Sunday, January 28, 2007

Not so little now

Julia has been going into periodic funks about being "the smallest one" and not being able to do anything right, or well, or by herself. They don't last that long, but she really means it, and definitely doesn't want to hear that "everyone starts out small" or "you're learning more and more all the time" or "there are lots of things you do really well."

I like babies, and like being around them. And I like other grownups of any age. But these in-between ages are really not my forte - it's nice now that we can enjoy watching some of the same videos, and we had some success with the UNO Stacko game my parents sent for Christmas (good call!), but when I'm cooking, say, I'd really just rather get it done than help them "help" me. We tried a little hand sewing a while back, but I had to do so much of the setting up, and the results were so wobbly that I kept putting Robin off when she asked to do some more.

But when Julia got upset about being The Littlest One again yesterday I thought that, with Alex out of town and a Sunday coming up with absolutely nothing at all to do, maybe we could address the situation by actually teaching her to do something that even she couldn't deny was "grown up." I decided to let them start learning to use the sewing machine.

I wasn't sure how well it would work, but I thought that Julia (who is 5) could probably handle it well enough to feel that she had been an active participant.

After breakfast I got out the box of six-inch squares that I collected so avidly and then never actually used, folded back the quilts on their beds, and told them each to lay out a set of squares on the flannel sheets below. I expected this stage to last at least an hour and involve six to eight disputes, but I barely had time to check my E-mail before Julia came out to report that she was ready to start. She had chosen just 12 squares, so I had her transfer them to a flannel-backed quilt and we carried them to the sewing table (which I hastily bulldozed).

I grabbed a couple of scrap squares and showed her how to put them right-sides together, how to line the edges up carefully, and how to align it with the masking tape marking on the machine bed. She learned how to raise and lower the presser foot and sat in front of me on the chair while I pressed the foot pedal. We did a practice seam or two that way and then I let her try the pedal herself. I didn't really think she'd have enough control to sew her project this way, but in fact she had no problem keeping it slow and steady.

After a couple more practice seams, she started on her squares, sewing one seam at a time, removing the piece from the machine, trimming the threads, and going for the next square. She had no trouble figuring out which square went where and how to keep them right side up. All I did was sit behind her on the chair and remind her over and over to keep the fabric straight while feeding it through the machine.

Before long, she had all four rows sewn together, and all I had done was hold the tails of thread off to the side as she began each seam:

I decided it was time to give Robin a turn. Needless to say, Robin picked it up just as quickly, and before long I was nearby but not even watching as she stitched her squares together.

Robin had laid out 36 squares and her foot got tired after assembling a row and a half, so we had lunch and took a break. In the afternoon, I pressed Julia's seams and she sewed her rows together. She learned how to pin, and how to stop sewing to remove the pins or to nudge the seam allowance under the presser foot with a bamboo skewer.

When Julia's quilt top was finished, Robin went back to work and finished sewing all of her squares into rows, with no foot cramp this time. She did get a little ahead of herself and ended up learning how to use the seam ripper when one of the squares came out backwards, but it was easily remedied.

Julia had to be dissuaded from carting her new "blankie" off to be pressed into immediate service, and claims she wants to make "a quilt" next. I guess it has to be bigger to count as a quilt in her book.

Robin decided that she would give hers to Abuela Lela (she's the one featured here).

I don't know if we'll go back to it tomorrow, but hopefully we'll all be up to another day of sewing sometime this week so they can take their projects in to show their teachers when school starts next month.


meredith January 29, 2007 3:36 AM  

I know what you mean about the difficulty to remain patient with eager little helpers. I like the colors they each chose, that's a good project.

Laylabean January 29, 2007 8:15 AM  

Wow, those are great! I haven't tried my girls on the sewing machine yet but we made felt cakes a few weeks ago and they're ready to move up.

Jennifer January 29, 2007 10:07 AM  

Laylabean: Definitely do it! Your girls are about the same ages as mine, right? Maybe even a year older. I couldn't believe how well it went with Julia, who's 5.5. Robin, at eight, barely even needed supervision once she had sewn her first few seams.

Erin January 29, 2007 12:24 PM  

That is so cool! I love the colors on the quilts. So pretty. (must get back to sewing... maybe when I find out what brand of baby I'm having.)

Hopefully they will be able to take this fun activity and translate it into a life-long love of sewing.

charlotte January 29, 2007 2:19 PM  

While I'm with you on that kitchen "help", I also think kids love learning skills. I was surprised recently when left-handed Lily (6) took to knitting really easily and confidently.

Love the quilts, by the way. Can I come for lessons too?

lisa January 29, 2007 8:28 PM  

Robin's design is sooooo cool! I love how it's basically black and white with a splash of color in the middle. It reminds me of the focal black & white feature in Picasa.

Jennifer January 29, 2007 8:31 PM  

And she used up a bunch of the Halloween squares!

I mean, if you have a whole piece of Halloween fabric (ahem) maybe you could make something, but a single six-inch square of cobwebs has its limits.

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