Teaching Young Children to Sew

The Joy of Teaching a Child to Sew

Since I have sewed for my granddaughters since they were infants, sewing seems like a normal activity to Mira (7) and Caitlin (4).  As a fellow seamster, sewer or sewist, it so gratifying to see their enjoyment in home sewn clothing as well as their interest and comfort with a needle and thread.

When Mira was four years old, I gave her a bag of scrap fabric which included left overs from clothing I’d made for her, lace scraps and some eye-catching fabrics to hold her interest.  On one of our visits, she and I spent several hours together hand sewing a number of scraps into a small quilt.  Her mother was a quilter then, so the idea of a quilt was well-known to Mira.  With limited dexterity and as a left-handed child using right-handed scissors, she cut the scraps into small irregular pieces.  Then, learning the concept of the needle and thread needing to come up and go down on the same side of the fabric, and reversing the hand movements on the underside of the fabric, she sewed the small pieces together.  Aside from threading the large needle and knotting the end there was little help from me.

Careful stitches - long and short

Mira's first sewing project

Mira's first sewing project

One of the things I learned was that this project was about the learning, not the outcome.  This is unlike most of us who sew to achieve the end result.  For this young child, the joy was in what she accomplished and how this activity built the foundation for sewing skills which she is very proud of.  Several years later, Mira is very comfortable in using a needle and thread and this first sewing project is not forgotten but is stored away in her bag of favorite fabric pieces.

As a seven-year old, Mira’s comfort with and joy in creating with a needle and thread is amazing.  At Girl Scouts, she loves to be the one who teaches other girls to sew.  If we saw each other more frequently and lived closer to each other, I’d love to begin to teach her to use a sewing machine.

If you have a child or grandchild and would like to experience the utter joy of seeing a child learn an often forgotten skill, give this one a try.  It’s worth it.

What are your experiences teaching children to sew?


Sewing a Wedding Dress: Countdown 2.5 Months

Putting the Pieces Together

For some of you, it may seem as if this project is moving along pretty slowly.  While I don’t want to be sewing on this wedding dress the night before the wedding, things are feeling OK for now.  This weekend I was able to put the pieces together for the first time and while this photo hardly looks like a completed dress, the pieces are fitting together as planned.

Now before you look down the page and see something not all that spectacular I need to fore-warn you.  What you’re seeing is the lining, the skirt and a waist ribbon pinned together.  So those extra bunches, pulls and creases will go away.

Since this was at my mother’s house, there was easy access to a sewing machine however my mother’s iron is similar to one I had as a child.  Ironing the seams was a task that needed to wait until I returned home.

In the next post I’ll show you how the skirt was draped and constructed.

More later…….

Tutorial: How to Finger-knit

Mira Teaches us to Finger-knit

Mira is my 7 year old granddaughter.  She is very accustomed to seeing me (Ramma) sew, while both her mother and her other grandmother (Oma) are avid knitters.  When asked if she’s going to knit when she gets older, she says “No, I’m going to sew like Ramma”.  She’s been able to handle a needle and thread for a few years now.  Soon I’ll post some of her accomplishments.

While Mira may not aspire to being a knitter, she does enjoy finger-knitting, often making a strip of knitting 6 feet or longer.  Several months ago, her father, Steve took a short video of Mira teaching us to finger-knit.  I’m sure that none of us could have done it better.

This debut was followed by the sequel where Mira shows us how to cast off the finger-knitting.  Unlike many sequels, this is even better than the first.  And it was the opportunity for her sister Caitlin to get in on the action.

Can you see my smile? ♥

Tutorial: Slip or Crinoline for Under a Wedding Dress

Floofy isn’t just for Little Girls

In our family, fluffy is pronounced “floofy” and it means you have a slip under your dress and it makes your dress puff out.  Truth be told, a crinoline petticoat is something that four-year old girls, teens of the 60’s and brides have in common. Referenced by the number of linear yards of netting, our 60’s style petticoats were dear to us,.

Bridal slips or crinolines are not nearly as fancy as the ones we wore in the 60’s but they are over the top expensive.  Bridal shops don’t hesitate to charge $100 for a slip which will be worn but not seen for one day (maybe bridal slips cost more, I don’t really go to bridal shops very often).  The good news is that internet sites have caught on and one can actually purchase a bridal slip for a reasonable price.  But for those of us who sew, a few hours of time and $10 or $20 of fabric and netting gets you the desired result.

About 25 years ago I made my sister’s wedding dress and a slip to go under it. It was made from muslin or lightweight cotton and netting.   In the years following her wedding she loaned the slip so often that it became a family joke – at times she couldn’t recall who had borrowed it.  For Liz it was great because for each lend she was rewarded with a bottle of wine and the brides were delighted to not purchase a slip.

