Button Sorting

button sorting to build brain skills

The other day I walked into our kitchen and found this on the counter.  The children had taken the giant trifle bowl filled with random buttons that I keep in my sewing room, and were sorting them by type.

sorting activity for kids

It’s like when you give your kids a gift and they want to play with the box: sometimes I wonder why we strive so much to provide “valuable” activities for our children when they are clearly so capable of engaging in work that feeds their brains with minimal guidance from us.  I didn’t suggest that they sort buttons.  I didn’t even set these out for them to discover–they saw the bowl on the counter, and organizing the buttons was their natural inclination.

There is a ton of research to support sorting activities as brain-builders for kids.  So while I do find myself wondering why I kill myself and tie my brain into knots thinking I’m not doing ENOUGH to make sure my children are exposed to chances to work their little grey cells, I think there’s a huge value to creating opportunities for them to stumble upon an activity that will enlarge their abilities.  Our children (all but the youngest, poor thing) have all gone to Montessori school for their primary (preschool) years, and that’s a core part of the Montessori philosophy: children have total freedom of choice WITHIN A STRUCTURE of very carefully curated selections.  This allows two things: the kids get to feel the freedom of choosing, but their trajectory is guided by an adult who coaches primarily from the side.  Structure is in place to move children past easy tasks and on to more challenging activities, but it is still the child who is make each selection and moving into new territory willingly.  Open-handed control from the adults to the children, allowing them to follow their natural curiosity while still monitoring the basic human tendency to hunker down with the tasks we know we can easily complete.

button sorting for children

That’s what this felt like.  If I HAD orchestrated the whole button-sorting scenario, I would fully be patting myself on the back right now.  I didn’t, but it’s a good reminder that children love to organize, categorize and assess.  My two youngest–five and seven–were HYPNOTIZED by these buttons.  BUTTONS!!  And what individual who sews doesn’t have a zillion buttons that don’t match, just lying around, that we don’t particularly feel attached to?  I was NOT concerned if one or more of these were misplaced (although I adore those orange flower ones), and when I discovered the kids playing with them, it was easy to let it roll.  Sorting activities have been proven to increase children’s concentration and focus.  They’re also great for small-motor control and can serve to sooth children with sensory-motor issues through the simple repetition and chaos-reduction that’s inherent in the activity.  Many Montessori supply stores carry special sorting products, and button sorting is a long-standing primary-level activity in Montessori classrooms, but you can clearly stumble upon the same activity by happy accident.


When was the last time you sat down and sorted some buttons?  I’m thinking, as we recover from the chaos of the holiday season, that some of us could benefit from the soothing focus that sorting buttons brings.  Good way to get going in the New Year, yes?

Now OPEN for Registration: The Murder Mystery Quilt & the League of Adventurous Dressmakers!

Now open for registration!  Both the Murder Mystery Quilt AND the League of Adventurous Dressmakers are now ready for you to join!

league of dressmakers logo stripes

The League of Adventurous Dressmakers is a monthly subscription club that focuses on in-depth technique lessons for better garment sewing.  As more and more of us seek to sew our own clothes, we want to be sure that we make clothes that are beautiful and well-constructed.  With the League of Adventurous Dressmakers by your side, you’ll do it in superhero style!  In this warm, communal environment, explore key garment-making techniques to making your hand-sewn clothing the best it can be, and get inspired by other dressmakers while you do!  Learn more about the League here!

murder mystery quilt logo

The Murder Mystery Quilt is a monthly subscription club that reads along together and stitches up a quilt to find clues and solve the murder mystery contained in the story.   This is a mystery quilt in the traditional sense–you sew a block each month and the overall design of the quilt isn’t revealed until all the blocks are sewn–but it’s also a MYSTERY quilt: each month, along with the block pattern and design, you receive a chapter of a mystery story.  Each chapter reveals clues as the plot unfolds, and it’s your job to seek out whodunit!  Read background on this project here.

I can’t wait to share this year with all of you, and be part of two big projects I’ve been dreaming up for a very long time.  Use the links above to register, or visit my shop.  You’ll receive a welcome letter automatically when registration is complete, and your first month’s pattern within a week!

Let’s Get Sewing, everyone!!

The Murder Mystery Quilt: Sew It to Solve It

FOR THE 2019 PROJECT, VISIT The Murder Mystery Quilt SITE!

