Friday, May 9, 2014

Softies 101

Continuing with the Start To Sew theme, here is a post on a little workshop with my three girls earlier this year. This was when I was making those baby bunnies and the sewing room was overrun with stuffing and soft fabric. And kids can only take so much temptation before they go nuts, so they asked me if they could make something, too (which actually happens on a regular basis, and not just when they see me making anything). I'd been wanting to work with them on a new sewing project for a while but I'd also wanted it to be a proper lesson rather than an ad-hoc Mad Crafting Session. I'm all for kid-centered, kid-initiated crafting, but let's be honest: sometimes, it's pandemonium, especially if more than one kid is involved. 

Hence my plan to run a workshop. This way, there'd be some order, everyone would know what they were doing and why, and there'd be time enough to give different people the attention and help they needed. This was never planned as a "Hey! Who Wants to Make A Fish?" kind of crafternoon activity - this was a Workshop, where Workshop = Systematic Theory, Principles, Concepts, Frameworks and everything else that makes the repressed teacher in me come frothing violently out. Because that repressed teacher believes (and not just regarding softies) that if the principles are explained first, even 5-year-olds can make and design softies with very little interference by adults. 

So... welcome to Softies 101!

This was the framework: two shapes without straight sides or corners,

and a couple of idea diagrams.

along with other cardboard templates around which to trace.

The girls were given full access to my fleece stash and invited to pick softie designs (or create their own).

I started with Kate first, because she gets home from school a half day before her sisters and we had a good 3 hours to be just by ourselves. She picked the sun, and we were onto our first learning point:

Learning Point 1: 
For a flat softie, you need two body pieces.
Q: Why two?
A: One for the front and one for the back, so you can stuff between them!

Kate wanted to get right to the sewing, so she cut lengths of ribbon for the sun rays, instead of carving them out of fabric.

Learning Point 2: 
If we want things to stick out of the edges of a softie, we make them point towards the inside. 
Q: Why the inside?
A: Because we're sewing it wrong-side out. And when we turn it right side out, the things flip out the right way!

Learning Point 3: Sew a bit away from the edge so the stitches have somewhere to stay put. That bubble outline is called a seam allowance. 

Learning Point 4: 
We leave a little hole for turning the whole thing right side out. And we sew backwards when we start and stop.
Q: What for?
A: To help the stitches stay closed and tight where they end.

I thought she did an excellent job sewing a curved seam on the line. There's a lot to be said for straight seams being easy for beginners, but when you are sewing around an outline, nothing beats a continuous round without corners at which you'd have to stop and turn the fabric. 

Then she turned her sun right side out, gasped in delight at how the rays popped outwards, and started stuffing.

Learning Point 5: 
Whip-stitch the opening shut by poking the needle in always on the same side of the opening.

I didn't get a photo of her whip-stitching the opening shut but she did it all by herself. All I did was put dots on one side of the opening to remind her to poke the needle in only one direction. And help with the knotting off.

Finished sun.

Kate's second project was more ambitious - she made a mouse.

She laid all the extremities out to see how they would fit around the oval body.

And then she pinned everything inwards as before. 

It was a little trickier to sew around an oval than a circle, but she did. Her favorite part was gluing on the face.

Jenna and Emily returned from school to find us surrounded by fleece shrapnel, and immediately wanted to join in. Jenna picked a flower and painstakingly cut out alternating-color petals.

By this time, it was impossible to concurrently direct the proceedings and wield the camera, so there are fewer photos. Here is one of Jenna's whipstitched softie opening - you can see the blue dots drawn to guide her needle direction.

Jenna's finished flower.

Emily chose a ladybug.

Learning Point 6: 
We layer on bigger pieces of fabric by sewing around their edges to attach them.

Here is Emily's ladybug, with all its legs tucked in.

And here it is, finished, with its spots and eyes glued on.

We didn't have time to try the fish, but I whipped up the turtle while the girls were working on their softies. The turtle is interesting because its head is sewn as a filled pouch rather than a single flat piece. The effect of this will be evident in a later photo.

To make the claws, I pinked the edge of the rounded feet.

The opening was ladder-stitched shut. Not whip-stitched. Because the teacher gets to sew in fancy ways if she wants.

The ladder stitch is a much better finishing/closing stitch than the whipstitch, so the girls will learn that in Softies 102, should we ever find the time for a sequel. 

Everyone helped me glue on the shell design.

See how much more structure a stuffed head has - it actually tips up like a real turtle's head.

Our workshop takeaways.

The girls really enjoyed this afternoon of sewing and begged me to do this again. I think I will, once I decide what the next stage will be in their softie sewing curriculum. Maybe something a little more 3D. I'm thinking a ball (spherical and ovoid), constructed from identical panels, with sticky-out things inserted in the seams. I see dinosaurs. Yes. 


  1. Yes, dinosaurs, so there can be DRAGONS!

  2. I love this!! I think my almost 5 year old needs a class in softies 101. I've been planning some sort of sewing time with her but I hadn't figured out yet what we should make. I like how you gave them the options to choose different animals based off of common shapes.

  3. Ahh... fun!! I know a certain little girl who would love to give this class a try! :)

  4. I love your blog, but might be a first-time commentor. Do your girls use your sewing machine?

    1. Literacy-chic: No, I got them their own from Ikea. It's a decent starting machine for kids. They have used my sewing machine in the past, yes.

    2. That's great to know! I will have to look for one for my daughters, who are 6 and 8. When I learned how to sew, it was by hand, and my mom didn't want me to use her machine, but she objected to "toy" machines, too. So I have wondered just where to start! :) ~Nicole

  5. This is great! I think my oldest could manage this workshop- the hardest part will be distracting the 1.5 year old from the scissors... or pins! (why do kids love pins so much?)

  6. Hi Lier, what is the age for kids you would recommend to start sewing ?

    1. Anitha, no particular age, really. Whenever you feel they're safe enough around needles, pins and/or the sewing machine. My kids started as early as 3. But I was there to watch the whole time AND it wasn't a regular thing i.e. we did a sewing session once every half a year or so.

    2. Thanks so much for the prompt reply ! My 5 yr old is already interested, and I am worried about her getting herself pricked ! I loved your ideas, and I am definitely going to try some out for my lil one too !

  7. Balls from rounded shapes, yes. Houses, toadstools, tree trunks, yes. Cubed animal faces like lions or hippos, yes. But dinos? Wow, didn't see that coming! Will be waiting for it :)


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