Teaching Kids How to Stitch

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Wendy Sheppard has been sharing stories about teaching her young daughter how to sew on her blog for the past few years. We asked her to share their handwork journey with our readers. Learn more at ivoryspring.wordpress.com.

This article appears in the May/June 2018 issue of Quiltmaker, which includes the pattern for Wendy Sheppard’s sampler quilt Home to Roost and 4 patterns incorporating handwork.

Teaching Kids to StitchI introduced my daughter, Gwendolyn—who my blog readers got to know over the years as Miss Baby—to hand stitching at a young age for the simple reason that I wanted to pass on the joy of needle and thread. Kids these days have an abundance of entertainment outlets, especially visual and electronic. I wanted her to establish a hobby that is quiet and something she can have with her for the rest of her life. I remember stitching provided a calming effect when I was stressed out with my studies in college.

To get Gwendolyn started with cross stitching when she was about 5, I had her use 11-count Aida needlework fabric because I couldn’t find a fabric with a lower count in my local craft store. I also gave her perle cotton thread for the stitching; I thought having to deal with stranded cotton embroidery floss was a bit much for a first real project. I had her work on stitching straight rows with spaces in between them so that she could just focus on the concept of making individual stitches and not get confused on when to poke the needle upward or downward.

Later that year, Gwendolyn stitched a small Christmas tree topped with a red button, which we made into a pillow ornament. Gwendolyn gave the ornament to my sister for a handmade Christmas gift exchange and received a handmade doll in return.

“It was amazing to see the stitches come alive in the picture.”
“It was amazing to see the stitches come alive in the picture.”

She then went on to stitch more complex patterns using charts, such as a bird sitting on a sprig of holly, which she said was good for her math skills. As she was stitching along, she also told me it was amazing to see the stitches come alive in the picture.

By the time Gwendolyn was approaching her eighth birthday, she was working on a full-sized alphabet sampler with houses by Jardin Prive that took her a year to complete. On one house she messed up counting her squares. Instead of correcting her mistake, she “improvised” to make it work and ended up with two windows instead of three. I was not quite sure how I felt about that; on one hand, I want her to follow the rules because I am pretty much a “dot my i’s and cross my t’s” kind of person. But on the other hand, I thought she did a great job improvising!
And of course, she totally ignored all the suggested colors and picked out her own. In her words: “Mom, I don’t like it when they tell me what colors to use!” So she stitched the sampler with an assortment of Aurifil’s embroidery floss, Aurifloss.

“Mom, I don’t like it when they tell me what colors to use!”
“Mom, I don’t like it when they tell me what colors to use!”

By this stage she had made great strides in learning to thread her own needles, finish her stitches, etc., and was a totally independent stitcher. I no longer had to cut the threads, thread the needle, show here where to stitch, and help her bury her thread tails.

Here are a few thoughts I have about stitching with kids:

  1. Kids at a young age have the advantage of time. So, as soon as Gwendolyn was ready, and before she was distracted by other more modern hobbies, I jumped in with getting her started her on needlework.
  2. The work will continue for the parent after the initiation process, who will need to help thread needles and cut thread tails. It is truly a labor of love, as well as patience! I resigned myself to the fact that when we stitched together, my stitches were far and few between because of interruptions from Gwendolyn needing help. But all that is worth it, because it is also while sitting together and stitching, Miss Baby and I get to chat and I get to find out her deepest thoughts. Now that she is 9 years old and more independent, we enjoy stitching together into the night, chatting and listening to audiobooks. Our favorite “stitching” audiobooks are the ones about Paddington Bear.
  3. Hobbies have a certain built-in element of discipline. There have been times I have had to make Gwendolyn put in a few stitches in a project to help her reach the finish line. When she finishes, the work to get to the finish line seems a distant memory and she is filled with the joy of accomplishing something—a valuable life lesson. (So far, she hasn’t gotten the idea of doing multiple projects at one time and doesn’t know the concept of UFOs, and I intend to keep it that way as long as I can. I certainly can’t lead by example in that regard!)
Gwendolyn’s own thread collection with Aurifil, AurifilKids Spool-en-dids
Gwendolyn’s own Aurifil thread collection

We were excited to debut Gwendolyn’s own thread collection with Aurifil at Fall Quilt Market in Houston last year. Aurifil’s AURIKIDS program is an initiative that focuses on reaching the next generation of sewist and crafters. It was a huge moment in little girl’s life! The only disappointment for her was that she didn’t get to go to Market with me.

I encourage everyone out there who is teaching young ones the art of needle and thread that it is possible to start them really young! I started Miss Baby young, and now that she’s 9, it’s really gratifying to see how far she’s progressed and developed her skills.

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