Jo Sews

>> Saturday, January 12, 2008

Alan and I aren't the only ones sewing here at Gratz Industries. Jo's got her own machine and she's been working on a twin-sized quilt since last year. She's more than halfway done now and she's eager to finish before the school year ends so that she can bring it in for show & tell. Here it is so far - enough to cover her!

There was a bit of a problem a couple of months ago when her cheap, plastic toy machine went kaput - but Dot came to the rescue and gave Jo her old Singer - a real machine.

The theme at Whip Up this month is crafting with kids, so I thought I'd post a few notes about how I "help" Jo sew. She's five now and she got her first machine when she was four.

She started out sewing on paper. First I just drew straight lines for her to follow, then we moved on to gentle curves. Sewing on paper was not so much fun for her after the first few sheets, so it didn't last very long, but it was a good way for her to get a feel for how the machine would pull things through, without also dealing with floppy fabric right off the bat.

The first machine was technically a toy (i.e. cheap and all-plastic parts) but it actually worked and there were a couple of features I liked in it. It had two speed settings (I always kept it on slow) and it had a safety presser foot that made it absolutely impossible for Jo to get a finger under the needle.

The new Singer sews pretty fast, so I put a little stop in the foot pedal so that she couldn't floor it. It's just a fat piece of felt with adhesive on one side. You can buy packs of them to put under your furniture so it will slide and not scratch your floors. I just stuck it in the pedal so it wouldn't go all the way down. Easy peasy.

I didn't search for a special presser foot, but I do have the walking foot on there. Everything works better with a walking foot so I use it all the time. I just told Jo to be careful with her fingers and she is.

The other thing I do is draw her stitching line on the fabric and pin it for her. She could MAYBE learn to use the seam allowance lines now, but I'd rather have her eyes glued on that moving needle so I draw the stitch line for her to sew on. Here's a batch of squares from today - all marked, pinned, and ready to sew.

I get it started for her under the presser foot and then she's on her own - though I'm usually in the same room working at my machine. She sews up to a pin, takes it out and puts it in HER pincushion (an important detail), checks to make sure it's still all lined up right, and then sews up to the next pin and repeats. And here's one are all sewn up.
You can see that her stitching is right on the line. Her first seams were REALLY wavy but she's got it down now. She always checks her seam when she finishes a block and if she's off my drawn line at all she gets pretty frustrated.

I also always iron for her. I've never stitched my finger with the machine, but I burn myself on the iron almost weekly, so that's the sewing room hazard I'm really concerned about.

And that's it. Slow the machine down with a bumper in the pedal, draw on the stitch line, pin it, remind her about the needle, and let her go. She's really proud of how big this quilt is getting.

Note added 1/31: Thanks to the many people who visited from WhipUp and Love Shak, Baby! I love hearing that so many kids have been asking to learn to sew and that so many of you are going to be teaching them! A few of you had specific questions that I'll try to answer here.

I drew on the markings with a regular ball point pen. The water-soluble didn't make a dark enough line on the darker fabrics, chalk rubbed off too easily, and air soluble is no good because sometimes Jo will set this aside for a few weeks and the marks will go away. Since every other block is black I didn't worry too much about the pen bleeding a bit.

Jo's first machine was a Bratz machine that we bought at Toys R Us. I don't know if they still make them (I think they said something about it being discontinued when we bought Jo's) but they may have others too. Jo's was about $40 and it made it through a couple of pairs of jammie pants and half a quilt before dying. And the bobbin winding and machine threading was NOT FUN.

Not a question, but someone mentioned "the right table and chair" on the comments at WhipUp. I didn't mention that, but it's pretty important. Jo could never do this at the "big" table. I've got her set up at a kid-sized table with a kid-sized chair and it makes a huge difference. You can see it in one of the pictures but I didn't mention it specifically and it's worth a mention.


Carol Van Rooy January 12, 2008 at 10:40 PM  

That's awesome. I've recently taught my son(8) and daughter(11) to sew. Their first project was a set of coasters.

With what have you marked the stitching line with, pen???

