Anna Hergert, Art & Design

Who will Teach the Children?


It’s time to feature one of the questions left as a comment last week. Calanca asks:

“Who will teach our young children (boys and girls), the art of stitchery? Many schools are eliminating “Home Ec” at the junior high level, yet I believe the spark should occur much earlier. Time and distance do not allow the ‘learning at grandmother’s knee’ for the children. I am happy that my granddaughter has the ‘yearn to learn’ for both quilting and knitting (blame on both maternal and paternal grandmothers), but we (Nana and Grandma) are ‘hooped’ by long distances.

While I take every opportunity to expand my own horizons, I’m not seeing much opportunity for the ‘kidlets’. This topic could make for some lively discussions, and perhaps solutions. I’d personally be happy to conduct some classes during school breaks for ‘kidlets’, but would probably need guidance. Are there references out in the ether on how to teach young children? I’ll be discussing this with retired art teachers to get their feedback.”

First and foremost: Thank you so much for posting this question. The topic is near and dear to my heart, and I am so glad you are thinking of sharing the tradition of stitching with both girls and boys.

You are wondering whether resources exist online. Just google “teaching children to stitch” and a multitude of blogs and other resources instantly appear on the screen. This would be a good way to start, much like a visit to the local library will yield results. However, so often we, the adults, have high expectations and children have short attention spans.

I used to be a part-time handwork teacher and early childhood educator at the Calgary Waldorf School. I draw my knowledge from these years, as well as my own grammar and middle school handwork lessons while growing up in Germany. I was fortunate enough to have my maternal grandmother awaken a strong interest in embroidery when I was just 4 years old. Great memories…

I am sure you are not interested in my personal journey, so here are some ideas and projects for young children. Keep in mind to pace yourself and the children. Patience, affirmations and positive feedback is of utmost importance. This will ensure that the young person enjoys the time spent on learning a new skill outside of school. If the project is a functional item or a gift for a parent the child will engage with increased interest. Set up regular sessions, once a week for an hour is sufficient. Keep in mind: Younger children (4 – 6 years old) will not be able to keep their attention on a project for more than 15 to 20 minutes.

Let’s begin with the youngest age group I have taught, the Pre-school and Kindergarten student. In the classroom setting we used to cook and bake with the children and ultimately share this food. The first project the children worked on was hemming a napkin. I know this sounds daunting, however, it was kept very simple to ensure completion:  Prepare a piece of cotton approximately 12″ and fold over the edges, press well. Now help the child thread a needle with 2 or 3 strands of cotton floss and use a simple running stitch to secure the first of the four edges. Don’t worry about hiding knots. Work only one side during each session/day. Once the napkin is hemmed add the child’s initials.

Another great project for the pre-schooler is finger knitting. Use a heavier yarn (chunky or Aran style rather than DK or worsted weight) and show the child how to make a chain with his/her fingers. The first project is usually a bracelet or necklace. Soon the boys will finger knit belts and leashes for their stuffed animals. Don’t be surprised if the children produce countless yards of finger knitting. These can be coiled and sewn together into hot pads and sometimes even a floor mat for the young knitter’s bedroom.

Once the child knows how to finger knit it is only a matter of time before they ask for knitting needles. I am a great believer that casting on is not something a young child has to master till about Grade 3. The adult can easily cast on 10 – 15 stitches and introduce the knitted stitch to create garter stitch rows for a first scarf. Don’t worry about holes or missed stitches – those first knitted scarves or squares are precious. Practice makes perfect, and overlooking imperfections is more important then ripping out each mistake.

When it comes to embroidery, back stitch follows the humble running stitch. Each child is different. If interest heightens move to French knots and lazy daisy stitches next. Just combining these stitches can create wonderful patterns that are easy to execute.

By Grade 2 crochet is age appropriate. Don’t be surprised if your student is more interested in knitting, or the other way around. This is quite common. Pot holders and face cloths are excellent beginner crochet projects. Start with chaining and single crochet, moving to double crochet once confidence is established.

As the child moves toward Grade 3 (age 9) knitting a small bag with knit and purl stitches is an appropriate project. This is also a good time to introduce the child to a sewing machine. Joining simple seams to create a small patchwork top is ideal. Pre-cut charm squares lend themselves well to such a project. Let the children pick colors and prints for unique and creative results. Make sure the child is closely supervised when using a sewing machine. If the machine has a setting for slower sewing, engage this function. Some sewing machine manufacturers sell feet with finger guards. These may be a wise investment if you plan to sew with young children on a regular basis.

