Is My Child Ready to Sew on a Machine?

sewing machine skill drills for kids from Shiny Happy WorldHead on over to Sew, Mama, Sew because I’ve got a guest post over there that I’m really proud of – and I think you all are going to love it! It’s got. . .

1. A fun way for your kids to practice some basic sewing machine skills.

2. A sneaky way for you to asses whether they’re ready for the projects in Creature Camp and whether they’ll be able to sew alone or need some help from you.

3. A video with my awesome daughter (Jo!) teaching other kids how to use a sewing machine. I’ll admit – I cried a little while I edited that video. She’s just so. . . competent! And I’m so proud of her!

So head on over and see the post at Sew, Mama, Sew!

Happy sewing!


Get Stuffed! A Stuffing Review and Giveaway

Stuffing_Softies_Creature_CampThere are a lot of different kinds of stuffing you can use in your softies – wool, bamboo, corn, polyester, excelsior, sawdust – and probably lots of others I can’t come up with at the moment. I always use polyester fiberfill (often in combination with weighted pellets). It’s inexpensive, readily available, has a nice springy feel, and is washable.

I’ll be honest. Once I decided what material I would use for stuffing, I never gave much thought to the quality. I figured that threads of spun polyester are threads of spun polyester and I always just bought whatever was cheapest.

I was wrong.

When I started writing Creature Camp I contacted a few manufacturers to ask if they would provide some materials for use in the samples in the book. Fairfield sent me a few bags of their plastic Poly Pellets (I love that weighted feel and flop) and an ENORMOUS box of stuffing.

Twenty-five pounds of stuffing.

That is a LOT of stuffing! That’s enough stuffing – packed as tight as I can get it – to fill two trash cans to overflowing, requiring a bungee cord to keep the lids on.

As soon as I opened the package I noticed that it was very different from my usual stuffing. It was very smooth and the fibers had a kind of a silky glide to them. The spun threads felt finer and it didn’t clump up at all.

With my old stuffing I had to spend a good bit of time pulling the stuffing apart into tiny bits before stuffing in order to keep the finished softie smooth and lump-free. No need to do this with the new stuffing. I can just pull out big handfuls and stuff them in. Nice!

Jo’s response was absolutely priceless.

She raved about the new stuffing. “It’s sooooooo soft!” “It’s sooooooo silky!” “My softies are sooooooooo smooth!”

But the best was the moment I came into my sewing room and found her, head down, buried up to her chest in my trash can full of stuffing, bouncing up on her tiptoes trying to “swim” even deeper into it.

I wish I had a photo. 🙂

When I asked her what the heck she was doing she said, “It’s just so soft and fluffy. I couldn’t resist!”

After we had used the new stuffing on a few projects she asked me if I would please give away what we had left of the old stuffing because she just didn’t want to use it anymore.

I did. My Dad always said to use the right tool for the job and I had found the right tool.

So. You’re probably wondering what this magical stuffing is. It’s Fairfield brand Poly-fil Supreme Fiberfill. I recommend it by name in almost all of my softie patterns. You can find it in Walmart under a different name and with different packaging. There it’s call Poly-fil Supreme Ultra Plush. I’m including a photo of both kinds of packaging so you know what you’re looking for.

stuffingI really, really love this stuff and feel like it has made my softies noticeably better. Not only is it really pleasant to touch and work with, the finished softies are smoother with a lot less effort on my part. Also, it allows me to get a nice smooth fill without packing the stuffing in as tightly and I really like the squishier softie that results.

Squishy = Huggable = Good.

I wanted to share it with some of you and asked Fairfield to send some samples I could give away. They said yes! So this will be one of the giveaways for folks who pre-order Creature Camp from my shop. In addition to getting a free pattern, a few randomly selected people will also get a bag of this stuffing – enough to make several softies! Thanks, Fairfield!

Edit – Sorry – the giveaway is over now.

And I’ll leave you with one more photo from the making of the book. Jo says the stuffing is her favorite part of making softies. “It’s like feeding them.” Here are Jo and her friend, Hana, feeding their new softies some silky smooth fluffy stuffing. 🙂

stuffing_softies_Creature_CampHappy sewing!

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Meet Jo – My Daughter and Coauthor!

Jo Gratz - author of Creature CampThis 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_first_sewing_machineIt depends on the kid.

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.


Right away she said she wanted to make a quilt big enough to fit her bed (a twin). These are the first blocks. Look how proud she is!

What Kinds of Projects Should Kids Work On?


Six-year-old Jo makes a tutu for Wedge the Uglydoll.

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.


Jo’s quilt after about 1 1/2 years.

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


Jo sewing at age six.

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!

Get the book here!

Happy sewing!

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