Through the eye of a needle – how to get your child into sewing

I’ll put it out there – I’m a secret sewing nut! I have stashes of cloth, thread, wool and loads of equipment in my house and have gradually moved from a bit of knitting into making my own shirts and I’m planning new curtains!

This love of fabric started early – I was made to join the knitting club at school when a group of lads in my class said wouldn’t it be funny to put it down as our choice – I believed them, they didn’t bother, they did football and I did knitting!

Never mind – 40 years later I’m still doing it and I’ve tried loads of other types of craft and Whirligig was inspired by this.

However, we constantly get customers asking us how children can get started and what type of activity is suitable for who, so here’s a bunch of products we love that we hope will get you and your young friends started. And if you have other ideas, we’d love to hear about them.

Peter wearing his first hand-made shirt

Pre-Sewing Activities

Most sewing is about putting together pieces of fabric to make a picture of a 3D structure so before you even think about a needle and thread, get children thinking about colour, position, layers and what goes well together with a classic.

Fuzzy Felt is my childhood in a box – great shapes that can be put together over and over again with no effort. Recommended 4+, these are the original classic designs from the 1950s. A great way of children to sort fabric and get used to handling it.

First Threading

There are some really marvellous products out now which have pre-cut holes. This means that children know exactly where to put the needle, get really neat work and also there is not so much to do. With child safe plastic needles there is no danger. Children can start with these from 3 years old, although 4 and 5 year olds will be great with these kits as they can be a little more independent.

A great tip – the thread they are sewing with should never be longer than their arm – this means that they can always put it through without having too much to leave behind.

Buttonbag do a great range of simple and effective sewing kits that we love – great colours and shapes but easy to achieve.

Lumoo also create lovely cushions for children to make – these have sticky back felt pieces so that there are not to many steps to do make something that they can be really pleased with.

Pattern Making

OK – so this is classic 1970s childhood stuff in my experience, but whilst this is old fashioned, children are brand new and my nieces just loved this!

Binca is what the fabric is called (so many people ask us this question) and it comes it lots of different sizes and colours and you will find it in most haberdashery shops. You can also buy Aida fabric, but the holes are much smaller and for more advanced work.

We found the best way was to do one that they could copy alongside so that everything matched before letting them experiment.

You don’t need to buy a kit (although Buttonbag do a wonderful case full of cross stitch that takes you right through the levels), just a simple range of colours to choose from. Children around 5-7 will enjoy this and you can make lovely presents with it.

A First Project

Having got the bug and acquired the skills, it is always great to make something that is really worth having. These large animals produced in collaboration with the Natural History Museum are great. With pre-cut holes and a plastic needle, they give a great sense of scale but just use a few stitches.

The key thing at this point is to make something that can be easily finished. With children around 5/6 years old (and these kits are great starting points for children who have not sewed before), they can make these animals in an hour or so and they will look amazing hanging from their bedroom ceilings. You can choose from a sloth, a bat or a bumble bee and there are smaller versions as well.

Whirligig Toys Sewing Project

A Special Friend

We are now looking at 7-9 year olds and whilst some are ready to rush ahead with a sewing machine, we love these kits. Elvis the elephant – he still has the plastic child safe needles and the pre-cut holes, but with a smaller piece to make they require a little more dexterity and control.

These kits demonstrate how to do a double running stitch and a blanket stitch with really clear instructions. However, a simple loop stitch will also work if they, or you, are struggling a little.

What is great is that the end product is really worth keeping – we love the colours and if you are feeling confident, this is a great kit to embellish with other patterns.

Free-hand stitching

Time to move up a gear and for 8 years + we love these kits. Using sequins is a great way of adding colour and design to a project.

Start with this kit – it shows them how to attach the stitching and build up a picture. Get confident here with pre-cut wholes and then try a cheap bag of sequins and an old pair of jeans. The repetition of the stitching means that they get confident quickly and can then focus on the design and the placement of the stitches themselves.

This kit makes a lovely picture and comes with a frame as well – a great step forward.

Whirligig Toys Sewing Project

Pattern Cutting

We are almost there! Cutting out your own shapes and sewing them together freehand – after this we are ready to make anything and lots of older children love these (including adults).

Using top quality wool felt these delightful creatures can be made using a range of stitches that you choose. The key here is the quality of the instructions – clear and friendly and with lots of steps so that nothing takes too long. Create them like the picture or go off on your own ideas!

Whirligig Toys - Draw Like A Fashion Designer 1

Off into design

Whilst we haven’t covered sewing machines in this blog, we are thinking ahead and these two products are wonderful resource books for children who are interested in fabric design and shape. Full of ideas and with simple instructions, they will take the ideas forward and get the machines whirring.

Whirligig Toys - Outfit Maker 2

The Elephant In The Room – Boys and Sewing!

We know that not every child, boy or girl, will like sewing and we try as hard as possible to ensure that everyone can take part. However, tradition weighs heavy here.

We were delighted by this recent entry into our ‘I Made This’ competition – this young man had made a chameleon kit from our shop and then gone on to design and make his own sausage dog based on the pattern.

As with most activities, it is the way you present it to the child. They will generally love doing something that you are excited about and have a go alongside you.

We look out for sewing kits that don’t always come in pink packaging, have themes that all children love, like animals and dinosaurs and just get on with it – my nephew was most jealous of his sister’s creation – now he has his own!

Our Top Tips

  • Be excited about sewing – children generally aim to please and if you love it then they are likely to have a go
  • Share the load – if it is getting a bit much, do a bit for them and then let them carry on – it will reinforce the neatness
  • Unpick at night – it has all gone wrong, find the sewing fairy and correct it when they are in bed – unpicking is never fun and children may loose interest
  • Use great colours – sew something fun
  • Always celebrate – sewing is something takes a bit of effort – it needs to be on the top of the Christmas tree, worn with pride and treasured for ever
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