By Sarah Ashford
With so many of us home right now, what better time than to teach children the joy of creating with a needle and thread. As a former primary school teacher and mum to two children (8 and 11) I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences teaching young hands to sew.
So use your planner to block out some time with your young ones, and get them quilting! I wanted to share some of my top tips for teaching children so that you can do the same.
1. Start small, start simple
It’s always a good idea to start with a small, simple project so that the child can get the hang of that skill quickly. You can help with knot tying and you could easily teach a simple running stitch. You could even draw a pencil line for them to follow; this isn’t about perfection, it’s about opening up opportunities and pathways for creativity, and these are the very early stages of the journey!
2. Be Purposeful
It’s great to give a child a purpose for the project rather than just learning a skill. It could be a blanket for Teddy or a cushion for an aunt or friend – make sure there’s an end goal and one that’s achievable in a relatively short period of time. We may love intricate and complex quilts that take a year to finish but children have limited attention spans and a desire for instant gratification. Aim to get a project finished within a few hours. It will help maintain interest and possibly even spark the desire to get going with the next project!
It’s important for the child to feel like it’s their project so give them creative free reign if you can. Let them choose the fabrics for example. Ok, so the color and pattern combos might not be to your liking, in fact they may not really go together at all! But it doesn’t really matter at this stage. What matters is whether they like it and are happy with it. It is their project after all and it’s a great opportunity to give them some autonomy and ownership.
4. Safety First
This is a big one. How much you allow your child to do depends on their age and ability, but I would certainly advise supervision at all times. Rotary cutters are sharp, irons are hot and sewing machines have very sharp needles. But don’t let safety worries put you off; see it as an opportunity to teach about careful handing and how to use equipment correctly. Rather than doing all the ‘risky’ bits for them, get them to hold your hand as you cut with the rotary cutter or sit on your lap and guide your fabric through the sewing machine together. You could use thimbles to help avoid nasty pin pricks and always make sure your workspace doesn’t have pins on the floor. For me, the one caveat for this is ironing, which can be very dangerous for little people so personally I’d leave this to the adults. But you can always finger press seams or use a wooden roller as a (much safer!) substitute. Get children involved as much as you can but always with safety at the forefront of your mind.
5. Stitch regularly
It’s more than likely that the child or children you teach are going to love stitching. So why not pencil a bit of time in your planner each week to spend teaching the next generation of quilters, whether it be your own child or grandchild, a friend, neighbour or at an after school club or community group. Regular practice makes perfect after all! And the more creative opportunities you provide, the more they will get to hone their skills and find their own creative paths.
I hope I’ve inspired you and given you the confidence to share your passion for quilting with the young people in your life. It’s so rewarding knowing you’ve fired up imaginations. For the children it’s a great opportunity to learn new skills, feel a sense of pride, accomplishment and ownership of their work. Who knows what creative paths these formative experiences may take them down in the future!