Teaching my children to sew

What is a good age to teach children to sew, knit, etc?  They often ask to do these things quite young if they see their parents or grand parents doing them, so how early are they likely to be able to learn them?

Here is my experience.

From a very young age (when they are first using paint!) my children have painted fabric that I have then sewn into things.  They've used fabric paint to put hand prints onto calico (or sometimes onto a table that I then press calico onto to make a print), of fabric paint for finger painting that I've then pressed calico onto for a print, and these have been sewn into cushions.  Then when slightly older (say, age 3 or so) they use the sun paints (see the entry under Fabric decorating in this section of the site) and that fabric is made into either t-shirts, skirts or cushions.  They also do lots of other craft like threading pasta (dyed in food colouring) onto wool, gluing fabric scraps and other collage items onto paper, etc.

But what about actually knitting or sewing?

I taught Ms 6 how to do a beanie on the knitting loom about a yr ago, but she only manages to do a round or two then she loses interest.  (I've got the feeling that in another yr Mr 4 may be able to sustain interest longer though!  He can colour in very carefully and neatly for an hour or more even at age 4.)  So she is able to do the loom knitting, but just doesn't stick at it. Certainly something I'd recommend trying with a 6 yr old though.  When she's done a bit of it, I often add a few rows at night just so it looks like its progressing quicker.  I've also taught her how to finger knit, which she can do quite well, but it doesn't tend to turn into anything interesting, so she doesn't have much interest in doing it for long.

Yrs ago at about age 6 or so, my niece asked me to teach her how to knit, which I tried doing.  She wasn't very successful at it, and now even about
about age 14 if I suggest that she might like to learn to knit, she says something like "No, I'm no good at that. I wouldn't be able to do it.
Remember you already tried to teach me once."  So I'm always very hesitant to teach any of the others to knit when I think they may be too young.  If
they want to learn, I say they have to fingerknit first - as that teaches them about holding the wool, pulling one end for tightening and the other
for loosening, etc.  They also have to loom knit before I'll teach them to knit.  Then I would teach them to chain in crochet and possibly a scarf in
crochet before knitting!  The less needles they have to drop the better!

And now for sewing ... I start the kids with hand sewing felt first, and they do that at 3-4 yrs old.  I have little felt finger puppet shapes (just
like a rectangle with the top curved) and I punch holes in that with a tiny punch, so that the place for the needle already has a hole.  They sew around
that using a big wool needle and then they draw on a face etc with a fabric texta.  Both Ms 6 and Mr 4 have loved doing that - although Ms 6 wouldn't be interested now as she's done lots of them, but Mr 4 just did a few and keeps asking to do "more hand sewing".  After a couple with texta faces, you can pre-cut out things like elephant ears and trunk, and add googly eyes, which can all be glued on, so they can make finger puppets to go with songs etc. These have been the most successful hand sewing things we've done, probably because they're quite quick for the kids to do.  And I don't fuss with them doing the stitch the same all the way around - it tends to go in different directions - as long as it goes in the holes around the edge in order.  Mr 4 did two the other day, and I can see such a big difference in the neatness of his stitches from the first to the second, even without me saying anything to him about it.

I have also done latch hooking and I think long stitch with Ms 6 (we did these about a yr ago), using those preprinted mats, but she really doesn't tend to stick at them.  Would consider trying again though.

Since Christmas I have started teaching Ms 4 machine sewing though, and she's doing very well at it.  I bought her a Janome mini sewing machine for
Christmas, as I figured there were less buttons to play with and the pedal only goes one speed which is quite slow ($99AU).  It isn't a toy machine, but is small and simple - seems well made though.  I expect it will last her perhaps a yr and then it will be time for Mr 4 to learn on it, but it looks like it should last though for all the kids to learn on, so a worthwhile purchase I think.  I do have an old sewing machine of mine that I planned on having them learn on, but I like this mini machine as a step on the way to that - it is a lot slower!

I've told her that it is a real machine, and she can only use it if she follows the "lessons" in a sewing book I gave her, and I'm helping her with them  I've said we'll try a skirt or something like that when she finishes the first book.  Here is where I got the book.  You can order it in hard copy to be sent to you, but I didn't want to pay postage or to wait, so I ordered the "E" version, printed it and bound it with a comb binder so that she would see it as a "real book".  Its been very good - "Catch the Sewing Bug".  I also bought the "Sewing Teacher Resources" which so far I've mostly used for the pages with lines on them etc for starting off.

I made her sew the practice lines, curves, stars, etc on paper before I let her put thread in the machine, which she enthusiastically did, then we did
the first two tasks in the book - a felt needle case and a felt pin cushion. After then I deviated from the book to let her so some coloured bunting to
decorate her room, and we'll go on with the next task in the book after that.  She's looked ahead and is very excited because she wants to do everything in yellow and lime green so she can end up decorating her room - there's a cushion and similar as further projects in the book.  I also got
her to draw her own smallish monster to make into a felt softie, which she did nicely.  Just stitched on the outside - didn't turn it inside out.

I bought her an old picnic basket from an op shop and have told her that's for her sewing things, and she loves getting them out and looking at them -
her pin cushion, needle book, and the learn to sew book.  And everytime I let her do sewing, she's very excited and hugs me and says thanks for the
machine, etc.  She loves it.  She did lose motivation a bit with all the triangles for the bunting, so I did a few of those for her, but she still feels as though she has completed the project and it does look great in her room - if it had taken more then a day or so I think she would have given
up, so I wanted it finished quickly so we could move on to the next project. I think this could be key for her, and perhaps for anyone her age although
I'm sure others could persist more - quick projects for a quick sense of achievement.  After all, she still has only done a couple of inches of her loom beanie, and that was started about a yr ago, and she rarely wants to do it!

I tell Mr 4 that you get to start to sew on the machine (which he's keen to do) at the end of your first year at kindy (school).  I think that is probably a good time, as it is helpful to read a bit, and they have that bit more patience and co-ordination.  He's accepted that well, as I do give ages for things that they want to learn.  They get to start learning piano when they turn 6 as long as they can read reasonably by then - and Mr 4 is use to being told that, as Ms 6 has started learning.  When I do machine sewing with Ms 6, he just asks to do hand sewing, so I'll have to think of more easy hand
sewing tasks.  (Tried to teach Ms 6 simple running stitch embroidery recently on hols, and with the first mistake she made she wanted to give up!)  I'll
probably set 7 or 8 as the age for knitting I think, but I'll see how we go Ms 6 will have to finish her loom beanie first!!!!  I'm going to try and set aside a time once a week - a bit like piano lessons - for sewing lessons for Ms 6, as I think that otherwise I'll always be putting it off.  Also it means if she is hassling me to get out the machine other days, I can say - not until .. whatever day it ends up being, and she'll know that it is on then.