Sewing with Kids, Lesson 5: Kindness

I think kindness is under-rated in our world.  When most of us think about “the way things used to be” or “the Good Old Days,” am I wrong in thinking that what we’re really longing for is simple kindness?  Just behavior that recognizes that we’re humans, and we’re surrounded by other humans, and none of us is perfect (which is part of what makes us great), and that just a little patience and understanding will go a long way to diffusing the anger and anxiety that seems to eat at our world day in and day out?  Just some kindness.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m working to make sure that I begin changing the world by starting at home.  Making sure everything is tidy on my side of the street.  No use casting stones from a glass house.  So we’re working on kindness right now.  I’m not asking everyone to always love everyone else, and I’m not saying we can’t be human and make mistakes and have crappy days sometimes.  I’m just saying, Be Kind.  And start with those you see every day.

Come to think of it, I once went out with a guy who wasn’t always very polite–didn’t want to hold open doors or press the button on elevators or pick up after himself.  He argued that because we were dating, he shouldn’t have to do those things.  Pardon me, home slice, but that’s WHY you do those things: the closer the relationship, the more you ought to work to be kind.  (Needless to say, I handed him his walking papers.  Girl’s gotta have her standards.)  So with the children, we began by talking about kind things we could do for our own family, and that lead to thinking about something we could sew that would show we care.

Something for the Furry Family Member

My husband has a very sweet dog.  I do not have a dog.  My husband has a dog.  I don’t dislike the dog; I just have four children and a business.  So I don’t have room for a dog.  But being kind is sometimes about sacrifice, about going the extra mile in order to make an effort, a gesture, for someone you love–even if you have to put yourself out to do it.  Today’s sewing activity: making a gift for the dog.

We really are at the point where it’s time for the kids to operate a sharp needle in their sewing.  At our house, I wasn’t quite ready to have my two-year-old driving the needle boat, so we did this activity while he was napping.  I think he might need a little more manual dexterity to aim the needle in the direction it needs to go to complete a “real” project (as opposed to the randomness of the embroidery), and I want to work to avoid making him feel frustrated.  So this one is just me and our four-year-old.


  • craft felt
  • embroidery needles and floss
  • template (get one here)
  • scissors
  • poly fiber-fill (“fluff”)
  • a pet (or small human) to whom to give the resulting masterpiece

The Lesson

Using craft felt (she chose red–regardless of the fact that it is very hard to photograph well), we cut out doggie bone shapes.  To make your own–for dogs or cats–download the templates of dog bones and fish!  Cut out two of each shape. Note: if you’re using craft felt with any polyester content, do this cutting with your PAPER scissors, not your fabric scissors–poly is notoriously hard on blades, and can dull them quickly.

Next, I demonstrated the whipstitch we’d be using to sew the front to the back.  With both pieces held together, I stitched over and around the outer edges to create the soft toy.  We used sharp embroidery needles and embroidery floss in a double-thickness.  By getting down close to my child and letting her peek at what I was working on, I could show her how to move the needle and avoid tangles so she could stitch one piece to the other.

Next, I had her do some guided practice, where I held the fabric and she moved the needle.  This puts my hands right next to hers to I can micro-correct her as she goes–avoiding pokes while also making sure that she got results she’d like (which in turn motivates her to keep trying).

She let me know–loud and clear–when she’d had enough guided practice and was ready to stitch on her own.  (Most kids do.)  She took over the reins and did some independent practice, moving her needle front-to-back and making tiny stitches.  As she worked, I did, too, moving ahead of her and preparing for the next step.  You might find that your kids get impatient and don’t necessarily use good technique or get tidy, neat results–dude, that’s cool.  Don’t expect perfection.  They’ll require whatever level of perfection from themselves that they’re ready for.  There’s no reason to encourage them to be sloppy, but at the same time, don’t suck all the fun out of it by asking that it be flawless first time out.

We left an opening a little more than 2″ wide along one straight edge so we could access the inside and stuff.  No need to turn inside out–we’ve whipstitched the outer edges of this craft felt, so it’s a pretty direct sewing project.  When I left the opening, I left floss on my needle and just allowed it to dangle on the side while stuffing–that way, when the bone was full, I could just pick up whipstitching where I left off and finish securing the outer edge.  I did the same with my little girl’s.

We busted out the polyester fluff and began to fill the shapes we’d stitched.  The trick with poly-fill is to use little bitty bits when you stuff–most of us want to grab a clump and shove it in, but the smaller the bits, the less likely it is to ball up on the inside (especially when laundered).  So little hands are perfect for this task.  Plus, who doesn’t love stuffing things full?

With the project complete, it was time to test our kindness.  We’d spent some time talking as we worked about how much Daddy would like it that we’d done something so nice for the dog, how much the dog would like what we’d made, and which of our two bones the dog would like better.  Our girl decided the dog would prefer her gift to mine, and made sure to tell me so.  More than once.  I figured I’d choose my battles and not insist too strongly that sometimes “winning” isn’t all that kind.  We’ll worry about that another day–plus, she might have been right for all I knew, and at least we were going to collect some empirical evidence one way or the other.  I can argue “nice” all day long, but it’s hard to argue in the face of cold, hard data.

At first, the dog wasn’t all that impressed, and was kinda wondering why we kept shoving things in her face.  Baby thought it was pretty great, though.

But what pup can resist something they’re allowed encouraged to chew to bits?  In the end, the dog DID enjoy my girl’s gift more than mine.  Take that, Mommy.

My Sappy Take-Away

In the end, it was easy to talk to my child about being kind.  Kids really are, at the end of the day.  They can be cruel, but when they see hurt in someone else’s eyes, most children are motivated to reach out and show kindness.  I found that by taking part of her day and playing with Mommy, I felt that she’d been kind to me, giving me another moment of what’s left of her little-girl-hood to remember when she gets bigger.  I can talk all day long about how I’m teaching my kids Life Lessons through sewing, but more important is having a minute to look back one when the world was closer to what I want it to be.

Thanks, kid.

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  • Sewing Princess
    February 22, 2011 at 4:53 am

    I’m with you on this one… we too often forget kindness, especially with the closest and dearest people. I will remember your words. Thanks

  • Jennifer
    November 26, 2012 at 12:16 am

    This is the coolest blog ever! I am a first grade teacher in Green Bay, WI and CAN’T WAIT to start this entire “curriculum” with my kids! Very well written (I love your humor and voice!) — Thank you, *Thank you* ***THANK YOU*** 🙂 God Bless.