In the first grade, when I was six years old, my class did a unit on Ancient Egypt.  I was, as most children are, completely mesmerized.  The story of Howard Carter and his tenacious pursuit of discovery was–and remains, nearly 100 years later–absolutely captivating.  I adored hearing my teacher read, quietly and with appropriate pauses, of those moments when Carter at last, decades after beginning his search, approached the entrance to what he believed to be the greatest tomb in the Egyptian Valley of the Kings.  I held my breath as Carter and his workmen punched a small hole in the plaster to open up a tomb that had been sealed for millennia.  And I gasped when Carter’s financial sponsor for his quest asked if he could see anything by the light of the candle he thrust through that opening, and Carter replied, “Yes, wonderful things!”

quilted sewing machine cover

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The League of Adventurous Dressmakers: Superheroes Who Make Clothes

When I was in college, I was required by the School of Theatre to do a semester in the costume shop.  Most of the other kids groaned and whined and did whatever they could to get around the requirement.  My reaction was more along the lines of, “Don’t throw me in that there briar patch!”  It was magical, and it changed everything about how I sew.


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New Clubs for 2016: The League of Adventurous Dressmakers and the Murder Mystery Quilt

Hooray, hooray!!  A whole bunch of you have already registered for the 2016 Sewing Buddy Project.  I am beyond delighted to welcome back some familiar faces and to greet some new ones–yippee for Sewing Buddies!!  The Sewing Buddy Project is a year-long pen pal program, and for just $10 you get a personalized pen pal match, monthly emails, sewing prompts and project ideas, plus access to a private Facebook group and lots of support from the community!  I think this year is going to be the best one yet, and at such a small price point and low level of commitment (nothing to send, no deadlines to meet, just a promise to communicate with one another), it’s an excellent way to connect with others and give your sewing a boost.  We can all use a new friend!

In addition to the Sewing Buddies, I am both elated and a little terrified to unveil the other TWO clubs I’ve been busily building for 2016.  These are my babies, and a lot of the courage I found to launch them came when you all confirmed through your survey responses that I’m not crazy for thinking these are really fun, needed ideas.  They combine all my most favorite parts about what I do at Whipstitch: designing curriculum, shooting video, writing, creating patterns, and building community.  These groups, along with the Sewing Buddies, are my primary focus for 2016–if I do nothing else this year than these clubs, I will rest easy and feel fulfilled.  I’ve invested hours and hours, and am nervous and giddy headed into the Big Reveal.  Do you want to hear more about them??

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Sewing Buddy Project Now OPEN for 2016!


The Sewing Buddy Project is BACK!!

Registration is open NOW through January 30, 2016.  All Buddy pair matches will be emailed out no later than February 1, 2016.

The Sewing Buddy Project is a pen pal program.  People from all over the world register, and are matched with a personal pen pal who will communicate with them via email.  You won’t know who your Buddy is or where they’re from until you’re matched, and then the rest is up to you!  This is a year-long commitment to communicate with another person who loves to sew, as simple as that.  For the price of a couple of cups of coffee, you get to meet a new friend and sew together, as much or as little as you like!

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Posts of Christmases Past

Today, on a whim, I searched my own blog to see what I’d posted in past years during Christmas time.  If you had asked me, I would have told you there were two or three posts, four max.  But I’ve been writing for a long time, and it turns out there are a TON of posts about how we do Christmas at our house, what we make, where we go, and what matters to me most at this time of year.  Below, a selection of the best of them, for inspiration and as a snapshot of how our family has grown and how it has stayed the same over the years.

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Take the Surveys!

feedback button square

Yesterday, in my newsletter, I sent out two different surveys looking for feedback as I plan for 2016.

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Holiday Gifts: Tutorials to Get Them Done

What is it with this year?  December is going SO QUICKLY.  Hanukkah is already upon us, you guys!  Seems like usually by this point in the Christmas season, I’ve already cut out most of my projects and have set aside night after night for stitching them up–but this year, I’ve struggled to get my feet under me.  I know I have some folks to sew for, but I haven’t even really determined to make for all of them.

Assuming that I am not the only one in this boat, and that others of you are still searching for the perfect (and perfectly QUICK) project to sew for someone on your list, I’ve gone through the Whipstitch archives and compiled a handy list of tutorials for simple, classic projects that go together in a single sewing session and make great gifts.

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Advent Calendar Sew-A-Long

Advent Calendar Quilt

Years ago, I re-created my mother’s Advent calendar and interpreted it as a quilt-as-you-go project, complete with template.  The year I finally buckled down to make this for our family, I worked on one house a day each day in December, and had a completed calendar by Christmas Eve!  Every year since, I have taken tremendous pleasure in bringing this piece out of storage and adding a ribbon here and a detail there, so that it becomes even more precious to our family as time rolls past. Read More