Sunday, 26 February 2023

Tips for Teaching Kids to Sew

Last year I made an episode of my podcast about encouraging kids to sew. I deliberately didn't call it 'teaching kids to sew', in case you have no desire to do to the teaching part yourself. In the episode. I set out the argument for the benefits that kids get from learning to sew, and followed up with heaps of tips and ideas for how to successfully encourage them to do so. 

Fast forward a few months to January this year. I set myself four sewing-related goals for 2023:

  1. Continue to work through my fabric stash, turning it into lovely, useful items. Initially I set out to help myself do this by limiting my fabric purchases, but I have since signed up for the Last Sewist Standing challenge which bans fabric purchases entirely! (More info on this in this episode.)
  2. Alternate 'from scratch' projects with mending or altering an existing item (#makeonemendone). 
  3. Continue to find more fun and useful projects to make with scraps and leftovers. I truly believe that they are a valuable resource, but like many sewers, I feel like I'm drowning in them!
  4. Teach my kids some specific sewing skills. I think I already do a good job in modelling that sewing is fun, creative and expressive, as well as a possible option for clothing yourself. However, I feel that my daughter in particular could do with some more actual skills to help her make her project ideas a reality, and to do so more successfully. 
To make good on that fourth goal, I recently helped my daughter through a T-shirt project. I tried out some tactics that I'm going to share with you here, in case it will help you, or someone you know, teach a young person to sew in the future!

Tip #1: Give them lots of agency

This may sound obvious, but by giving them as much creative input into the project as possible at the planning stage and through the creation process, the more invested and interested in it they will be. Like many kids, my daughter doesn't have a very long attention span and quickly loses interest in stuff after the initial buzz of a new idea. So allowing her to effectively design the whole thing and make further choices throughout kept her more engaged in this than any previous sewing project we've tackled together. 

She was the one who decided she wanted a lilac T-shirt. I passed her a stack of Ottobre magazines, explained how to look for a style that included her size, and let her sift through to choose a pattern she liked. She selected a long-sleeved raglan top with a slim fit.  

Tip #2: Do the bulk of the boring bits

Because the pattern chosen was in an Ottobre magazine, the next step was to trace out the pieces and add seam allowance. Nothing would have turned my daughter off this project quicker than if I'd made her trace out those pieces herself. NOTHING. So instead, I traced out the pattern and added the seam allowance, but asked her to sit with me engaging her in conversation as I did it. Then, at least, she witnessed that part of the process so it was no longer an alien concept to her. I then got her to cut one of the pattern pieces out of paper so she had experience of that, and cut the rest out myself later on.

When it came to cutting the pattern out of fabric, she wasn't into the idea very much. So I positioned the pieces on the fabric and pinned them in place, and got her to carefully cut round the edges. She moaned a bit about having to do that, but I felt I could push her a bit to take on this step without the project being a bust. It was a gamble, but we got through it!

Tip #3: Balance trickiness and familiarity

For the actual construction, I decided we should use my regular machine rather than my overlocker for all the seams on this T-shirt. As Judy Williment-Ross' daughter once so cleverly articulated, using an overlocker is 'like sewing, but faster and with knives'! My daughter has tried using my overlocker once or twice, but this was her first 'proper' project with jersey fabric, and I felt that a new type of fabric that is trickier to handle was challenge enough. She is far more experienced with, and confident on, my regular machine so I decided to stick to that. 

I pinned all the seams for her, and she stitched them all using a new-to-her stitch (the lightning stitch). So there was a blend of new and familiar elements at play. I also decided to do the neckband myself, because pinning and stitching a neckband into the neck hole of a child-sized garment is super tricky! I felt that if the neckline looked a bit of a mess, it might put her off from wearing the finished item. Doing the neckline myself kind of felt like a risk; would she feel less ownership of the project if I did a major part of it without her? I decided to engage her in that step instead by getting her to choose a cute label to insert so she could tell what is the back at a glance. She picked this 'My best work yet' label from Kylie and the Machine: perfect in both context and colouring. 

