Sewing with young children, some tips and tricks

During the past year I’ve sewn quite a bit with my then 3-year and now 4-year-old daughter. It started so that I could do some crafting while going lockdown-crazy but it turned into something enjoyable for both of us. At first, she would just sit next to me or sit on my lap and hand me fabrics. At some point she wanted to use the scissors button on my sewing machine and I would tell her when I was done sewing a seam and she could cut the thread. After a while she also wanted to use the foot pedal. This took a bit longer to master, but she can now start and stop when I tell her to. I did have to make up the “only sew when there is fabric under the presser foot” rule though, because she would otherwise just go whenever she felt like it.

If you had asked me 3 years ago if I thought it would work to sew with a 3-year-old I would probably have said “are you crazy?”, but now I think it is absolutely possible if your child is interested and capable of following some rules. I thought it might be useful for other (grand)parents to see what I have learned from this experience so today I am sharing some tips. 

  • Keep it simple
    • Don’t try to make something super complicated with a young child around. You need to focus on your child and make certain that the sewing you do together is safe. For that reason I like to make improv blocks. You can just cut the fabric with scissors and it’s not so important to sew exact ¼ inch seams or perfectly matched seams.
  • Leave perfection outside the sewing room anyway
    • With the improv sewing we mostly do I just trim the seam allowances to approximately ¼ inch. The back of those pieces are ridiculously messy and uneven compared to the other things I sew, but I don’t mind. It’s the back. It will not be on display when the item is finished.
  • Be clear about what your child can and cannot touch in your room
    • I do not want my child’s hands near the needle of the sewing machine and for that reason I am still guiding the fabric through the machine while she controls the foot pedal.
    • Rotary cutters, sharp scissors and iron are off limits. There is only one pair of scissors in my sewing room that she is allowed to use and she knows this.
    • My daughter knows she can touch some of the buttons on my sewing machine like the thread cutter and speed control (yes, the latter can give some surprises while you’re sewing…) and she knows not to touch the others. It really would be too annoying if she changed the straight stitch to a zig zag or the stitch length. Has this always gone well? Hmm, I did at some point have some tension issues with my overlocker because she had touched the differential feed and stitch length dials, she now knows to stay away from them.

  • Be clear about which fabrics and supplies your child is allowed to use
    • My daughter knows she can pick anything from my scrap bins, but not from the larger pieces that are stored in the closets. When we need a larger piece of fabric for something I’ll make a preselection and give her a limited number of options to choose from. If I would not do this my daughter would most likely completely mess up my fat quarter storage system looking for pretty fabrics. This way she will also not end up disappointed because she picked a fabric that I was still saving for another project and do not want her to use.
  • Get a seam roller
    • Pressing seams certainly results in a better looking finished project but I really do not want a hot iron in a room with my child. She knows it can get hot and that she shouldn’t touch it, but accidents can happen and I rather prefer to have my daughter’s skin intact over perfectly pressed seams. At first, I finger pressed seams and that worked somewhat but at some point I bought a Clover seam roller and that does work much better. I now just use the seam roller when my daughter is in the room and give the pieces we made another press with the iron when she’s not around.
  • Plan ahead
    • There are some steps in a project that you can’t really do without a rotary cutter or iron or that need your full attention. When we sewed a bag for one of her teachers, I cut the pieces for the bag when my daughter wasn’t around so that she could help with the construction later on.
  • Follow your child’s interests
    • Ask what your child would like to make and then turn that idea into something manageable. We started because she found some improv trees I had made that she liked and she wanted to make some trees of her own and I thought we could just give it a shot. When she wanted to make pyjamas for her stuffed animals we made a sleeping bag instead.
  • Accept that your sewing room will turn into (an even bigger) mess
    • My scraps are now super messy boxes on the floor because my daughter is always rummaging through them. I can live with this.
  • Stop when you notice your child starts to lose interest
    • Children don’t have a very long attention span. If they want to do something different after sewing only 3 seams, that’s just fine. If you continue because you want to finish something they’ll just start looking around your room trying to find something more interesting to do and make a mess. There were days we added just 1 or 2 trees to our forest, that’s fine. Eventually we had enough trees to make an entire quilt.

And finally, if you really want to sew and your child doesn’t, you can also sew while your child is sitting next to you cutting up pieces of paper, taping fabric scraps to paper, sorting your beads or watching Netflix. Just saying…

For our latest project we made her teachers mug rugs as an end of schoolyear gift. She picked the fabrics from my scrap bins and told me how they should be put together. She operated the foot pedal for some of the seams and for others I sewed them while she sat on my lap. She cut the thread and sometimes lifted the presser foot. She picked the thread colours for the quilting and edges of the mug rug and decided whether we should do straight or wavy quilting lines. I absolutely love how both of them turned out!

Have you ever sewn with young children and have some other tips that make the experience even more fun?