Learning to sew by hand used to be a sort of rite of passage. I remember pulling a shoelace through a lacing card in preschool and learning to hand sew at five, and I was known to work a few overly ambitious cross stitch projects in my upper elementary years. Hand sewing is a skill that is best taught one on one or in a very small group. It requires the teacher to be physically close to the student in order to carefully observe the child as they begin to stitch. This requires a great deal of trust between the elder and child. My own kids learned to sew by helping me pull the needle through a stitch on my work, threading a needle for me, or putting their thumb down on the thread while I tied a knot—all learning through assisting their elder (me!). Hand sewing, embroidery, and cross-stitch are slow crafts that build hand-eye coordination, problem-solving skills, and creativity.
The Craftsman and Apprentice
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re the elder—the person with the skills and knowledge to teach the child. How do we help children have respect and curiosity for the knowledge and skills that an older person holds? We named our shop The Craftsman & Apprentice for a reason. The craftsman is the elder—the person with the knowledge and skills to share. The apprentice is the seeker of that knowledge. Traditionally an apprentice works alongside the craftsman, helping them with everyday tasks while they observe and absorb the skills of the craftsman. What if we thought of our relationships with children in this way? Children can help with tasks as they grow and take on more responsibility. Gradually their help and contribution lead organically to knowledge. Apprenticing is different from listening to and appreciating the experiences of our elders. It’s about respecting and seeking knowledge and skills-based practices from those with more experience.
This idea extends beyond a one-on-one relationship between an elder and a child, to how we engage with our communities. Informally, social capital consists of the bonds, shared values, and trust we create within our communities. When we work with children, we’re helping them build positive social capital, especially when we work one on one. Think of it as a way to create a bankable social fabric that, given positive intent, helps people exist within a safe and trusting community. When positive social capital is high in a community, individuals benefit socially and emotionally from shared knowledge, skills, and ideas. In other words, when people support each other, we all win.
We have no less than seven hundred stuffies stashed under my kids’ beds. Each one has a name and a sentimental origin story. Stuffies are beloved playthings and cherished security objects for most kids. This project enables kids to learn to sew but also to create their own beloved characters.
Who’s it for?: Best for kids ages 5+
Time Commitment: 1 to 2 hours
Mess Level: Bits of fabric and string
What You Need:
- Sheet of paper
- Paper scissors
- Felt sheets or scrap fabric
- Fabric scissors
- Embroidery floss
- No. 18 embroidery needle
- Permanent marker
- Straight pins
- Spray glue
Tip: Permanent markers—I know, scary, right? My oldest son was obsessed with permanent markers as a three-year-old. I’ll admit, I can still faintly see his artistic use of the marker on the brick on our front porch. Use your own best judgment here. A little scaffolding goes a long way. It can be a real privilege for kids to use the “fancy” markers by demonstrating safe and appropriate use, only on the objects we’re creating and not on the dog or your brother.
- Using a sheet of paper, draw a big shape (for newbies, a blobby, organic shape is a great start). This will be the pattern.
- Cut out your pattern and set it aside.
- Choose your felt or fabric, and make sure you have enough for two sides. Layer or fold the felt wrong sides (the back sides of the pieces) together. Place the pattern on the doubled felt. You can choose to pin it, hold it, or use a touch of spray glue to tack it on temporarily.
- Cut out the shape. No need for a seam allowance.
- Choose your embellishments for your stuffie’s face. Buttons and felt scraps make great additions. Attach your embellishments to the fabric.
SEWING A BUTTON: When sewing with kids, we’ve found that doubling the thread and tying it off on the end helps reduce the frustration of trying to keep a needle threaded and makes for a more durable stitch. Measure a wingspan (hand to hand with your arms outstretched like an eagle) of thread and cut. Carefully put the end of the thread through the eye of the needle and pull the thread down so the needle is halfway down the length of the thread. Pair up the ends of the thread and make an overhand knot at the bottom. From the back side of the front piece, push the needle through to the front of the front. Put the needle through the button from the back to the front. Place the needle through the next button hole and through the front of the fabric to the back. Pull through. Repeat with additional button holes or buttons. No need to change thread each time, just move the position of the thread from the back side and begin to sew another button on. To finish, tie a knot at the back.
APPLIQUÉ: To sew on or appliqué fabric eyes or other parts, simply begin at the back as you did with the button, this time pushing the needle up through the first layer and the piece you wish to attach. Using small stitches, sew up and down, being mindful to pull the needle through completely after each stitch.
6. Once all the embellishments are attached, it’s time to sew your stuffie together. For first-time sewers, I recommend using a permanent marker to create a dot pattern around the edge of the stuffie to act as a stitch guide. Thread a needle using two wingspans worth of embroidery floss. Begin to stitch the front and back of the stuffie together using a whipstitch. (See illustration.) This just means placing the needle in the same side each time. Basically, poke through the dot and pull the thread through. Continue stitching around the stuffie until about 3 inches of space is left. Insert stuffing until full. Stitch the opening shut and tie the end of the thread to secure.