sewing · sewing education

So Your Child Wants to Sew…

A friend recently messaged me about her girls picking up the sewing bug (I can’t even tell you what joy this is to me) and she was asking about sewing machines and just sewing with kids in general. I’ve had that question so often over the years from parents and I’ve never really written about it. With Christmas coming and a winter that seems rather shut in more than others, what better time to fill stockings with all sorts of supplies to make things?

On Sewing Machines:

Hands down, my top recommendation when looking at sewing machines is to find one with an adjustable speed control. In most older and cheaper sewing machines the speed is controlled via the foot pedal; like driving a car – the harder you press down the faster it goes – which with new seamstresses means lots of super fast take-offs as they get the hang of it. Having a speed dial just relieves some stress!

There are a handful of good, entry level machines out there. Janome makes some affordable and simple machines and I’ve seen the Eversewn machines popping up for a few years as a great beginner machine. I personally taught on Juki’s and that’s what I use in my own studio, but I’ve had so many issues with the bobbin case and threading issues that I really don’t recommend them.

Sewing Machine Tips

My first rule when teaching sewing is to always know where your needle is. Ha! My second rule is that sewing isn’t about perfection. There are very few mistakes in sewing that you cannot easily fix – it just might mean taking out stitches or re-cutting out a new pattern piece or figuring out how to piece something together a different way. That said, a seam ripper is the tool seamstresses love and hate. It’s necessary, but often times it’s also oh so humbling.

When sitting down to learn how to sew, the one thing you really want to teach them how to do is thread the machine. Believe me, you will go bonkers with this if they don’t learn. I swear that 80-90% of most issues with your stitches will be because it’s come unthreaded in some way. When in doubt rethread it. And little fingers also like to cut their threads really short, which means that the thread will flop out of the needle over and over again.

After learning how to thread, the most basic things they need to learn how to do are: 

  1. Sew a straight seam lining up the edge of the fabric with the presser foot and sewing on a line
  2. Leaving the needle in the down position and pivoting the fabric and turning the corner

Learning these two basic techniques will open up a whole world of possibilities. Going around curves would be the next technique, but that one is a bit tricky.

Ages and Stages for Machines

I really think that with supervision and a tiny bit of know-how from the supervising adult, a child even as young as 6 can use a sewing machine. The key here is supervision.This is a machine with moving parts and a sharp needle that really doesn’t feel great when it finds your fingers (sadly, I know this from personal experience), so never leave a young maker unattended.

Other Supplies

When I was teaching sewing I generally had projects planned that worked on certain skills, but it was the open sewing time that was the most memorable. A basket of fabric in various lengths and types, some stuffing and a handful of buttons is really all you need. 

When it comes to fabric, a good quilter’s cotton is the best thing to start with. If you have an aspiring doll or stuffy maker, fleece is usually easier to work with than knit. Minky is super soft and very tempting, but super slippery. I’d stay away from satins, rayons, voiles, lawns, gauze and other really thin fabrics. I used a lot of flannel back in the day and that was super for pillows, quilts and other fun projects. Felt is also a great option and you can splurge on the beauty of wool felt or just pick up crafting felt at your local fabric/craft store.

Stuffing is a super thing to have around. If you aren’t down with synthetic fibers for stuffing another option would be wool or cotton roving, which you can pretty easily find online or at local yarn shops.

Buttons are always good to have. I’ve got a massive stash of vintage and thrifted buttons and you can often find whole lots of them for auction on eBay. 

An extra sort of thing would be a water soluble pen for making marks on fabric that you don’t want to stay on there. These, obviously, rinse out with water. With the pandemic and shortages of crafting supplies, these have oddly been hard to get lately. But there are a handful of different brands that are just fine.

A Good Beginner Project

One of the first projects I always had my students make was a tic-tac-toe bag. This ticked the box (haha) of so may good skills for a beginning maker.

Here’s how to make your own tic-tac-toe bag:

Cut out two smaller squares of fabric (basically as big or small as your want your bag and board to be. I used a piece of cotton for the board side and a piece of felt for the back, but you can use felt for whole thing – or cotton!

Draw your grid lines for the board (if you are using felt you might rather use a chalk maker for making the grid lines or you can use a Sharpie marker or even a pen, but this won’t wash out).

Sew a straight stitch on all the lines you made on your cotton piece.

Then place your sewn grid board on top of you backing piece (felt in this case) and stitch a big C shape around 3 of the edges – leaving the top open. You can stitch this with a straight stitch or a zig zag like we did here. When you start stitching, make sure to do a backstitch (sometimes called a lockstitch) so that your seam doesn’t come unstitched. When you get to a corner, leave your needle in the fabric, lift up your presser foot and pivot the fabric around to the next side. Then repeat on the next corner. When you come back to the top, sew another backstitch to secure your seam. Sit back and look at what you made! You made a little bag!

