I am such a sucker for new craft books! I usually don’t even think about whether I will make something from a book when making the purchase…I just consider how pretty the pictures are and how inspired I feel when I flip through it. Some books stay with me for many years, like Gwen Marston’s Liberated Quiltmaking or Kaffe Fassett’s Glourious Patchwork. I have never actually made a project from their books. I just like piling up a stack of my favorite quilt books on my bedside table for evening reads. And then I like to make long lists of projects that would be cool to do, but I have yet to follow through on a single one of them.
So you can imagine that I am a bit surprised to find myself not only planning projects from a book, but actually committing to them in a very public way. The title that has disrupted my equilibrium to such an extent is a new book just out from Interweave/F+W Media. The title, Sew Fun: 20 projects for the whole family, by Deborah Fisher contains several projects that are just perfect to do with the youngsters in our family.
The lions on the cover are enough to get me to look through my fabric stash for some good lion-making material, and there are patterns for some seriously lovely dolls that I know would be a hit with every little and big girl (I got lots of oooh-ing and awww-ing over them from other quilting friends): – Look how cute they would be with these bright batiks from Island Batik, some ribbon I have had laying around, and faces with my new favorite embroidery thread from Aurifil.
However, the project in Deborah’s book that is really messing with my schedule is the community quilt. First, I showed the pictures in the book to my husband, who has never voluntarily done anything crafty with fabric in his life. He immediately wanted us to make one as a family project….
As if that wasn’t enough to take on, I felt strangely compelled to show the book to my daughter’s daycare teacher as well. And this is how I find myself committed to making not just one project from Sew Fun, but two. In the process I seem to have promised to volunteer in the classroom to help supervise the toddlers while they are creating their project. Obviously all the later sewing of the quilt is my job as well.
Sew Fun has a whole chapter dedicated to helping us involve children in sewing projects, and every project has tips and ideas on how children can be involved. Although the projects are pretty, they are simple enough that you can see how a child can actually participate in the creative process but also complex enough that they are interesting for an adult sewist. I bet a LOT of us will fall in love with Deborah’s Hazel Doll.
The more I looked at the projects in Deborah’s book, the more I wanted to make some of her projects, and to share the experience with the little people in my life.
How did you get started in sewing and crafting? Did your parents work with you on projects as a child.
I have always been maker and was very fortunate to have an environment to be creative in! When I was growing up, my father built a big round table for projects in our family room. There were shelves filled with fabric in big round ice cream tubs, like in an ice cream parlor, and there was always paper and trims and other supplies to use. My mother’s sewing machine was always on the desk. She is the one who taught me to sew. One grandmother taught me to knit and my other grandmother was a painter.
Are there any projects in your book that you feel are particularly well suited for younger children with less patience and precision?
There are many projects that younger children can help with. I think the key is to know the abilities of the child. There are many tips in the Little Hands, Big Smiles: How to Have Fun Sewing with Children section, including how to alter your sewing machine pedal so that even very young children can help press the pedal while you sew. The chapters also have Kid Work tabs with recommendations of what kids might like to help with. Particularly suited for the youngest children to help with are the Reading Time Quilt, Fun Friends from Odds and Ends, Community Quilt, and Instant Drama Chenille Boa. Also, any of the projects, such as the Topsy Turvy Story Quilt, that use children’s drawings are great for having young ones involved without having them do the technical sewing.
You encourage us to not use the pre-programmed embroidery stitches on our sewing machine. Do you have a philosophy when it comes to craft supplies and creativity? Is there such a thing as too much?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with machine embroidery, (or any supplies really), as long as it is used as a tool and not as a substitute for creativity and personal expression. Many makers, especially beginners, are afraid to experiment with their own ideas so they rely on pre-made components. I suggest minimal tools and basic supplies so that your individuality can shine!
What is your personal favorite project in your book?
My favorite has always been the Hazel Doll. Dolls were one of the first things I made when I started sewing and they have always been a reoccurring theme in my work through my fine art and my sewing. There is magic in creating a friend. I also love making the accessories. The Hazel Doll has a reversible skirt, a reversible top and a one pattern piece jacket that can be embellished with embroidery and trim. You can make shoes, slippers, a boa, and a ladybug cape for her also. There are so many details that you can add, but she can also be made very simple.
When starting to sew with your child, which techniques and skills do you think they need to master first?
Children usually have the more important skills down pat-fearlessness with their own creativity and ability to embrace their own imaginations. We adults need to aspire to that, I think! For techniques, first a basic straight stitch on the sewing machine and then a simple hand sewn running stitch will give them freedom to express their ideas. Manual dexterity varies so much from child to child. It is our job to guide then towards ways of working that will keep frustration levels acceptable while still allowing them to grow.
Do you have a favorite brand of felt that you use in your felt projects? I have a huge stash of quilting fabric. Can I use those for most of the projects?
I love Wollfilz wool felt. If not wool then I like to use recycled felt. You can make most of the projects in Sew Fun with quilting fabric! I am a mixed media maker so I used a variety of materials in the book, but I encourage readers to use what they have or what they have been wanting to experiment with. Some projects, such as the Insect Capes and There’s No Place Like Home Pillows, do work best with felt or felted wools. Chenille projects, such as the Instant Drama Chenille Boa, need flannel. There are also some projects that are especially nice in textured or pile fabrics such as Alexander Lion and the Over in the Meadow Landscape Rug, but can certainly be made in quilting fabric.
I believe there is a special joy in making. Whether it is baking a cake, building a bird-house, painting a picture, or writing a story. There is something so profoundly fulfilling about making. I see it in the eyes of my own kids and on the faces of my students. There is a light that glows from the process of creation that I think is essential for children.
As a parent, what do you feel is the most important rewards of crafting with your children?
We are a stubborn bunch so it can be rough going making things with my kids. But it also brings great rewards! They always show me new ways of working and thinking about projects. Making is my way playing so I love sharing that with my kids. These are the memories they will have of their childhood and go beyond their time with me. Recently my two girls went to spend a day with my parents. My older daughter spent the day baking and decorating a cake with my mother. My younger daughter wanted to make a play panini maker with my father, who is a woodworker. They spent the day in the wood shop, minus a trip to the hardware store to buy the hinges. Everyone had a very good day!
Thank you to Deborah for taking the time to chat with us.
Then, clear your schedule and spend some fabulous time sewing with and for the children in your life. Don’t have children? Then spend some time sewing with your own inner child instead.