In Grade 4 it is a great idea to review past embroidery experiences. Present the children with a sheet of graph paper and felt tip pens. Now encourage them to draw out small geographic patterns that can easily be converted into embroidery designs for a table runner or a purse. Printing on fabric is another wonderful project. It is relatively quick and easy. The resulting fabric may be embellished with embroidery. How about adding a little crocheted border? This is also the age where introducing “knitting in the round” is appropriate. Children who have been knitting since Grade 1 are ready to tackle mittens or small dolls and animals.

One skill builds on the previous, and soon the children will come up with new ideas and designs on their own. Give them the freedom to do so, lend support and encouragement and help with trouble shooting.

What’s next? Check back on Tuesday and see what Grade 5 and upward can accomplish when it comes to handwork, embroidery and sewing. As always, please weigh in with a comment if you are interested. Additional suggestions are welcome and discussion greatly encouraged.

Do you have a question you want answered or discussed on this blog? Please leave them below for a chance to win a small framed art piece. You have until May 15th to participate. More info on this contest may be found in the March 31st post.


This entry was published on April 7, 2013 at 7:18 am. It’s filed under Special Project, Studio / Workshop / Creative Space Challenge and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

16 thoughts on “Who will Teach the Children?

  1. Katina on said:

    I realized recently that I hadn’t seen any of your blogs lately. Being Sunday I checked today and sure enough, nothing. Starting with this one I am commenting on. Not in the trash so I don’t know what has happened. Should I sign up again….seems strange after all these years. I knew something was missing from my life, it was Anna.


  2. Hi Anna,
    While not a quilter, I enjoy your blogs hugely. They definitely cross textile “boundaries”, (if such a thing really exists). Thank you.
    I couldn’t let the topic of textiles and children pass by without mention of braiding. Kids as young a four can braid the Fill-Gap braid on an octagonal card with 7 threads. It is ideal because it requires minimal dexterity, unlike spool/French knitting or even finger weaving. It teaches a lot about colour and texture, can be picked up and laid down indefinitely for short attentions spans, etc.

    The Braid Society has a PDF I’d be glad to pass on. How would I do this? if you like the idea.


    • Shirley, thank you so much for adding your valuable comment about braiding! I neglected to include this subject, my apologies. Braiding is an excellent activity that can be introduced at a very young age. It can move through the ages by adding more strands and sequences, truly one handwork skill that never grows “old”.
      To add the link to the PDF just include the url into a comment. Or feel free to send me the information directly. I will then post it for everyone.


  3. Linda Macullo on said:

    Hi Anna,

    I am honoured and humbled by your thoughtful and thorough response to my blog query. I have to admit that I was being a bit of a devil’s advocate when I posed the question, and am delighted with the response you have received. Many times as adults we share expertise with our contemporaries, yet forget that there are children with open minds and empty hands who would be thrilled to learn the wonders of working with textiles.

    What you and some of your respondants have given those of us who enjoy working with children, is an excellent template for success for both the students and teachers.

    This summer will see my 4th annual 2 week textile bootcamp with my 7 year old granddaughter who is already a successful knitter. She will be receiving my old Janome, and we are going to quilt, create mixed media art, and sun dye fabric together. It will be a fun journey!


    • Linda, I am glad your question yielded so many great responses and might provide a template for those working with children. I did appreciate the question and found this a great way to summarize my past experiences. Let’s pass on the knowledge and have fun along the way! All the best, Anna


  4. I really enjoyed this post, Anna. And I love the artwork! One thing that is interesting up here in our little town, is how many kids are learning to knit. I don’t think it’s normal all over Norway, as it was 50 years ago, but at the after-school program and at home,many kids are learning to knit. I started with our oldest daughter (6), and then she really took off at the after school program. And our son (5) just learned when he was visiting his friend. But of course, in the school curriculum, art and handcrafts are not a priority.


    • Hi Erica, it is good to hear that knitting is still being shared with children, no matter where they live. Norway’s rich history in knitting might have something to do with the continuation of the craft. And I do see a resurgence in knitting everywhere I look. As long as parents and grandparents, teachers and after school leaders introduce the children to handwork it will not be forgotten! Thanks for sharing your story!


  5. Leona Larsen on said:

    Another activity that would interest children are doodles or zendoodles with fine markers or coloured pencils. This can then lend itself to cutting out fabric and needle and thread following the lines. Of course, the doodles should be well spaced inorder for the embroidery to work. My grandaughter and I zendoodle alot and we have downloaded lots of info and copied patterns off of the internet. Also have bought a couple of books “Time to Tangle with Colors and The Art of Zentangle” which are not expensive on Amazon and so much fun to learn from. She has also learned to use my sewing machine with the slow speed and has a small quilt started which she may finish by 2016, but that is ok as long as she is having fun and learning too. Another thing that kids like are crayons made for fabric. First you color a picture onto paper and they iron onto fabric. I have two quilts that are atleast 35 years old with pictures copied onto fabric that have been sewn into small quilts that I love to look at off an on through the years. Brings back memories and tells alot about their personalities at the time and how they still have not changed that much.
    Yikes I am going on and on. Sorry. Leona


    • Leona – thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences with your grand-daughter. She is a lucky gal and will treasure her time with you all her life, trust me – I am still grateful for my grandmother’s patience and help.
      All your activities are super exciting and should keep any kid happy and busy for a very long time. So appreciate your comment!