Take a piece of ribbon and stitch it down just inside the top of your little pouch you made. Make sure you aren’t sewing down both pieces of fabric, you just want this attached to the back side.

Gather up some buttons for your game board and plop them down inside your pouch, roll it up and tie it off with a ribbon and voila – a portable little game you made yourself!

quilt

MQG Quiltcon Swap 2022

I’ve had such fun the last couple of years participating in the Quiltcon Mini Swap sponsored by the Modern Quilt Guild. Last year I was brave and came up with my own design, but this year I decided to knock something off my “want to sew” list…a pineapple block. I used the pattern Penelope I found on Etsy for the foundation paper piecing.

Nine blocks later, while I’m not a pineapple block pro, I definitely feel as if I can mark this block off my list.

The fabric is Dwell in Possibility by Gingiber and I absolutely love it. I purchased a fat quarter set and then yardage of the panels that go along with this line. I used one of the blocks from the panel for the back (I totally forgot to get a picture of that) and I’m saving the other three blocks for something special.

Pineapple blocks are one of those things that look so complicated, but honestly aren’t. They can be a little time consuming (I mean what FPP isn’t?), but the dimensions they show are just mind boggling.

I was a little sad to see it go, but it’s also fun to ship things off to people too and hope they enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making it.

Any my swap mini was beyond spot on perfect! I just about died when I opened it up and saw all these teacups and books! Totally fantastic!

hand embroidery · quilt

Bloom Mini Quilt

I had the pleasure of coming up with a spring themed mini quilt for Sulky Threads and I’m so pleased with how it turned out.

The design is hand embroidered, but Sulky offers a digitized version for those of you who prefer to machine embroider.

The mini quilt measures roughly 24×24 and is a great project for newbie embroiderers and quilters!

The fabric used was by Rifle Paper and was the inspiration for the floral design in the embroidery. The hand embroidery was stitched with Sulky’s Cotton Petites, which are super threads that come in a wide variety of colors. They are single stranded, but can easily be doubled to give dimension to your embroidery.

Find all the details here!

quilt

Rail Fence Baby Quilt

My cousin recently had her first baby and my mom was chatting with me about a gift for her. I, of course, was like a quilt, duh! I looked around for a few different quilt block styles and settled on the Rail Fence design. I used this tutorial by Suzy Quilts as a basis.

My mom and I looked at a few different fabric options. She really wanted something super girly, so we settled on the Little Brier Rose line from Riley Blake. I purchased a jelly roll (for the first time ever!) and man, it makes such a difference to take the cutting out of making a quilt!

I started by laying out all the strips and sorting them by color. I stuck to the cream, pink and blue shades and set the others aside.

I wanted to do somewhat of a variegated from cream to pink to blue, so I mixed up the strips into groups of threes. After stitching the trios together, I cut them into the block size and then started the layout. I recently was gifted with a large quilt planning board and I had such fun laying out all the different ways to combine the blocks.

I had purchased some floral for the back, but after talking, we decided to do just a solid flannel that my mom found at JoAnn’s. I ended up using the pink floral that I had purchased for the back for the binding.

The quilt ended up being around 38×44, which is just about right for a baby quilt I think. I quilted it with a curvy stitch over each vertical strip seam.

It was loads of fun to put together and I will for sure be putting this Rail Fence block design in my back pocket.

quilt

Let’s Fly Quilt – Air Force Version

I’ve made a quilt for pretty much everyone in my family except for my dad. He is a retired Air Force Navigator and I really wanted to make him an airplane themed quilt. Most air place themed quilts tend towards juvenile so when I finally saw the Let’s Fly by Stacy Iest Hsu quilt I knew it would be perfect.

I decided to do a mix of Moda Grunge Blues for the Air Force instead of the rainbow strips as the pattern shows. I really love the Moda Grunge line and I wish I had a source locally that carried most of the color ways. It was super hard to pick a good variety of shade differences on the computer. I quilted it with a wavy stitch and backed it with a piece of plain flannel.

Overall this is a pretty simple pattern. It’s basically strip piecing and the airplanes are templates you piece together. But, making the quilt was totally a slog due to some frustrating issues with the pattern instructions. 

To begin with, the cutting is crazy annoying. I knew I’d be cutting strips, which isn’t as fun as piecing things, but still. In one case, the pattern has you cutting WOF strips and then sewing them together to make 43.5” lengths. I did a couple of these before I realized that this was stupid…most fabric’s WOF is 44”. 🤦🏼‍♀️

I also had some issues with the template pieces not matching the measurements listed in the pattern. These were template pieces so I didn’t think I made a mistake with cutting. I had to modify some pieces to make it all fit. (I honestly wish there was a paper piecing option versus templates because it would have made these blocks much more exact. If I make this again, I’m going to figure out a way to do that myself.)

