Maybe it’s because my grandmother sewed with me at a young age or maybe because I’m just intrepid, but I love putting young children at the helm of a sewing machine. There is a certain delight in the eyes of a child when they use a "grown up machine" to create their own toy or gift for another out of a pile of fabric.
My first experience with this came during my time running recreation programs in Ashland, NH. A community member had donated an old sewing machine, almost antique! No matter how old it was the great thing was that it was simple and it worked! One winter vacation we pulled it out and sewed some bean bags and simple balls. Even my first graders were delighted to go home with a new toy! Now with my own children I look for ways to teach them to sew. I think Nate and Elli both first got behind the machine at the age of three.
I know some of you may be wondering if I’m crazy at this point? Or maybe you’ve already made up your mind. Either way there are a few things that I do to make sewing with kids possible. Fun sewing projects don’t usually happen by accident. A lot of planning is involved. Here are a few things I do or consider before embarking on a project.
- I've gotten to know my sewing machine. I know how fast it will go when the pedal is depressed so far or fast. I know where the power switch is.
- Second is timing. When we sew, we have time. We also don’t have hungry belly’s or are not overly tired.
- I let go of my expectations. I don’t expect perfection. I also don’t expect prolonged interest. Projects are either short and can be completed within 5 – 10 minutes of machine time or they are such that they can be put away for a time.
- I consider safety before we ever start. What will the child’s role be today? What are they capable of doing right now? Can they guide the fabric around or should they just work the pedal? For younger children I always start with the pedal. This gives me a good indication of their ability to listen. Can they stop, start, or slow down as needed? Hands are always kept away from the needle.
- Project. What type of project will bring the child success? Bean bags are relatively simple and quick, stuffies a bit more complicated (My next post will provide a simple idea for a stuffie). Coasters, relatively simple. What can I do to help them succeed? Are there things that I can do ahead of time to capture their peak interest? Sewing can be boring for kids. I remember hours spent at the fabric store looking for patterns and fabric, I remember mom cutting and measuring. If I can have everything prepped and call them over when we’re ready to sew, everything goes much smoother. As a child gets older they can take more of a role in project planning.
- I know that sometimes I have to put it away. If I’m starting to feel stressed with the project and start saying, “Stop, STOP, STOP!” too often, I know that this is probably not ending up as an fun project for the kids. We pack it up and pull it out again when Mama’s not so stressed.
If you sew with children what else would you add?