. My 4 yr old especially is very adept, she can sew a pretty straight line and keep a fairly consistent seam allowance. So far she has not made anything of use, she just loves to sew scraps together. Usually when I sew they get their box of scraps and hand-sew “doll-dresses”. Lacing or sewing cards are a great idea for younger children, but I have learned from experience that they usually want to do what Mom is doing, something that involves actual fabric and thread and needle. I often cut out a simple doll dress shape and turn them loose with a needle and thread, and even buttons or trim. Even if it never amounts to anything they have fun doing it, and you can be happy knowing it is fostering creativity and a future love of designing and “making”.

    bren5kids @bren5kids

    One thing that my Mom and Mother-in-law both did for their children was to draw a very simple picture on a white or solid color fabric, put it in an embroidery hoop, and show them how to embroider using a simple running stitch. Even a 3 yr. old could do this, and you might end up with something cute enough to frame or make into a pillow. I have one that my husband did, and one of these days I will get around to framing it……..

    dianelyons @dianelyons

    I’ve so enjoyed reading everyone’s ideas! My 2 and a half year old has recently shown an interest in sewing which really thrills me. I’m so looking forward to the time when we can make “real” stuff together–but in the meantime it seems to be all about the process for her way more than the product. She loves to step on the machine’s pedal when I’m sewing straight lines and has actually learned to stop when she sees a pin coming up 🙂 Her favorite sewing activity is to go through my scrap pile and pick out her favorite pieces. She then likes to stick pins into the fabric. Sometimes that’s enough to keep her happy. Other times she wants to sew the scraps together using the machine–which means I guide the fabric and she steps on the pedal. (She also likes to hold the pedal in her lap and press it with her hands.) Often she’ll declare what it is she’s made–even if the actual piece bears no resemblance to it! And that doesn’t seem to bother her in the least–she’s always so proud to show her older brother what she made. He, of course, loves to share his ever-growing collection of woodworking projects made in his dad’s workshop–which, truth be told, are about equilvalent in construction quality to his sister’s sewing. But I must say that it’s tremendously fun to be able to nurture their creativity and confidence in these ways.

    dianelyons @dianelyons

    Okay–so after I wrote the whole “process” over “product’ comment I felt inspired/challenged to come up with some simple ideas for very little ones to sew on the machine. (My definition of little ones sewing on the machine means they step on the pedal while I guide the fabric.) Here’s what I came up with:

    Simple Wallet:

    Fold a rectangular scrap of felt or fabric in thirds (like a letter). Let your little one step on the pedal and stitch the two short sides together–securing the bottom fold to the middle fold. It would then sort of look like an envelope. To secure it, a button could be sewn on and a simple slit cut into the top flap of felt as a button hole, or instead of a button, self-sticking velcro could be used.

    Quick Doll Blanket & Pillow

    Cut 2 rectangluar scraps of fabric big enough for the dolly’s blanket. Place the pieces right sides together and have your little one step on the pedal to stitch around the edges. Leave a hole for turning it out and then let her sew up the opening on the machine. Done! If your little one is a bit more advanced, you might want to add a bit of quilter’s batting inbetween the layers and then let her free-form top stitch. The pillow could be made from matching fabric in the same manner.

    Lift the Flap Book

    My daughter made a version of this–which is what gave me the idea. She found little scraps of things she liked in my stash–fabric pieces with flowers, butterflies, Hello Kitty, Dora, strawberries, etc. She arranged them on a piece of quilter’s batting and then (with my help, of course) just straight stitched over them to secure them. Next she sewed a larger piece of fabric over all of the little “pictures” and then kept lifting the flap and saying she made a lift-the-flap book. So. . . why not cut out a few felt pages and let your little one stitch on the scraps to each “page” and then stitch flaps over the pictures. When all of the pages are done, stack ’em up and let her sticth down the left side of the stack to bind the book!


    Cut a strip of felt (about 2-inches by 7-inches) and let your little one make rows of decorative stitching down the length of the strip. Then measure and cut the braclet to size (so it can slip on and off your child’s wrist) and then just have her stitch the two ends together (or you could use velcro instead). Changing thread colors would make the braclet extra fancy.

    🙂 Thanks!

    Violaisabelle @Violaisabelle

    My boys started on the machines, since machines were fascinating to them. I have started sewing with my children in various different ways.

    I don’t have time to share much at the moment. I just wanted to put a word of caution here, with sewing machines and children. Things you might want to consider are:

    Finger guard

    Safety glasses

    Speed control either on the foot control or machine

    Teaching children safety is so, so important. It’s not uncommon for a child to run over their finger with the machine needle, unfortunately. Broken pins are not unheard of, either, and those pins, when broken, can fly to the eyes.

    I am glad I have a speed control on several of my machines as I feel much more comfortable allowing my children to sew on those machines.

    Classes I taught, years ago, had children as young as 6 years old learning to sew on machines. They did great, but there were a few accidents, unfortunately.

    There are a variety of ways to teach children how to sew. I think in part, how your child learns and what interests them and what they are capable of doing is what needs to guide you in how you teach them.

    Enjoy teaching,


    Masha Richart

    Inspired by this thread, this morning I gave my 2.5-year-old some scraps and a pincushion full of pins while I pinned some continuous bias I was making. Then when it was time to sew, I sat her on my lap, and gave her each pin as I came to it. She was happy sticking the pins back into the cushion. I think we will do this more often. I also recently purchased a couple embroidery hoops. I plan to stick some of that mesh-y non-slip stuff you use to line drawers and cabinets into the hoops and then thread a large tapestry needle with yarn so she can “embroider.”

    rastis @rastis

    I have always struggled to sew with my little boy so most of my sewing has been done at night. He’s a real button pusher and is fascinated by the sewing machine! But being very hyperactive, i have to be really careful about what he can do. As he has gotten older (3 years) he’s gotten a little better, but he does need something productive to do next to me.

    I usually give him the scraps to play with. He plays with them in a number of ways. I would not yet trust him with a sharp needle (only one of those massive plastic ones) because he’s very likely to stab himself with it! So instead of a needle, he gets some sticky tape and a glue stick. He loves to glue or stick the fabrics together to make “clothes” or “quilts”. He has his favourite toys next to him that he fashions his creations on. Sometimes I will sew little pieces together for him. Sometimes he simply likes to build things with some of my sewing supplies. He loves my quilting clips. He also loves my buttons and will sort through those- he loves to put like ones together and colour shade them (a bit OCD perhaps? who knows!!)

    Also he loves to help me trace and cut out patterns. He gets me to draw clothes patterns for his toys (they’re pretty rough drawings- nothing fancy!) and he cuts his out, while I cut mine out at the same time. He gets a pencil to draw his own patterns as well to cut out. Then we look together to see how well they will fit his toys.

    He really wants a sewing machine (oh his daddy is sooo very pleased about that…) and tells me he thinks he’ll be old enough for one when he’s 5. I actually do have a really old singer that I will probably let him use when I think he’s ready (in about a million years time- just kidding 🙂

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