Nevertheless…I still appreciate the pattern and my special recipient did too!  

quilt

Flying Geese Laptop Cover

My wish of a laptop finally came true in 2021 and since then I’ve had a laptop case on my list of things to make…It was just way down on the list. A quilt-guild friend recently posted a laptop cover that she made that I was super interested in making. I almost hit the button and purchased the pattern, but last week into my inbox came a free tutorial for a laptop cover that was pretty much the exact picture of what I was hoping to make…simple and quick (and happily no zippers to purchase).

This tutorial is for either a laptop (mine is a 13″ MacBook Air) or an iPad. Just note, that the cutting directions are for making both of them. If you are only making the size for a small laptop, you don’t need to cut out fabrics D and E.

The directions are pretty straight forward and if you are at all familiar with putting any sort of bag together, then you won’t have any problem with this. The directions didn’t call for any sort of batting or interfacing. I opted to put in some Pellon Shape Flex that I had leftover from another project, which gave it some heft that it would not have had if I had left it as is. I would definitely encourage you to add some sort of interfacing or even batting.

I definitely have some alterations to this pattern if I make it again. I would for sure purchase some fusible fleece instead of just the Shape Flex that I used for interfacing. I would also add some quilting detail to the top. The pattern calls for a velcro closure (which mine still needs), but I think I would love to add a button with some sort of tie closure or a button hole – that would obviously have to be figured out in process as you can’t go back and add that when you are done!

I recently finished a Quiltcon swap project out of this awesome Gingiber Dwell in Possibility fabric by Moda. I’m on a mission to make as many things with what I have left as I can – I love this line so much. So all of these fabrics come from that collection.

Overall, it was a quick Sunday afternoon sew and it serves the purpose I was looking for and I’m super happy with how it turned out.

hand embroidery · quilt

Luna on a Tree

Back in early 2021, the Modern Quilt Guild did a Challenge where you had to create a quilt based upon trees. Back during the time I was deeply embedded in hand embroidery, I had started a whole series on stump work insects. One of my projects during that time was a combination of quilting and hand embroidered stump work. I made this stump work luna moth and also made some bracket fungus and even some little mushrooms…and then quickly stashed it all away.

When this challenge popped up I decided it was time to redeem this UFO and make something of it – or at least finish it. I decided to leave off the bracket fungus and mushrooms and just focus on the luna moth. I had originally planned for this to set inside a shadow box, but when I decided to turn this into a wall hanging I knew I would need to extend the sides a bit and make it larger. I ended up just adding a few more strips of brown on each side – quilting them down and moving on.

I had originally bought a mixed bag of green trims for the bottom of the tree and digging that out, I decided to sew down a few bits of that for the bottom.

I finished up a stack of green hexes for the tree top and sewed those down on the top. I used some brown Essex linen for the binding and the back and voila…a mostly redeemed unfinished object that is now happily hanging in my daughter’s room.

I’m thankful for this challenge that pushed me to get rid of at least one unfinished project in my bottomless box of UFOs.

quilt

the light came down

Every year our church does an amazing Lessons and Carols service around the start of Advent. Over the years various artist members and friends have designed the cover for the booklet. After the 2020 service, our worship pastor asked me if I would be interested in working with him on one for 2021. I can’t even begin to tell you how humbled and honored I was to be considered and it was a joy to work on this project. It’s been such an amazing thing to sit in church over the Advent and Epiphany season and stare at my quilt hanging from the pulpit. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to use the work of my hands to create such a gift for our church.

photo credit: Tony Long (Art From the Hills)

We talked through a bunch of different designs options, but we nailed down this star design pretty quickly. I decided on Liberty lawn from the get go and was able to get my hands on all the fabrics I originally picked out except for the lighter yellow. I had chosen a design that was a bespoke line for Duckadilly Fabrics and by the time I was able to order everything it was sold out. Robert Kaufman has a lawn series called London Calling and I was able to find a lighter yellow that worked pretty well. The center gold and all the blues are all Liberty lawn and they were amazing to work with.

Knowing that I was going to have to work with upwards of 500 diamonds, I decided to go all in and purchase templates from Paper Pieces and I even broke down and purchased the acrylic diamond for cutting too! This was the first time I glue basted with the Sewline glue pen and it totally converted me to a firm believer in glue basting AND this pen. Up until then I had been using just an Elmer’s glue stick. That had been working fine – but the Sewline pen was totally a worthwhile upgrade.

This was completely English Paper Pieced by hand. I started basically with the center half of the star and worked outwards. Once I got out about as far as I thought I wanted to go, I started adding the bottom half of the yellow center and then worked my way out. Once I had as close to a rectangle as I thought, I ended up cutting out a piece of flannel to the size I was going for and started filling in diamonds where I needed in order to make the rectangle size I wanted. I ended up stitching more diamonds on in some areas than I needed to and I was thankfully able to salvage those for another project.