As I planned to make a slip for Megan’s dress, I was sure there would be no need for a pattern as I’d be able to locate a tutorial on the internet.  Wrong.  I’ve searched about everywhere I can think of – maybe there’s a new name for a slip?  Call me clueless as it surely wouldn’t be the first time.

At any rate, since there wasn’t a tutorial or free pattern and I no longer own the pattern from 25 years ago, this piece of sewing knowledge is long overdue.  Here are a few easy steps to sew a slip or crinoline which has a narrow A as opposed to one which is wide through the hips.  I’ll start with a photo of the end product.

You will need:

  • 4-5 yards of lightweight lining or soft cotton fabric.  If it’s 45″ or for a longer size you’ll need 5-6 yards. This is the time to shop the sales.
  • 5 yards of netting – usually 45-60″ wide

1. Measure the length from the waist to 2-3″ off the floor –  33″.

2.  Divide into three with the skirt or top portion being the longest.  I settled on 13″ for the fabric skirt and 10″ for each of the ruffles.

3.  From the lining fabric, cut 2 A-shaped pieces for the top of the slip; one for the front and one for the back.  For a size 6 or 8, each the front and back piece was 20″ at the top and flared out to 32″ at the bottom.  Note:  each piece is folded so you are cutting a folded piece of fabric 10″ wide at the top and 16″ wide at the bottom.  I added a few inches of length, just in case.

folded fabric for top of slip

4.  Sew pieces together on one side and keep the other open.

5. Cut netting the long way to reduce the amount of piecing.  Since I wanted the end result to be 10″, I cut these pieces 11″ wide by 5 yards long.

You will now add the first ruffled layer to the bottom of the fabric:

6.  Use 2 layers of netting for this first layer but sew as a single piece of fabric.

7.  If you have a ruffling foot on your serger, this goes very fast, ruffling at a ratio of 2.5:1.  (The alternative is to do this the old-fashioned way by running gathering threads and sewing the ruffled layer to the top.)

Sewing the first ruffle to the top

8.  When done, it looks like this:

9.  Now you will sew another layer of netting to each of the two pieces of ruffled netting (remember that you sewed 2 pieces of netting to the top of the slip).  If you run out of netting before you’re done applying the ruffling, simply overlap the next piece – there’s no need to make a seam.

Yes, that's rain in the upper left corner

10. Serge or sew the side seam.

The slip

The last step is to make a overskirt and a underskirt.

11.  For the overskirt, cut another piece the same width as the slip top, but extend it to be full length.

12.  For the underskirt which is mostly so the netting doesn’t feel uncomfortable, I used very lightweight cotton gauze from my stash.  Cut another piece like the overskirt, but it can be much narrower toward the skirt bottom.

13.  Now pin the underskirt, the slip and the overskirt together.  You can either sew it into the dress (I’m not doing that), use elastic or make a narrow and lightweight waistband (my choice but it’s not done as yet).

Nearly finished - need to hem and finish the top

This project took me about 2 hours including cutting and sewing.

Bridesmaid Dress #2: Spaghetti Strap Tutorial

Straps like Spaghetti, not Linguini

Have you ever seen ready to wear with spaghetti straps which lie flat, have no body and cheapen the dress?  Well isn’t one of the benefits of sewing that you can include garment characteristics or small details which give a piece of clothing the look you want.  So I say “thumbs down” to flimsy spaghetti straps.

As I was making the spaghetti straps for Angela’s dress, I learned a few things worthy of sharing with you.  Here’s a brief tutorial on how to make beautiful, 3-D spaghetti straps that are worthy of the dress they secure.

1.  Cut 4 pieces of 1-1/4″ by 22″  fabric on the bias.  For even edges, use a ruler and rotary cutter.

2.  Cut 2 pieces of 1-1/4″ by 22″ underlining, also on the bias.

3.  Layer 3 pieces of fabric for each strap – fabric on the top and bottom and underlining between the two pieces.  Silk organza works very well.

4.  To keep the 3 layers in place, sew down the middle of the 3 layers using a long stitch (so it’s easy to remove later).

5.  Fold the fabric lengthwise and stitch exactly 5/16″ from the right edge, trying to be as steady as possible.  So you say, why be so exact?  Well, 1/2″ is a tad wide and 3/8″ makes it really tough to turn the strap.

6.  Turn the tube.  I like to use the long crochet hook type turner.

7.  Clip away any bulk to make it easier to pull through the tube.

8.  Ta dah!   What a nice full spaghetti strap – not all flat and ugly.  Work the tube back and forth to smooth it.  Resist the urge to touch an iron to this beauty.

