Sewing with Kids, Lesson 6: Responsibility

I think most of us hesitate to teach our kids to sew not because they’re not very interested–they all seem to love the tools and toys and gadgets that go along with sewing–but because we worry that they won’t be able to handle the danger inherent in lots of small, pointy, sharp objects.  This is especially true of the sewing machine: what it they get their little fingers hurt?  What if they yank that knob off and ruin the machine?  Fear is the mindkiller, people.  There are really just the two emotions: love and fear.  Everything else is a variation on those two themes.  So when we are scared our kids can’t handle something, it’s very often that we’re worried about them, scared the outcome won’t be something we can control, afraid that they’ll fail (or we will).  Our job as parents, though, is about passing the baton and encouraging our children to trust us first, and then to trust themselves.  And if we don’t give them chances to practice that trust, how can we build it over time?  I want my children to know that they can rely on me to always be looking out for them, and to learn that as they grow older they’ll need me less and less.  Which is as it should be.  In order for them to fly the nest down the road, I want to plant the seed today for them to wisely evaluate their choices (and dangerous situations of all kinds).  I want them to learn to be responsible.

“It’s When You Do Something Without Having To Be Told To Do It.”

Famously, I asked our four-year-old what it means to be responsible.  She replied, “It’s when you do something without being told to do it.”  Mouths of babes, y’all.  And ultimately, that’s what I hope for my kids: an inner-directedness that tells them when something is right, when it is wrong, when it is wise, when it will better their lives as opposed to just making their lives more complicated.  And while I can have a conversation with my 15-year-old about those ideas (and have, with the scars to prove it), it’s a little tougher with a preschooler.  She does understand concrete ideas, though, like that pins can poke you, and we really should be careful to put them away so we don’t get hurt.  And she understands that her actions have an impact on others: she’s not just worried that she will get poked by a stray pin, she doesn’t want her baby sister to get hurt, either, because “babies don’t know any better.”  Well said.

Which makes a pin cushion the perfect project to give us a chance to talk about being responsible.  Miss M really, really wants the privilege of sewing and using pins and needles–and super really wants to be able to have her own sewing supplies, all to herself.  So we talked about how having a privilege always comes with a responsibility, and you don’t get to keep the one without the other.  Naturally, pins need pin cushions, a place where they can be responsibly stored, away from the exploring mouths of little crawlers.


  • two scraps, cut square (about 5″ or so).  Allow your child to choose from your scrap bin, or pick out their own fabric.
  • neutral thread
  • sewing machine
  • a good night’s sleep

If you’re a Nervous Nelly, I can’t recommend that last supply strongly enough, because today we introduce the children to The Machine.  Most kids CANNOT WAIT to sew with a sewing machine, but I for one am not prepared to just sit them in front of it and set them loose.  That foot pedal can get away from most adults the first go-round, so a little guided practice is certainly in order here.  See the video below for Miss M’s very, very first introduction to the machine as operator.  We’d talked about the needle and the importance of keeping her fingers away, but outside of that, she had very little direct instruction prior to this experience:

Movie star, indeed. I would suggest a short talk about parts of the machine and why we have to be careful, and then you drive the foot pedal and keep a straight line while allowing them to get accustomed to the movement of the needle bar and the noise of the machine.  (I did this only with our four-year-old and not with our two-year-old, but I honestly think he could have handled it as well.)

Stitch your two squares together using a narrow 1/4″ seam allowance.  Allow your child to put her hands on the fabric as it’s moving, so they feel they’re part of the controls.  Use steady, slow pressure on the foot pedal to avoid too much noise or movement–machines can be scary!

Turn right side out and stuff VERY full and firm with FiberFill.  Kids LOVE this part.

Then use a whipstitch or slipstitch to close the opening.  I held the edges together to make it easier for little fingers to get the needle through.

She couldn’t wait to take her new pin cushion upstairs, and asked special permission to keep it in her room, on her dresser, so she could have it near her always.  Made my heart proud, it did.

This is a small step toward using the sewing machine.  But it gave me a chance to introduce her slowly, let her feel the power of the motor, and ensure that she’d consider it a giant privilege to get to sew with Mommy, like the big girls do.  I loved seeing that there is something in small children, something inborn, that makes them want to have responsibility, that makes them want to learn to be in charge of something, to have the privilege of looking out and having authority.  And I am always amazed at the way they seem to understand without having to be told that any authority is precarious, that it muse be tended, and that it is something to treasure.  I loved watching her thrill as she was allowed to sit at the machine, her excitement as we completed such a quick, simple project, and her smile float behind her as she dashed away to show it off to Daddy.  Happy day.

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  • Kim
    March 31, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    What a gentle way to introduce your child to the machine. Thanks!

  • Shari
    March 31, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    I love this idea and will plan to do the project with my daughter this weekend. She is so curious about my sewing machine, but honestly I’m just fearful of letting her near it when it’s on. I’m excited to have this little project to introduce her to sewing….thanks so much for sharing it!

  • liveacolorfullife
    March 31, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    this is such a great series! Thank you.

  • Debbie
    March 31, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Such a great way to introduce kids to a sewing machine! Your new machine looks awesome, and your daughter is absolutely adorable!

  • elle @ whipstitch
    March 31, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    If I sit on your lap, can I sew on your new Bernina too? Please, please!