Category Archives: Sewing

Book Review :: Sewing School

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I am embarking on a series of book reviews, to be published on Fridays. These reviews will cover science education books for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

A fabulous resource for teaching sewing to kids, aged 5 - 12.

A fabulous resource for teaching sewing to kids, ages 5 – 13.

Ages: Adult readers, but projects are directed at kids, ages 5- 13.
Plumley, Amie Petronis & Andria Lisle. Sewing School: 21 Projects Kids Will Love to Make.
Photography by Justin Fox Burks. Storey Publishing: North Adams, MA, 2010.

Sewing School

First, let me say how much I love the books that come from Storey Publishing. They are true to their mission of “serving their customers by publishing practical information that encourages personal independence in harmony with the environment.” No, I don’t work for them (and have not been paid by them), but I can always tell that they were the publishers of a book due to how much I like it. And, I really like this book.

I like that the authors specifically mention Montessori and Waldorf influences. I like that the purpose of the book doesn’t focus solely on transferring sewing skills, but rather encourages independence and free choice. It’s about using sewing techniques to increase creative expression and self-sufficiency. There is also a strong focus on having a prepared environment. The authors recommend having stations for fabrics, notions, pattern cutting and adult (or teen) monitors to run these stations so that a child can get help or move on to another project when ready. These are all Montessori principles and I love that they emphasize them in their “sewing school.”

The photography is brilliant – lots of colorful photographs and numerous step-by-step examples for the layers of each project. This is especially useful when trying to help a child learn the steps of tying a knot, which in my opinion, is much harder than getting them to thread the needle. The full-color, step-by-step pictures are spot-on and great for a new sewing teacher, or an expert one, as they figure out how to help the children help themselves. The pages on the various stitches (running and whipstitch) are especially nice.

The first few projects in this book utilize felt (with a special emphasis on wool felt), which does not fray and is very forgiving for a young child. My six-year-old easily made the “needle case” all on his own – from tracing the pattern in chalk to sewing on the button. The only help I gave was to tie the knot at the end of his embroidery floss.


My six-year-old traced the cardboard pattern and cut the fabric by himself.

In addition to the well-thought out projects, there’s a lot of room for older children to go further and “make it their own.” Without any prompting on my part, my oldest son decided that he wanted to embroider his first initial on the front part of his needle case (he’s been embroidering for years). Then, he decided that he didn’t want to see all of the threads and we brainstormed a way to cover them up (extra felt and hot glue).

My 10-year-old is embroidering his initial on the front of his needle case.

My 10-year-old is embroidering his initial on the front of his needle case. He drew the letter “R” with chalk first.

The book continues with more projects to help a young child develop their sewing skills. Many of these have a creative element and allow for lots of choice. This practical guide has been very useful as it begins with easy projects and moves to more advanced ones, such as sewing cotton fabric right sides together to make a a skirt. While most of the projects are focused on hand-sewing, a few suggest sewing machine use.

In preparation for a kids’ summer class on sewing, I have been poring over numerous sewing books aimed at children. This one is, by far, the best that I have found. These two authors obviously have a lot of experience running a sewing school and I’m grateful they committed their techniques to paper.

Between myself and my two boys, I have lots of example needle cases for my sewing class this summer.

Between myself and my two boys, I have a lot of sample needle cases for my sewing class this summer.

Montessori Sewing for Preschool

This book has projects for children who are at least 5-years-old, but you do not need to wait that long to introduce them to sewing concepts. The practical life area of a 3-6-year-old Montessori classroom should have “sewing” materials on the shelves. These materials can be for the young 3-and-4-year-old, such as large bead stringing and lacing cards. Or, for older children, there may be activities such as simple button sewing, advanced button sewing,and practicing the running stitch.

To see some of my recommended reality-based children’s books on sewing, check out my post on fiber arts in a Montessori classroom.


Christmas Crafting

Since I have a squirmy two-year-old in my lap and his favorite words right now happen to be, "No, I do it," this crafty wrap-up will be short and sweet.

The Christmas Eve pajama pants. Handmade by me and fabric picked out by Calum. (Ronan played socer twice this past year…I think it rubbed off on Calum).

The best present ever from my hubby: a completely suprise "elf" hat – to be worn in subsequent Christmases while working on the presents I make. Showcased by my brother-in-law, Kenny. (No, that's not his real name).


A barn to accompany all of the horse and tractor related things that my kids got this Christmas. Made by Joey (based vaguely on this tutorial).


And, finally, the big time-consuming project: quilts for both boys. I made one for Ronan and my sister made one for Calum. The boys share a room and so these quilts are similiar, but different. The pattern was "the end of the day" from More Quilts The Quiltmaker's Gift pattern book.

