Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the Art Room: Sewing and Embroidery

No matter what your passion is in life, I bet the seed was planted when you were young. One summer, when I was probably 10i-sh, my grandmother taught me how to embroider. And I've loved creating stuff with fabric and thread since. 
This year, I decided to open up my art room to the folks I work with for a Sewing Group. Some of my 4th grade students caught wind of this and wanted to know if they could join. I kinda put the idea on the back burner as I had no freakin' idea how I'd use sewing machines with the youngins...and I kinda thought the kids would forget about it. But, as you know if you work with children, they never forget anything. When one of them started pricing sewing machines at the local thrift store and another petitioned her friends to enquire about a class, I started to toy with the idea of making it happen. When I accidentally said, "I'll think about it," the kids cheered and asked, "Yay, can we start TODAY?!" 
There is a wonderful enrichment program at my school called Gentry's Educational Foundation founded by Evelyn Hickerson, a teacher. I approached her about teaching a sewing class and she agreed to purchase some sewing machines. Because she's seriously that awesome. This woman is so dedicated to the education of all students that she'll stop at nothing to make it happen. We are so fortunate to have her enriching all of our lives. 
In my after school sewing class, I had almost 20 students (3rd and 4th grade) and two adult helpers. I was a little nervous having that many children sewing on machines at once...and I also felt like the kids should have some basic sewing and embroidery skills first. So I decided to start by having the kids create an embroidered sampler using this book as my guide.
I picked up this book years ago when I wanted to teach sewing in my art classes. I've since had to let go of that notion (30 minutes just seemed impossible to teach sewing to the under 10 set) but was thrilled to give it a go with this group. My after school classes were a lovely 60 minutes in length and that felt like absolute heaven. No rush, plenty of time to explain, chat and sew. 

Interested in giving this a go? Here's what we used:
  • Gingham fabric
  • Patterned fabric
  • Embroidery floss, 24" in length, split into three strands
  • Bees wax. This isn't necessary but it does come in handy. We ran our embroidery floss over the wax to prevent it from tangling.
  • Large eyed, sharp needles
  • Embroidery hoops
  • Graph paper
  • Sewing machine
  • Pins
  • Stuffing

  1. Our first of business was writing out our names. We first did this on graph paper using the guide found in the book. This was then rewritten onto the kids' chosen piece of gingham in pencil.
  2. Next we learned how to split our embroidery floss. I had the kids work with a partner to prevent the floss from tangling. This was then threaded into the needle, doubled over and knotted.
  3. After that, we hooped our fabric. 
  4. We didn't embroider our name first. We chatted about what a sampler was and how this would showcase a sample of embroidery stitches we learned. Our first stitches to learn were the running stitches seen under the name.
  5. Once those were complete, we moved onto cross-stitching our name. Some students sewed buttons onto their sampler while others learned how to create a satin stitched heart.

All that took a couple of sewing classes to complete. Once they were finished, the kids chose a piece of fabric for the back of their pillow. Thankfully I'd just been donated a huge stash of fabric (which included some coveted Scooby Doo fabric). The kids laid their samplers on the fabric, cut it to the same size and pinned it right sides together on the top and sides. We left the bottom open for adding the stuffing.
Now I wasn't at all comfortable with the idea of the kids sewing for the first time without adult supervision. This is where my two super adult sewers came into the picture. They called each child one at a time to a machine and gave them a private sewing lesson. Perhaps in the future I'll be more comfortable leaving the kids less supervised...but until then, I'm all about the one-on-one.

So what were the others doing in the meantime? Well, they set their pillows aside and began creating mini-stuffed animals! In My First Sewing Book, the author gives a ton of animal patterns for the kids to chose from. I simply enlarged them and laid them out for the kids to pick from. Of course, I gave them the option of creating their own stuffies too (see last photo, ya'll. Too cute). With that sampler under their sewing belt, this proved to be the perfect project for them to work independently on while they waited for their turn at the machine.
For a Stuffie, you'd need the following:
  • Two pieces of felt per student
  • Embroidery floss
  • Needle
  • Thread
  • Pins
  • Patterns (or paper for creating their own)
  • Stuffing




  1. After picking their pattern, the kids pinned the pattern and two pieces together. This was then cut out.
  2. After removing the pins, the kids were told they had to use a satin stitch to create a face. Buttons were available for eyes. 
  3. Once that was complete, the two felt pieces were pinned together and stitched almost all the way around with a whip stitch.
  4. Stuffing was added and the stuffie was stitched closed. Most kids were able to create more than one.
When their turn was up at the sewing machine, they stitched those three pinned sides. Stuffing was added to the pillow and they had the option of hand-stitching the pillow closed or using the machine again. I was surprised that not all of the kids picked the machines. I think some of them really enjoyed the control of stitching by hand.
Since completing these stuffies, the kids have started bringing in things they've sewn at home. They've independently created purses, pin cushions and stuffies for their buddies and siblings. Which makes me so super happy.