Tip #4: Add a fun, unique design element 

As seasoned garment sewers, we know the joy of getting to wear garments we have customised to our own specifications. Everywhere we go in our me-mades, we are free from the risk of turning up somewhere wearing the same garment as someone else! That's really powerful, and something we can use to our advantage when teaching kids to sew. Find ways for them to express themselves further by making little additions to the overall design. We did that with this project with the back neck label, but labels can be inserted into or applied onto the garments pretty much wherever they choose. Ribbons, braids, buttons, contrast panels or pockets are all opportunities to let the child's wield their design prowess and 'own' this project/garment further. 

I have a little collection of iron-on patches collected from all over the place, predominantly so I can mend my kids' clothes super quickly when a whole appears. My daughter had a good rummage through them and selected a patch to apply to her T-shirt, and decided where she wanted it to be. Her choice was linked to a narrative she had about the character she would personify when wearing the garment. But obviously it doesn't have to go that deep!

Tip #5: Get it off the machine and into their wardrobes as quick as possible

My daughter had no interest in hemming the garment, so I did that whilst she was at school. Then one final press and it was done! I could have done this quicker to be honest, but you want to capitalise on the pride and accomplishment of a completed project and make it available for them to wear as soon as possible. 

Tip #6: Tell everyone they made it

Whenever my daughter is wearing this T-shirt, I make sure to tell whoever we're with that she made it herself. Cue lots of 'Oh, wow! Well done! That's really impressive's, and therefore external validation. Refrain from listing the various steps you, yourself actually did, and remind them of the work they put into it, e.g. 'You sewed all those seams so neatly and stuck to the seam allowance so well', etc. 


Did my daughter love this whole project? No. Was there a lot of moaning at various stages? Yes (I managed to keep mine internal though). Was this a gorgeous, bonding experience? Maybe a little bit. Has she declared she wants to sew her entire wardrobe going forwards? No. But I do think/hope that she feels more agency over what she wears now, with the knowledge (and proof!) that she can make (most of) a T-shirt. I don't know when we'll embark on another project like this, but when she mentions a desire to do so, I'll be ready to try this formula again. I will help her build on her skills further, project after project, until she barely needs me (blub)!

Monday, 16 January 2023

Scrappy Knit Cardigan

This is a recently completed project that is the result of an idea that I just couldn't shake. Inspired by the success of Pat's scrap busting Apollon sweatshirt (which in turn was inspired by the success of these scrap busting jersey tops) the thought popped into my brain that I could apply the same idea to actual knit fabric.     I am very interested in clever ways to reuse old garments, and am always looking to bulk out my chilly-weather clothing selection, which is pretty limited. So I cleared the decks of other projects and decided to have a play. 

I have a big bag of old knitwear garments and scraps: items that are moth eaten, felted, misshapen or badly pilled, plus scraps of knit fabric that can be bought by the metre. Some of the knit garments I've had in my stash for over a decade, that I've harvested bits from for other projects, mainly mittens over the years. I was keen to reduce the volume of my knit stash and claw back some space in my airing cupboard. 

I started out my selecting pieces that made a fairly pleasing colour palette. The chartreuse colour is my favourite. I previously used some of that moth-eaten jumper to make myself some mittens. I made sure to use include every last scrap of that garment in this project. There's quite a lot of pink in this project, which is NOT a colour I ever usually wear, but with the other bold colours, I think it looks ok and the over all effect is graphic and fun. 

As for the piecing, part of my goal was to try to be as economic with each piece as possible and be left with very few unusable scraps. I cut along the seam lines of some of the knit garments to access as much of the fabric as possible. I let the resultant shapes guide the forms and I jigsawed them together over the course of a few evenings until I had sections large enough to fit my pattern pieces on. 

The pattern I used at the base of this projects was the Jamie cardigan by Ready to Sew, which I adapted slightly to my preferences. I used some black Ponte Roma for the neck band, and black ribbing for the cuffs and waistband. I like how the solid black of these pieces creates a kind of frame for the colours and patterns within. 

As you may have noticed, this cardigan features some basket weave type knit that I also used to make the polo neck top I'm wearing here. I'm enjoying the 'alternative twin set' look! It's also nice to have a bold, fun garment to wear when the weather is freezing. Any addition of colour in the winter is welcome. 