  6. Dixie Lee, on said:

    Hi Anna,
    I had met you a few years ago at the first 2 Big Sky Retreats at Olds and my Friend Dianne Firth I believe you know from the Fiber Arts group.

    Anyway I agree with you about teaching kids the art of Quilting, sewing, etc. I had run 3 sessions of learning to sew and 1 beginner quilt class. I did not to any since last Nov. as my health wasn’t great and I hate to start something and not be able to finish. I learned a great deal about teaching the kids and adults as well.

    I did not do this alone as my good friend Myrtle Maskell (age 86) taught with me. We had both gone to NAIT but at different time and we also learned a great deal from each other.
    There is not much out there for the kids to learn the sewing skills and at the high school it is just a teacher who happens to sew doing the teaching and it is very basic as that is what I have been told. From the fed back we received they all learned a great deal.
    I still pass on via email good info when I find it.
    You can watch for the Canadian quilter Magazine, I believe it will be in the summer issue, a bit that I sent into Jo Ferguson, when I seen her notice about teaching kids how to quilt and I replied back to her about the info we had found out what works and what didn’t.

    We had obtained a grant to help us out with rent and where able to keep our cost to a minim. It was more like a good deed than as paid teachers but was so nice to be able to pass on our years of knowledge. It was a real joy to teach the ones who wanted to really learn how to sew. Some days I don’t know who had more fun them or us. Dixie Lee


    • Hi Dixie Lee – so nice of you to post a comment. This is a comment full of great information for anyone interested in setting up children’s programs. I completely agree: What children get in school is very basic and there is little help they can get at home as often their parents are busy or have no experience themselves.
      Unfortunately there is still a misconception “out there” that handwork is “women’s work” and does not hold up to technological knowledge. I was told more than once during parent teacher interviews that handwork wasn’t important – so why should a parent waste time signing up for a time slot… Handwork teaches real life problem solving skills, it teaches a child about math, geometry, social skills, creativity and so much more.
      Thank you again for taking the time to weigh in. I really appreciate you sharing.


  7. This topic is also near and dear to my heart. I have always done crafts with my 3 grandkids – now 8 yrs, 9 years, and 11. I made over a small guest bedroom to be a craft room. And also my sewing machine in my own studio as well. My one grandson who is the 9 yr old still loves to do crafts – his parents kept him away from computers, game technology up until last year – that is when the his school mates did indeed pressure him to join in the technology games. He even saved his own money to buy his own I-touch pad so he could play games. The other 2 grandkids were ‘swamped’ with technology a couple of years before this. Sadly now they would rather do this than crafts. But hopefully they will remember the joy we had together and do this on their own later??? But we still have our monthly day together and do physical things outside or at the swimming pool which is important too!


    • Thanks Karen. I would imagine that most grand-parents, provided they live close to their grand-children will embrace the opportunity to share their skills. I owe much to my grandmother, and I honor her in every work I create. Children are often exposed to crafting opportunities in other walks of life as well. We are specifically focused on handwork such as embroidery and quilting in this series of posts.
      Technology is a sign of the times and is here to stay. How can we incorporate technology into handwork activities? Designing patterns on the iPad instead of paper might be one way to get started. I do not worry when children eventually get swept up in technology. If a strong foundation has been laid with handwork and developing dexterity I trust that once the children get older they will remember what they have learned in younger years.
      My daughter (31) was never really too excited about handwork at the Waldorf School – now she leads interest groups among her friends and youth groups in craft activities ranging from knitting to sculpture to bookbinding. What we need to remember is the importance to strike a good balance with physical activity and the time children (and for that matter us adults) spend sitting.


  8. I once taught an after school club for 8 – 11’s. One of the most popular things each year was to take a sketch they had produced in class and transfer it to the front of a T-shirt. This was then embellished using simple stitches – so each child had an original and unique garment to wear. Compliments ran high from parents and the children loved wearing them. Transferring is easy with computer transfer paper, but we used a photocopy, scribbled on the reverse with chalk then fabric crayon, then went over the design using a hard pen. Does this make sense?


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