This is the second quilt I have made with this pattern, though the first for our family.  I absolutely love it. It uses triangles on a roll and makes a beautiful finish. We both had them professionally quilted – that skill is not yet in my abilities and I knew I would need to wash them often.



Ronan knew I was working on something special for him and Calum. He knew I was using my sewing machine and he was irritated that I wouldn't tell him what it was. I prepped him before he opened it and let him know that this is what I was working on. I was thrilled that he was so excited to see that it was a quilt.

But, the best part of all? A sleepy Ronan waking me up at 2:30 in the morning on December 28, just to tell me how grateful he was that I made him such a warm quilt. He gave me a hug and pattered away, returning to his cozy gift.

addition and sewing

I love that as part of my homeschool "curriculum" for Ronan, I can include both addition and sewing and they both are equally loved by this child. These activities were on the schedule for the week and he chose when and where to do them.

Addition with Objects (red is the preferred color that AMS Montessorians choose for addition work):


The second time he did this work (on Saturday, no less), he turned to me and said, "Mom, this is boring. I already know this stuff." Ha ha. And, he's right, sort of. Adding numbers to make ten or less is a simple concept for him, But, I told him that once he could look at one of those problems and know the answer, then he would be truly finished with it. (He's done it with the plus 1 problems). However, it was a good thing for him to hear the words: addition and plus and equals. So, after he decided he had mastered addition, he went to work some more on his embroidery work.

Earlier in the week, I had introduced him to the concept of an embroidery hoop — complete with a requested car drawing. He finished it within an hour and only got stuck a few times. (Of course, I did tie a knot so the thread wouldn't slip out and we did talk about making knots – a work for another day, I think).


And, while I am completely impressed with his skills and interest in this project, it was his next initiative that I think is the most important. Immediately after finishing the car, he wanted to do another one (or make a small pillow). I asked him what he wanted next – maybe a tractor or a fire engine? I would find a line drawing and set it up for him the next day. Well, in the morning, I awoke to him presenting me with his very own drawing of a semi-truck. And, with only some minor alterations, his next project was born.


So far, we are both liking this homeschool thing.

Christmas creating

It is the season for crafting. Even now, with the Christmas season drawing to a close, I feel the anticipation of working with my hands and some fabric to create something new. There is something about Christmas that gives me permission to spend every waking moment crafting, creating or dreaming. It is all right to be busy with these types of pursuits. The house will be messy for days on end and the bathrooms will only get cleaned on December 24th when relatives will soon be coming for a visit. I made a few things for the boys (a later post, I promise). But, my absolutely-have-to-get it done item? Handmade stockings.


When our family number grew to four, I knew the old set of stockings would never do. It was not possible to add just one more and have it be cohesive. So, I set aside this thrifted flannel sheet (last year's Christmas Eve pants) in the hopes of making a set of stockings. Which, I did. It took me more than a year to do it, but this Christmas they were hung and waiting to be filled for Christmas morning. Plus, I have enough leftover to make myself some pajama pants.

I was not the only one "crafting" during these holidays. Ronan and Calum are blessed to have two wonderful sets of grandparents (and two aunties, as well), who shower them with love…and great gifts. They will be playing outside a lot more with their new tower. "Play town" has its official first inhabitant.




Ronan and Calum's Groppy (my dad) and Joey worked together to assemble their tower a few days after Christmas. (Of course, those happened to be the two coldest days in Florida – the highs were in the low 40s. Brrr…). And, Ronan helped too.





It's a start. It's a place to drive to pretend fires and race down your firefighter ladder. It's a place to practice your climbing skills (Calum). And, it's a place to cozy up with a good book during those lovely Spring months.

But, that's not the only thing we have been crafting. My eldest child has come into his own with those tiny plastic bricks. LEGOS. Plastic? Yes. Completely amazing and brain-buidling? Yes. An exception to the no-new plastic rule? Definitely. With most purchases, I have been trying to think of the long-term consequences of our products. Where will this end up when we are finished playing with it? Will it hold up to the rough and tumble nature of my two boys? Can I re-sell it or give it away after they are finished with it? Yes. I must admit that I am in love with the tiny LEGOS. We all still play with the Duplos, but five-year-olds can really handle the tiny ones. The skills he learns and then uses with these tiny toys just amaze me. His spatial awareness is awesome and I enjoy watching him create. For now, he follows the directions, but he is gaining confidence and soon will begin creating his own masterpieces. I can't wait.







Last year, we asked Ronan wanted he wanted to be for Halloween. He said a bear. So, I procrastinated and found myself looking for a ready-made bear hat a couple of days before Halloween. (In my defense, Calum was still pretty young). He ended up seeing train conductor overalls and decided that was much cooler. Whew.

