March 26, 2017
Sewing with kids

As part of our summer homeschool last year we decided that both kids needed a sewing project. I wanted them to make quilts in preparation for the upcoming year's quilt show but Elizabeth was really keen to make a pair of "footie" pyjamas instead so I decided to allow her to make her quilt later.


She's done a bit of sewing before (including her first quilt) but this was her first time sewing to a pattern. I have to say that finding patterns isn't nearly as easy as it used to be. I guess most sewing stores have stopped carrying them except maybe as a special order so I ended up sifting through hundreds of rejects. But eventually I located a pattern that fit the specifications strictly given to me by my daughter and we began. The way of the future is online though, so that's what we'll try the next time.


The most difficult part about an sewing project is getting started. When sewing with kids the next most difficult part is breaking the project into small enough pieces that it isn't overwhelming but not so small that the kid doesn't feel like they accomplished anything at all. Following a clear pattern is easier than making things up, but if you are making things up it’s a good idea to have it all planned out before getting the child involved. Ask me how I know this....


As the goal was to allow the kids to make their own projects, I tried to stay as hands off as possible while still allowing for a successful outcome.


For Elizabeth's pjs, we explained how to cut out a pattern and helped her place and pin it onto the fabric. She did all the cutting over several sessions using a small pair of scissors. Then I set up the sewing machine and explained where to sew. I thought she did very well, although she could use a bigger seam allowance (come to think of it; I have that problem too!)


Matthew's quilt was a much more challenging project in practice, although it was technically simpler - mostly because it involved a (then) three year old... I decided very early on that it needed to be quite simple. A single piece for the backing. Machine quilted in straight lines. Spray basting to keep it together and accepting many imperfections and bubbles as I felt that pinning the quilt to avoid these would end in tears and possible grievous bodily harm to Matthew.


We did pin the various strips together, which he enjoyed doing very much. Rambunctious three year olds and pins weren't as incompatible as I feared as he really enjoyed poking pins through the fabric layers. But I still had no desire to pin the entire quilt.


We also decided that he needed to use scissors and not a rotary cutter. Being only three his scissors skills were not terribly advanced. My first attempts to help him ended up rather wavy. I was pleased to discover I still had all my fingers after Matthew used a fair amount of vim to ram the scissors into the fabric rather than cutting it. I highly recommend using Auntie Janice's technique for cutting instead:


  1. Seat the small child on your lap.
  2. Fold the fabric so that the overall distance to cut is not so big. This will result in straighter lines and is much easier on the kid who may lose interest in the cutting part long before they have completed cutting the seam. (Ask me how I know this)
  3. Have the child cut AWAY from you while you hold the fabric for them.

Ironing with small kids is probably the easiest step. I made sure they understood that the iron is very hot and they can only hold onto the handle. Then I let them do their thing. Bigger pieces are easier to iron; so I deliberately avoided too much piecing for Matthew's quilt. We did have to press the seam though. It's difficult for a small child to hold open and press a seam, so I usually hold the seam and have the child iron. This was not too dangerous as the seams were long enough that I could keep away from the iron. Otherwise I highly recommend having someone who can go hand over hand with the child to avoid them burning you (as the iron can get close to fingers), or get the child to hold the seam and have the adult iron. Getting to spray the piece with water first is always a favourite activity here.


Sewing using a machine is definitely my kids' favourite part. Janice has a sewing machine with an upper speed limit. If you do a lot of sewing with small kids that is a feature I recommend. Most kids love to stand on the pedal and make it go. Matthew found it amusing to bring his cars, stuffed animals and dinosaurs over to "help" him sew. I had to ban one animal because Matthew declared him to be a "speed maniac" and whenever that one "helped" Matthew would suddenly shout "SPEED MANIAC" and mash down the pedal which of course resulted in some interesting tension changes, a rather sudden jog in the line being sewn and Mommy trying her best to avoid getting her or Matthew's fingers sewn.


The quilt was rather bulky and sewing in the middle in particular was difficult enough that Matthew wasn't physically able to both press the pedal and feed the quilt, so I mostly fed the quilt for him while he made it go. But every now and then he would insist on switching "it's my quilt, you know". I usually did one or two lines with him in a single session and then we would put it away for another day with long stretches in between. The only time we had to resort to the seam ripper was when I accidentally sewed the wrong side up when using a black bobbin and white spool. Matthew was very excited about this and very carefully helped pick out stitches. He was dismayed to find that the parts he did on high speed were much more difficult to remove as they were close together.


So that's why we've only just managed to finish it now after starting in July!  I'm quite impressed by his end result. I mean - it's pretty much what you'd expect having been mostly sewn by a three year old - but it's a quilt and he's going to be able to use it so that's what matters to me.


When it came to quilt design, I asked my children to come up with the idea for the top.


Matthew looked through the available fabrics in my stash and was inspired by the truck fabrics. He decided he wanted to have a road that he could drive his car on. So we found some black fabric and made some roads. Once we had cut out a strip or two, we laid them out on the floor and had him decide how many stripes of cars vs stripes of road.


Elizabeth already had decided that she wanted to do a Canadian flag for the sesquicentennial birthday, so I suggested that she look at some maple leaf quilts online. She decided on an image for inspiration and then looked through all the fabrics to find colours that would work. We talked about whether to use fabric paint for the maple leaf or to appliqué it but in the end Elizabeth decided she wanted more different fabrics in her quilt and showed me a pattern for the leaf that was made up of a number of different pieces. I steered her away from choices that I felt would be too hard for her or that we couldn’t finish in the time allotted.


While Matthew had months to complete his quilt, I may have left Elizabeth's to the last minute. I suddenly realized that the deadline to submit the quilts for the show was the coming weekend and she hadn't started. Luckily Janice was able to help her while I sewed with Matthew. She was excited to use a rotary cutter for the first time and I think her end result is pretty amazing!


The quilt show is going to be May 12-14th here in Ottawa.

On April 3, 2017 at 04:53 pm
Grandma H said:
What an ambitious project! I think there should be awards for the Most Patient Mother and the Most Helpful Auntie ever! they've turned out great.

I just cracked up when I heard about the Speed Maniac...

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