This is one of my favorite photos of Jo. I think she was seven or eight and I have no idea why she was wearing that mask while she sewed – but it’s totally her. 🙂
Creature Camp is coming out soon and Jo helped me so much with it that she became a co-author!
I hadn’t planned it that way.
I’ve taught so many kids how to sew (including Jo). I put together a proposal for a book written for kids, teaching them to sew (and even design) their own softies. That meant working up a detailed outline of the book, sketching all the softies that would be included, and selling the proposal. Stash bought it and I went to work prototyping and making. When it came time to photograph the first finished softie I was. . . disappointed. It looked like a grown-up had made it and I know that can be intimidating for kids. I realized I wanted all the softies in the book to be sewn by actual kids. Luckily, I have an actual kid who likes to sew and loves softies. Jo said she was willing to sew up every project in the book. Woo hoo! Stash was immediately on board and Jo and I went to work.
Not only did she sew all the samples – she also did all the sewing for the step by step photos. Those are her hands you see in the how to photos. Every single stitch you see in the book was sewn by a real kid – mostly Jo.
She also gave me great feedback along the way. “This step is hard. Can we make it easier?” “I think we should fold these ears here.” “I like these long, skinny legs. Can we make them even longer? That would be fun!”
She was a huge part of the book!
So I wanted to introduce you to Jo, tell you a little bit about her sewing history, and along the way answer some questions you probably have about sewing with kids.
What’s a good age to start using a sewing machine?
Jo was four when she got her first machine.
(It was a toy. Don’t do that. After a couple of months it died in a large cloud of smoke and she moved on to a real machine.)
My classes usually start at age 6, but Jo was asking to use the machine, I knew she could focus, and she had pretty good motor skills. Let them start on the machine just as soon as you think they’re able. Sewing on the machine is lots of fun and I’ve never yet met a kid who didn’t want to do it. I’ve got a post here with some tips to help you get started.
What Kinds of Projects Should Kids Work On?
Whatever they are most interested in! I usually steer kids towards small projects – some beanbags, a skirt for a favorite doll, a simple softie – something they can finish in a day or two and get that quick satisfaction.
But Jo really REALLY wanted to make a quilt. A big quilt for her bed.
That’s okay too.
Just don’t expect them to finish it soon. 🙂
It took Jo four years to finish her quilt. It would get put away for months at a time while she worked on other things (or didn’t sew at all) and then she’d pull it back out again and add a few rows.
If your child chooses a big project, try to find a way to let it grow as you go – not just be pieces in a pile. If I were making this myself I’d have sewn all the rows together, then joined the finished rows into a big quilt. Jo sewed two blocks together, then two pairs into a four-square block, then sewed four-square blocks into a row two blocks tall, then attached that row to the growing quilt. She loved seeing those units get bigger and bigger and it really helped that every time Jo pulled the quilt out and worked on it, it GREW.
Don’t Expect Them to Follow an Imaginary Line
The number one thing you can do to help kids sew successfully right out of the gate – especially if they’re starting really young – is to draw a sewing line on the fabric for them. I talk more about this (and some other tips for sewing with kids) in this guest post over at Sew, Mama, Sew.
I was still drawing lines on Jo’s quilt blocks at age six – if you click on the photo above you’ll be able to see it bigger.
Creature Camp is recommended for ages 8 and up if they’re sewing solo. But if you’re willing to lend a hand, a younger stitcher can handle any of the projects in the book. After Jo sewed all the main samples we recruited some of her friends to sew variations on the projects in the book. It was such fun watching them play with the patterns!
One of those stitchers was just seven years old and I knew she’d want to make the reversible butterfly/caterpillar – one of the more advanced projects near the end of the book. I drew on the stitching lines for her and helped her with some of the trickier pinning and she did just fine.
And now here’s Jo! She was nine when she made all the projects in the book, ten when we got this sample back and I recorded the video – and eleven now. That’s how long it takes to write a book! Here’s Jo talking about her favorite project in the book. . .
Jo and I will both be signing any books you order directly from me. She’s a co-author – of course she’ll sign them too! Imagine her excitement when she typed her name into the search window in Amazon and our book came up!
GOODNESS, I’m *thrilled* for Jo! (Thrilled for you too, Mama Wendi!) How exciting to be able to sew so young AND be an author as well!
Wishing you both HUGE success and satisfaction with your new book.
Thanks so much! 🙂
Your daughter is soo adorable! My daughter is 7 and a half (the half is important to her, so there, I told you! lol). She has already put a sewing machine and your creature book on her list for Christmas. I made a trip to a sewing machine dealer and found a Babylock Hello Kitty machine made especially for young sewers. This machine has all the power of a full size but in a smaller, kid friendly, package. I wanted to mention my store also sells a needle guard for children. This is a clear piece that locks on the machine, making it impossible for kids to have a needle accident…Yikes! I can’t wait to show my daughter your daughter’s video. Would Jo consider making more videos to accompany the book for other new sewers out there? My daughter would love to sew along with her!
Thanks Wendy for everything you do!
I think I’ve used that machine in one of my classes (one of my students brought it with her) and it worked great! I’ve heard about the needle guards but I’ve never seen one in action. I’ve actually never had a kid get even close to the needle with their fingers so I don’t worry about it too much. The iron is much more worrying – especially with some of the fussier pressing you do on softies.
I’ve gotten Jo to agree to do at least one sewing video for the book – we’re working on it this week and next – but I don’t know if I can get her to do any more than that. Sometimes she gets weird about being in videos. 🙂