Nettie January 29, 2008 at 8:11 AM  

That's great. I saw your link to this page at Whip Up. I am definitely inspired to let my oldest give it a try. Thanks!

Kate January 29, 2008 at 8:18 AM  

This is great it really makes me want to let my daughter try my machine, her little one broke a couple of months ago, and she has been wanting another one ever since.

Net January 29, 2008 at 8:26 AM  

This is so brilliant! Your daughter is doing so well, her seams look perfect! And excellent parenting on your part too.

My son (almost 4yrs) is fascinated by my sewing machine, I let him help with cleaning fluff out of the bobbin case, but it hadn't occurred to me to teach him to use it properly. Sewing is such a useful life skill. Thank you for the inspiration.

Mystele January 29, 2008 at 11:04 AM  

Thanks so much for this post. My almost four year old (this Friday!!!)asks me on a regular basis to let him sew. Last night was his most recent plea. I've just had no idea how to get him started...until today! Thank you!!!

greetingarts January 29, 2008 at 11:41 AM  

And she *should* be proud, that's awesome. Even though I'm in my 30's, I'm a newish sewer and I like to draw my sewing lines onto the fabric before I get started, too. Sense of security, you know. :0)

Ingrid,  January 29, 2008 at 1:03 PM  

Thanks so much for this, it's all the encouragement I need to get my daughter started!

BadBadIvy January 29, 2008 at 1:37 PM  

Thank you so much for this post, I'm going to finally let my daughter use the big machine! I linked to you over at one of the blogs I write for, Love Shak Baby. :)

Donna January 29, 2008 at 2:04 PM  

Thanks for a great post! My younger daughter has been begging to use the sewing machine since last summer, I've been putting her off by saying when she's five she can learn. Well, that's next week and I've been a bit at a loss as to how we are going to start. You've put together a great list of instructions, she's going to be very happy!

Kristy January 29, 2008 at 7:23 PM  

that's great, thanks for the tips! my daughter is just 2 1/2, but already shows an interest in "helping" me sew. glad to know it won't be long before i can get her started, and your info will help in that.

nicole January 30, 2008 at 3:45 PM  

this is wonderful! my 5yo son has his own toy machine that works, but i've been struggling to find a project for him that won't require much babysitting (he wants to do it all himself). i love the idea of the drawn lines, he has trouble following the seam allowance--thank you so much for the great post!

Florence January 30, 2008 at 3:53 PM  

What a lovely post! My daughter (6) also loves using the sewing machine, but I haven't bought her her own one yet, but your tip with the pedal is a good one. Thanks! That's an amazing project Jo's undertaken - she must be incredibly patient!

mrspilkington January 31, 2008 at 3:11 AM  

Thanks for the inspiring post! I've been trying to get a little machine for my 4 year-old, and am kind of interested in the cheap one your daughter first had (thinking she could graduate in a few months). What brand was that?

Becky January 31, 2008 at 8:46 AM  

I really like the foot pedal idea - genius! Except I'm thinking about usingit for myself as I'm not a whiz at the machine yet. One of these days I'll find the courage to teach my 6-year old.

Nika February 1, 2008 at 8:54 PM  

Great!! This encourages me to teach Sofi. She just asked me to learn some days ago. First I doubt but finally I let her. She´s just 3, but now I see it´s more usual than I thought.
Thank you!!

Kirsten February 3, 2008 at 11:25 PM  

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with your daughter. My son is 4-1/2 and has been asking and asking to learn to sew, but I wasn't sure where to start. I tried hole punching some fabric and giving him a plastic needle, but he really wanted to use a machine. I put him on my first machine, an antique Singer today, though quickly realized he was probably safer on my new machine so moved him there. We made a set of beanbags and he was excited about his first project. I will look into a starter machine - thanks for all your great ideas!

Kristy February 10, 2008 at 10:10 AM  

okay, i already commented once, but i'm back to say my daughter has since asked to sew and so we went for it. i wrote it up here, and was sure to credit your post, as i never would have thought to try it otherwise. thanks again!

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