9.  Make the second one.  If you’re as lucky like me, you’ll end up with one strap wider than the other.  Grrrrh.

Q.  Was I really as careful with 5/16″ width?

A.  Yes, I was

Q.  Then what happened?

A.  I think I sewed from opposite directions and as with most fabric, one stretched more than the other.

Q.  How did this get resolved?

A.  I took the low road and just made a third one.  My basic math says it would match one of the two original straps;  and it did.  But I failed to take a photo.

Next time maybe these will appear on the dress.  More later……

Bridesmaid Dress #2: Sewing with Pleated Fabric

Lessons in Sewing with Pleated Fabric

In the last post I described the process for making pleated fabric I stopped short of showing you how it was used on the dress top.  The pattern seemed to lend itself to placing the pleats on the neckline.

Dress top

I wasn’t sure how this would look with the darts but for the lines contrast nicely and the darts fall in place.

Now for the lesson you can learn from my experience.  This reminds me of my friend Kathleen, who often says “Why is it that I expect my (teenage) children to learn from the mistakes of my youth”.  I expect better from my readers however.

Anyway, for the lesson learned:  When I pleated the fabric, I went all the way to the edge, leaving about 3/4- 1″ of unfolded fabric including the overlocked edge.  In fact you can see that the left front has a smaller edge that the right side.  These both came from the same piece of pleated fabric – just shows that I’m not as accurate as a machine.   If I were to do it again I would leave about 2″ of fabric on this side of the pleating as it gives a little more flexibility when you decide how to use the piece of fabric.

Dress top - the light fabric is the silk underlining

Dress top - the light fabric is the silk underlining

You can also see a the selvage of silk organza peaking out from under the unfinished seam line. Below is another photo from the back.  This was very important as the pleated fabric has some stretch, probably made worse by the fact that the horizontal line of the top is cut on the bias.

Silk Organza Underlining

Silk Organza Underlining

This dress has been basted together and went along to Wisconsin with my husband this week as he is helping to care for our grandchildren.  This dress belongs to their mother, Angela.  I’ll let you know how he does in fitting the dress!  Really, his role is to take photos.

Have you used pleated fabric in this way?  What lessons can I learn from you?

Sewing Bridesmaid Dresses: #2 in the Making

Design Idea: Pleated Taffeta

If you’ve followed a few postings you probably know that I’m not the type of person who starts a garment and sticks with it through to completion before moving on to the next creation.   Some call it multi-tasking and others may say there’s a DSM-IV code for this pattern of behavior.  Either way it works for me as I need segments of time to think about how to take the next step in constructing a garment.  Reminds me of how I took home movies of our children, pointing and zooming from one target to another.  Sorry if this approach makes you dizzy.

The second bridesmaid dress which is being made for our oldest daughter Angela, is taking form.  McCall’s 4440 was the starting point as Angela wanted a “V” style neck and an empire waist.

McCalls 4440

Seeing a ready-to-wear dress with a pleated top gave me an interesting design idea but at that point I didn’t envision how tough it is to pleat taffeta.  I’ll go through what didn’t work and then will do a brief tutorial on what did work.

Pleating Taffeta:  What didn’t work

  1. Using a Clotilde 1/4″ pleater.  Using every fold at 1/4″ was too small whereas pleating every other at 1/2″ was the right size pleat but the return was too small – it just didn’t look good.  In addition to the look this pleating method created small bruises in the fabric where I tucked it into the pleater. On to Plan B.
  2. Iron-on interfacing.  After it was ironed on the pleats stayed in place but the fabric was so well ironed that the beauty and texture was lost.
  3. No matter what I tried (except iron-on interfacing), unsewn pleats just wouldn’t stay in place for the intended purpose.

Pleating Tutorial

  1. Start with a large piece of fabric – I used a 36″ long by 44″ wide piece as I needed enough to cut two front pieces on the diagonal.  After pleating there was about 11-12″ by 36″ of usable fabric, depending on how you plan to use it as some of the 12″ is the edge – I’ll talk more about that later.
  2. Measure and then fold 1-3/4″ from one selvage.  This will be your first pleat.
  3. Sew exactly 5/8″ from the edge of the fold.  You now have pleat #1 completed.
  4. Cut a piece of cardboard or straight edge 1-1/4″ wide.
  5. Tuck the cardboard into the first pleat (see photo below) and make a chalk line at the edge of the straight edge.  This is your next fold line.
  6. Sew exactly 5/8″ from the edge.
Marking the foldline

Marking the fold line

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until your eyes start watering and go cross-eyed.  By that time you’ll have about 3″ of usable fabric.  By now you know that this isn’t a job for a day when you’re short on patience or you have too much coffee.  Dare not have a hang-over for this task!

8. Seriously, keep repeating steps 5 and 6 until you are at the edge of the fabric.

Below is a photo of the back of the fabric.  Complaining aside, it’s simply gorgeous when completed.  More to come in my next post.  Please share your experiences – did I find miss some simple way to do this?

back of pleated fabric