In our reader survey last August, a very harried mother of a toddler asked "Help! How do I sew with a toddler trying to re-thread my machine, rummage through my sewing box and take all the books off the bookshelf?!?"
YWU's main goal is to unlock your sewing potential, either through teaching difficult techniques, opening up new research or helping members to overcome health and safety issues that are keeping you from being able to sew.
If you've never tried to sew while having a child around, you can have no idea how frustrating/challenging it can be for the adult and very dangerous for the child. Many new parents feel like they will never be able to sew again once they have children because of the hot iron and powered sewing machine that are like magnets to children. This article allows those of us with children to share tips with those who are new parents or have been afraid to try sewing with children.
My favorite picture of my son Henry was taken when he was not yet two, sitting at my sewing machine with a huge grin on his face, "helping" Mommy with a sewing commission. Fortunately, the sewing machine was unplugged, the needle down, and the scissors far away from him, three key safety measures that I learned as soon as he figured out how to climb!
My favorite time to sew or draft patterns is when he's asleep, but that's not always possible. So he gets his own big piece of paper to draw patterns on while I work on mine. When it's time to cut out the pattern and he insists on helping, I'm teaching him how to smooth out the fabric and lay out pieces. It's not all idyllic; sometimes it's just time to call it quits and go watch a movie or play outside before all my hair turns grey.
Our house is pretty small, and I don't currently have the space for a dedicated sewing room. Right now my sewing storage area is divided between the garage and the guest bedroom. Since most of my sewing happens during the daytime when my son Henry (age 3) is awake, I have my current sewing project stored in plastic bins with locking lids. All my project materials go in the bins, and I can easily move my sewing machine and bins out from the guest bedroom, into the dining room and set up on the table. When I'm done sewing, I pack things up, put them away in the bins and it all goes back in the sewing room. It's not ideal, but it's certainly better than not being able to sew at all!
Henry always wants to be in the same room or in the next room over from where I am, so being able to sew in the dining room allows Henry to be able to play with his toys or watch a movie while I sew, and having limited sewing equipment out restricts the amount of mischief he can get into with my tools, especially since he loves to play with spools of thread and unwind them.
I've tried to teach him a healthy respect for the sewing machine; he enjoys examining the threading mechanism to see how it works. I have some tools in my tool box that he knows he can play with, like my rubber finger tips and the tape measure (I have two, so I always have a spare!), and he knows what tools he's not allowed to play with, such as the scissors.
Sometimes though, he just needs Mommy time, so we do trade-offs. I set the timer and I'll play with him for 10 minutes, and then he has to leave me alone until the timer goes off again (usually 15-20 mins).
However, there are some things that are just best done when you don't have a little "helper", such as setting grommets! There's nothing quite like trying to set grommets/eyelets in a corset with a little scamp trying to steal your hammer!
I gave my son his own pin magnet. It has a short handle with a long magnet on it. He used it to pick up all the pins that fell in my sewing room while I was sewing. I did have to say an extremely complicated magic word to get the pins back, but it kept him busy for short stretches of time.
I have two boys and a girl on the way. The boys are three-and-a-half and one-and-a-half at this time. When it comes to sewing with my boys I have found that many things are easier to do if they are not in the same room as me. Ironing when they are hiding under the ironing board and thus shaking it is terrifying!
But you can't exclude them all the time. I have found that the best way is to include them when cutting out pattern pieces. I discovered one night that my youngest manages scissors very well, and even holds pens properly - something his older brother does not do. So I will give them the scraps to play with. I also have a set of "sewing board" toys to amuse them specifically when I am sewing. Since these are not toys they normally get to play with, they have a great deal of novelty in them.
I do most of my pattern drafting on the computer using a CAD program. This means that they have less of a chance to ruin my patterns as I am drafting them. (Just remember to save often.)
Both my husband and I have had to learn to put away all tools in locking boxes when we are not using them. Children will climb: there is nothing more fun than having a toddler bring you a scalpel (no injuries) and other sharp objects.
Get the biggest, brightest pin heads you can find. They are easier to find, though also more attractive to small children.
Use safety pins when pinning muslins and hems instead of straight pins. They are less likely to come out and get lost, or poke an inquisitive child.
I have found that hand sewing is easier to pick up and put down quickly. Also, if you're working on a smaller project, you can carry it with you from room to room as you chase after the children. If it is a long project like hemming a skirt, draping it around your shoulders keeps it out of the way.
Keep your thread spools out of their reach! Children will unroll them, get themselves tangled up in the loose threads and then complain to you about it.
Utilize nap time. Have your spouse entertain the children, or put on a movie when you need to iron or cut out fabric, especially large projects.
Making something for the children every once in a while will install some understanding of what it is you are doing, and show them the benefits of giving you the time to do so. Children's clothing can be made up much quicker than adults', just in the size factor. Engaging them as much as possible is good for them - have them pick out fabric at the store, let them put it in the wash, tell them what you are doing and how it will benefit them when it is finished.
My top tip would be to buy a old fashioned hand operated sewing machine. Then, when they want to do sewing for "real" they don't accidently stitch their fingers to their masterpiece! Plus, it has the added advantage that you have better control as to the speed of the stitching. I started by turning the wheel for my son Reece (now aged twelve) until he was happy with feeding the fabric through (and he loved being the one to shout "STOP" and "GO"). Then he gradually took over.
Always stitch something they are excited about - over-the-door organisers are BORING!!! We might want them to make one in the hope that they keep some part of the house tidy, but they are less concerned. We started making finger puppets out of felt and gradually moved on to making animals and monsters. Now, of course, it's all custom mobile phone [cellphone] holders, school and laptop bags!
My daughter's way to help me was drawing exactly what she wanted for Halloween or Faire garb. She really has a good eye for what will look good on her. She learned how I modify existing patterns, and learned the process of making muslins and doing adjustments to get exactly what she wanted. As a result, she was able to wear a Xena costume a year before the pattern for that costume was commercially available. The year that she went to her Senior Prom was the year of the "ugly prom dress"--everything that was available looked like dye in tropical colors had been thrown at the fabric, and then the dress was run through a chipper shredder! We used a bridal pattern to make her a lovely classic dress in a color that was attractive on her.
When she got older, I showed her how to work from a pattern to make a few outfits on her own, with some guidance from me. At this point, all she needs is occasional hand holding and assurance that she can do it. She excels at hand sewing beads onto trim, and trim onto garments. Sadly, whenever she takes handwork to her college, she attracts a crowd. It seems that sewing is somewhat of a lost art in her generation, at least in our area.