For the quilting, I hand quilted it just enough to keep it together on the diagonals. I used Aurufil 50 weight for the whole thing and it’s hands down my favorite thread for any type of handwork.

My sister in law is an indigo dyer and I had asked her from the beginning of the project if she would dye some fabric for me. Honestly I think this was the crown on the whole thing. She dyed some solid fabric for me and then some print. I used the print for the back and the solid, variegated indigo for the binding.

Overall it was an exhausting project and a bit stressful at times, but I’m over the moon with how it turned out and completely humbled to have been invited to participate.

quilt

grace upon grace upon grace

Every year the Modern Quilt Guild does a fabric challenge leading up to Quiltcon. I’m always up for some free fabric and the challenge to design something. This year I really wanted to do something with text. I’ve seen so many quilts with letters floating around I wanted to try my hand at it.

I had the idea to do grace upon grace upon grace, based on the verse from John 1:16. I ended up using all the fabrics included in the challenge and had to track down some more grey in order to finish up the quilt.

I asked around within my own guild if there was anyone who could do some free-motion text for the quilting and finding no-one I decided I would try to tackle it myself. I practiced tracing the text and ended up doing better just free handing it. I wrote the bulk of the verse: Out of his fullness we have all received” over and over again. I don’t know that free-motion quilting is going to be the norm for me, but it really was so exciting to see it all come together and actually work!

I texted in between the words and opted to not put the quilting on top – I just thought it would distract too much from the grace text. For the words grace, it wasn’t really planned piecing so much as just trying to fit all the pieces together and fill them in to make blocks.

books

books 2021 in review

2021 Fiction

These are the ones I didn’t read or complete:

Watership Down – I’ve come to the conclusion I’m never going to actually read this book. I hated “animal” books when I was a kid and I don’t know that I’m convinced I want to make space to read it now. Perhaps I should try an audiobook version..

The Snow Child – I really want to read this one, but I keep forgetting about it.

Passage to India – I bought this one, started it and couldn’t get into it. I’ll try it again as it’s on the home library shelf, but I think it will have to be a “not before bed” book.

Les Miserables – This one has been by my bedside untouched for a year. If I wait much longer I’ll have to start over again.

These are the 3 I actually did finish from my original list:

  • The Chosen (amazing)
  • Little Men (pretty good – I like Little Women better)
  • East of Eden (bonkers weird – but man I love Steinbeck)

I had a goal of reading more Gaiman and Doerr. 

Doerr was the one that I sort of dove into – I read About Grace and his brilliant new novel Cloud Cuckoo Land.

I also wanted to finish the Shiloh Series by Helena Sorensen and I read the second one and then stopped. I don’t know why I can’t get into this series.


2021 Non-Fiction

I didn’t do so great with this one. I actually own almost all these books now, but I get so sidetracked with other non-fiction books that I either forget about this list or just can’t find the time to work through it.

The ones I did read:

  • Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry (so good!)
  • Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents 
  • and I started Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Taleb

Of the remaining list, I still read want to read all of these. Bandersnatch is probably at the top of this list as it’s been on my “want to read list” for way too long and I keep hearing about it in so many different places.

  • The Hill Women
  • Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings 
  • Through the Gates of Splendor
  • The Four Loves
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  • Atomic Habits

Goals:

When it came to my reading life in 2021 – these were my ultimate goals:

  • read slower – I honestly don’t know if I did this or not. I did try to contain the number of books I was reading- but more often than not I was super overwhelmed with my lack of motivation, discipline, time etc.
  • commonplace regularly – totally didn’t happen. I’ve really got to figure out how to make this happen this year. Even if I never write online again – I seriously have got to start commonplacing regularly. I really feel like that is the push I need in order to get that writing muse re-awakened.
  • work on research/reading for my writing – failed.
  • read more from our growing home library – as in dig into those TBR stacks – getting there. I really am working on curating a home library even harder than ever.
  • read more authors that I want to write like – yes!

Top books of 2021

My absolute favorite reads of 2021 were…

FictionCloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. It’s been a long time since I finished a book and then immediately wanted to read it again.

The one book I’ll read every yearHannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. 

Non-Fiction: Ties between A Circle of Quiet & The Summer of My Great Grandmother by L’engle (the Crosswick journals), This Beautiful Truth by Clarkson and Prayer in the Night by Warren. All of these I would read over and over again.

Looking back at my Goodreads, I read a lot of really, really good books this year. I didn’t really follow any sort of list or standard…I just heard of something or remembered something and read it. I abandoned a lot more books that I ever had – but I’ve come to that stage of my reading life where I just can’t waste time reading stuff I don’t enjoy/like or writing that is lousy. I’ve fully embraced the “book snob” life.