Monday, June 27, 2011

How to Prepare Beginner Hand Sewing Projects for Kids, and Teach Stitch Spacing

When a child begins hand sewing, he or she will need a lot of help. One way you can help is by preparing projects well ahead of sewing sessions... 

... like the evening before, while Johnny is sleeping.

With this particular teaching method, YOU pre-cut the projects.

For example, in the Winky Cherry method that I teach, I pre-cut animal shapes that become stuffed toys after the children have sewn them together. 

After cutting out, you make evenly spaced dots around the perimeter of the project with a Sharpie® marker.

These dots are like tiny training wheels showing kids exactly where to sew each stitch.

Your early preparation really helps in the beginning because when it's time for your little one to sew, he simply sews, and hopefully has fun doing so. He doesn't have to fidget and wait while his project is being prepared.

I start the children in my classes off by sewing small felt toys.

(Why felt?)

This is what I do:

1. Trace the silhouette of a fun item, a dinosaur for example, on felt with a Sharpie® marker. In the photo above you can see that I traced a crocodile, a stegosaurus and some finger puppets onto the felt. 

2. Lay this marked piece of felt over a second piece of felt and line up the edges. 

3. Pin the two layers together with at least 1 pin inside each outline.

4. Holding the scissors at a 
90° angle to the work surface, cut both pieces of felt at the same time following the outline. Keep the blades in contact with the table as much as you can.

Next, add training wheels.

Mark tiny dots 1/8 - 1/4 inch apart around the perimeter of your pre-cut shapes, and 1/8" in from the edge.

Dots show your child where to poke the needle through for each stitch; each project will look like a pre-school sewing card! 

Use an ultra fine Sharpie® marker to make dots as this brand won't 'bleed' into the felt. The ultra fine is very small and after thread is pulled through the dot, it can hardly be seen.

Leave an unmarked space about 2" long along a straight section of the project. This gap in the dots shows your child where to begin stitching (by hiding the knot ) and also where to stop sewing and make a lock stitch.

The project can be sewn clockwise or counter clockwise, it doesn't matter.

The 2" space is left open to stuff the project. Stuff it fat or stuff it thin, only your child knows how it should look.

Add more dots to the gap after the toy is stuffed and let your child sew it closed. 

EDIT September 2016: I've discovered that it is much easier to add more dots to show where to sew the gap closed just before the project is stuffed. 

Does it work?

Yes! You wouldn't believe how well this works. Kids concentrate intently on poking the needle up through each dot. They learn fine motor skills and stitch spacing without even realizing they are doing it!

After practising sewing this way for a while, your child will eventually ask if he can sew something without dots.

Let your child lead the process. This is how we honour his learning tempo.

Happy stitching! 


  1. I'm definitely going to do this with my boys!

  2. Oh, your boys! I read your whole blog last night and laughed so much. There will never be a dull moment at your house!

    I'm sure you will have a ton of fun sewing with them :-) Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I love the dots idea (I'm doing some felt toy sewing with 6yos in my daughter's class), but won't the permanent marker ones show if you're not turning the whole thing inside out?
    I do have some fabric markers, but they don't seem to work very well, I can hardly see them on the felt.
    - Katharine

    1. Welcome, Katherine!
      You've brought up a good point. Yes, the dots marked with permanent markers always show. You can minimize them in two ways. 1) Use an ultra fine tipped marker to make tiny dots. 2) Use good quality thread. I highly recommend 30 weight Cebelia by DMC (most folks call it crochet cotton). Double it over and knot the ends together.

      I use Fast-fade markers by Unique. Felt absorbs a lot of the ink so they don’t last like they do under normal sewing circumstances. Also, I use wool felt in light colours (I think my darkest colour is turquoise). Check the fiber content of the felt. It may be acrylic which doesn't absorb fast-fade ink very well, but permanent will work great on it.

      In the 6 years that I've used this method there has been only 1 little girl who seemed aware that the dots showed in her finished softie. Chances are that the 6 year olds will be so interested in your sewing activity, and delighted with their finished projects, that the dots will be negligible. I’d love to hear how it goes. Good luck!

    2. p.s. Use chenille or embroidery needles size 18-22. They have larger eyes than regular sewing needles.

    3. The larger eyes make the needles easier for little hands to thread. :-)

    4. I've been trying to balance between having larger eyes for threading, but not too large that they can't go through the felt easily. Also with how sharp the needle is - not too sharp but not too blunt. Mind you, I'm the only one who's drawn blood so far out of me and the kids :)

  4. Thanks for your reply Sue.

    Your suggestions here have been very helpful! I've been working with kids between 4-6, plus my son who is 3.

    I've been taking along cookie cutter shapes and they've been tracing their own patterns, then I cut and dot.

    I have around 12 happy kids so far with finished or nearly finished toys, and many more to go!

    1. Congratulations! I'm glad to hear that your kids are having success with this sewing method. 12 sounds like a fun group size and I'm sure they keep you on your toes. :-) Thanks so much for sharing your update.

  5. Thank you for your blog and this post in particular! I am leading my 6yr olds bible study in a sewing lesson and this information is fantastic!! I've also thought about teaching sewing for kids for a little extra income and to promote a craft I love and and life long tool. I'm going to look at the Winky Cherry books, again! Thank you!!!

    1. I'm really glad this post was useful to you. Thank you for visiting. Best of luck with your Sunday school class. :)


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