This year, we asked again…starting in September. It changed from a lion to a character from the Wizard of Oz (in hope that we would agree to read it to him this year instead of next). And, finally, he settled on a turtle.


Thank goodness I have an engineer-minded husband who likes to create costumes for his kids. He cut out the shape from cardboard (we still have a ton of moving boxes). Then, he and Ronan taped it, paper-mached it, and painted it. We put the finishing touches on the details the night before his school festival. I made the pants.


Most importantly, he really liked the costume. And, we think he actually looked like a turtle. Calum was a lion – borrowed from a friend – thank goodness. They are both so adorable. Really.


And, now I must go and throw away most of the candy…

birthday crowns

Among my our new family traditions is the very popular birthday crown. We started with Ronan's fourth birthday and it seems to be one of the easiest handmade birthday gifts to give (and make). It's simple, doesn't take up much space and is genuinely well-received (always nice for a handmade gift to be well-loved). Plus, I get to stretch my creative limits and consider the personality of the child and how the crown will be used. Each time I make one, I think it is my favorite. And, then another comes along. A recap of the past few months…

…delicate and full of brightness…



…fit for a princess…


…calm and playful (even with a bit of a cold).


I love this picture – the boy, his crown and the action of a mind-blowing sneeze.

Wrapped up in mama-made love

I greatly admire all of those women (and dads, working moms, etc.) who can juggle the kids, provide home-cooked healthy food, sew most of the family's wardrobe, sustain a wonderful marriage, grow a home business while the kids sleep – and still manage to produce healthy, well-adjusted homeschooled kids. Whew! I'm not there yet, but I'm pretty happy with the stuff I do manage to do well. Which means that every once in a while, my kids get some mama-made goodness. 


Pajama pants. My absolute favorite thing to sew. They sew up fast and make me feel like I can/do provide for my family a la Ma Ingalls. (It's this pattern, found a few years ago). I've used tracing paper and made numerous pants. Thank goodness my oldest son enjoys picking out fabric – bright orange and busy. His favorite.

And, since it's one of the few items that actually gets finished around here…why not wear them as pants? with shoes. outside.


Those are Christmas Eve pajamas – still going. Not too bad for a thrifted flannel sheet. (I made the pants one size bigger and tacked at the bottom…next year they should still be in one piece).

Since there are two boys in the family now, my littlest one has also been included in this new pajama pants tradition. (How I love sewing for two – so much fun)! I traced a pair of his regular pants and this time, remembered to make the waist a bit wider so the elastic could stretch.


A quick side note: how do those mamas of multiples get a picture with both of the kids together? Clean and in the same pair of pants at the same time? I'm perplexed. Formal portraits aside, the pants fit him and I love seeing him wearing them. Oh, yes, pajama pants – they make me feel good.

(Apparently, I neglect sweeping up after breakfast in favor of sewing pajama pants. Sigh.)

From the hand to the the heart

Our house seems to be a very busy place. I know we don't have the monopoly on activity – in fact, we probably can't even come close to lots of situations. (Especially since I have a cousin who is the mother to four boys). FOUR! Oh goodness…

…but, they love her a lot and are fiercely loyal to her (two are grown up and out the house and they are still this way). I want that for my boys. And, so, I quiet the "messy" voice in my head and turn up the "let's go outside" voice. I try to listen to the "he's learning something" voice. I place special emphasis and value the "homemade" voice the most.

So, of course, we've been busy…

(Winter squash medley for Calum…ready to be frozen)

(a 1st birthday crown for a friend)


And, in my house, homemade can't be complete without a sewing project (or two) left out on the table. Waiting for a few minutes here and there to be eventually be finished.

It's completely normal to listen to the voices in your head, right?

for the weekend

On the docket for this weekend: out-of-town friends, a zoo visit, and some mama-crafting! Heck, the house is already (mostly) clean, I may just party all weekend.

Well, except for the laundry. But, that doesn't count.

Here's a little preview:



Have a wonderful weekend.

better late than never :: skirt


I finally applied the hem to this "pregnancy" skirt that I started, oh, six months ago. I wore it once with a rough hem and put it aside to work on…it never made it to the sewing pile until I remembered it a few weeks ago. I bought some pre-made bias tape and – voila! – instant hem. (I'm tall and I needed the extra length – AND – my hemlines are never as pretty as I would like).

It was this pattern and I love it. It's the perfect transition between a post-partum and pre-pregnancy body. I used a three-inch piece of elastic rather than the belly band since the first skirt I made hung a bit low and required a l-o-n-g shirt. I do believe that I am in love with elastic skirts. I'm thinking of making another one for everyday wear. I'll let you know if it takes another six months!

Have a great weekend!