Friday, 6 January 2023

Free Pattern Friday: Kids' Movie Night Pajamas

Welcome to my monthly 'Free Pattern Friday' feature, where I road test a free sewing pattern or tutorial: sometimes a children's one, sometimes an adult's one . I publish these posts every first Friday of the month, timed to provide inspiration for those who plan to get their sew on over the weekend. I firmly believe that, if you pick your projects carefully, sewing doesn't have to be a crazy-expensive way to clothe yourself and your family. I also firmly believe that pattern designers deserve to be properly paid for their work, so if you enjoy using a pattern and can afford to do so, make sure you support that designer. Some designers' websites offer the option to make a donation, alternatively you can buy one of their paid-for products. If you can't afford to do so, you can support the designer by sharing your project via social media to help draw more attention to their work. Thanks to all the amazing pattern designers who have offered up their hard work for us to enjoy for free.

Hello and Happy New Year!!!! This is the first blog post of 2023, which will see this blog's 15th birthday! Wild, eh?! This Free Pattern Friday blog feature has also been running for a fair while. I just counted and I've written 54 blog posts road testing free sewing patterns and tutorials, starting in the Autumn of 2017. Phew! I've actually decided to put this feature on pause for a few months. I never want to be sewing for the sake of it. Up until recently, I've had a backlog of free sewing patterns and tutorials that I want to try that I believe will be genuinely useful for myself, my kids or my home. But right now, there aren't any that I can say with honesty we could really do with right now. And with my sewing time being very limited, it seems pointless, not to mention unsustainable, to make things for the sake of having something to post about. I'm definitely going to return to this feature and post more road tests towards the summer. However, for now, this'll be the last for a while. Good job this pattern is a good one! 

Nearly a year ago I road tested and posted about the men's version of the free Movie Night Pajamas pattern by Sew A Little Seam. Today I'm posted about the kid's version of this truly excellent pattern. There's also women's version and all three versions are available for free by joining their Facebook group. That will give you access to a code that you can use at the checkout on their site. If you don't have a Facebook account, or wish to support Sew A Little Seam with a purchase, this pattern is only $5. As always, massive thanks to Sew A Little Seam, and all designers, who make their work available for free.

(image source: Sew a Little Seam)

Pattern type:

The Movie Night pyjamas are a close-fitting set designed for knit fabrics. There are lots of style options. There's long and short sleeves for the top, plus long, Capri or short versions of the bottoms, so it's a great pattern for all seasons. You can personalise them further with the other style options included: gathered sleeve, neckline placket and yoga or elasticated waistbands. That's a lot of options. 

Sizing info:

These pyjamas are graded to fit 12 months to 12 years, by which point your kid might start fitting into the smaller sizes of the adult versions! I made the size 10 for my 9yo who is on the large side, and the fit is great. I think I also added a few extra centimetres to the length of the bottoms for extra room for growth. 

Fabric info:

The pattern recommends cotton/spandex (AKA Lycra or elastane), rib knits or thermal. For this pair I used a cotton pointelle that I picked up at the Ukraine fundraiser fabric swap I organised in 2022, which may or may not be what they refer to as 'thermal'. I also used ribbing for the neckband and cuffs. If you're being critical, you might say the the rib I used was a shade too thick for this pointelle, but it functions well enough. 


As with the men's version, this pattern was a joy to work with. It includes both A0 and print-at-home versions of the PDF files, both with layers which I really appreciate. And there's a projector file too, if that's your jam. The instructions are clear, and include photos of the steps to help you along. 

The PJs themselves have come out really well. I was working with limited fabric and I wanted to squeeze out a vest as well (using this pattern), so I had to add a centre back seam to the top. To prevent the seam allowance feeling annoying, I added a back neck facing, which gives some nice solidity to a project anyhow. 

Customisation ideas:

There are heaps of customisation options included in this pattern already, but there is a distinct lack of pockets! 

Would I make this pattern again?

I'm sure I will, now that I have downloaded it. You could get a similar look to these, however, by using a leggings or slim joggers pattern and a basic T-shirt pattern if you already had some in the correct size. I'm not sure I like the feeling on these slim fit PJ bottoms, but I might use the top of the women's pattern for myself at some point in the future. 

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