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.
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