And excited. I've already started my yearly process of begging for longer art classes next year so I can do this with all my students, not just an after school class. I know how much I loved creating like this when I was a kid...and I want all of my students to have this very same experience.

Do ya'll sew in your art room? Would you mind sharing with me the projects you do? I'd love to have more ideas and share them with my sewing group! Thanks, ya'll!

6 comments:

  1. very cool! I don't do sewing with my students, but our photo/fashion teacher does. She has the kids bring in materials/clothes from home and then they cut them up and reconfigure them into new, funky items. Something else I've seen is creating a pillow based on a kid's monster drawing. They seem pretty rad. On another note- how long do you get the kiddos for your art classes? I've got it set up so my k-3 classes meet for an hour, 4th for 70 minutes, and 5th for 80. I love having the extra time with the older kids!

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    1. Hey Don! My classes, 1st through 4th are 30 minutes in length. It's TERRIBLE. So having them for an hour plus after school is heavenly. So those kids get to do cool stuff like this...I try my best to make the 30 minutes work but it's starting to make up very upset that my kids have such little time to be creative. Rant. Over.

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    2. P.S. Thanks for the suggestions :)

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  2. I work with 30 minute slots with my 3d-5th grades Cassie... it stinks! we will be getting into what we are doing and the kids will say,"Already?!?" I have 40 min with my K-2 . On another note...I think it is TOTALLY COOL that you are teaching a sewing class for your kiddos! It is becoming a lost art! My Mom taught me to sew as a kid. I come from a log line of sewer, knitter, crocheter's on both sides of my family. My mother made most of our clothes as I was growing up. Most kids went to the mall for back to school shopping, I went to the fabric store and picked out patterns and fabric! I always had the fashion of the time but in original fabric and designs! Sewing is no longer an elective in our middle schools/high schools but I often come across kids who wish it was! Keep it up! :)

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  3. Hi Cassie,
    I'm thinking of starting an after school sewing class too. I applied for a grant to buy the sewing machines--but did not get it so as of now we have no machines. Just out of curiosity, how many machines were you able to buy for your group? And what kind of machine did you buy? Singer has a very basic one that is about $100.00 that I was looking into, but I would love to hear what you have. Thanks!

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  4. I am a first year art teacher PreK-12. I love fiber arts and wanted to incorporate more into my lessons. (The previous teacher did hardly any fiber arts. I love providing students with a variety of projects, it is fun to see different students excel with each medium. I feel like it levels the art playing field a little bit.) This year, my 2nd graders made their own "ugly doll" stuffies, many of them learning to sew for the first time! The best part is seeing the joy and accomplishment on their faces when they see what they have made. I had them sketch out some ideas, and then pick one and draw it out as big as they can on a 9x12 piece of paper, they cut that out and it becomes their pattern. Instead of pinning the 2 sides together, we stapled them. It was a little more work to remove them, but was safer overall and easier for me to manage. Would love to have an extra set of adult hands for this project, but I found that pairing students with experience with newbies worked well. I am planning to embroider with my 3rd graders when they start their pioneer unit.

    I learned that I shouldn't sew with both 2nd grade classes at the same time as there was a lot of clean up work that I needed to do. I couldn't figure out an easy way to teach students to tie their thread off when they were at the end of it, so we just cut it off (leaving a tail) and started with a new piece of thread. I went back and tied and trimmed the loose ends.

    I found that my students were great about needle safety, they took great care and the only time we ran into problems with finger poking was towards the end of the project when artists were getting more comfortable with sewing and not paying as much attention to their work. I have a piece of felt that is numbered and we call it the "Needle Garage", all needles need to be safely in the needle garage before anyone leaves the art room.

    Have also done a few sewn sculpture projects with my high school students. Hope to find a sewing machine for my high school classroom. My elementary room is so small, it hardly fits all the students, so no room for one there. I see my elementary students once per week for 40 minutes.

    Thanks for all the great ideas and inspiration. I have picked up many great management tips from you.

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Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate each and every one :)