She's Sewwwww Cute!
March 22, 2014 12:41 PM   Subscribe

My five-year-old has expressed interest in a kids' sewing machine to make doll clothes like her great-aunt does. She has a birthday in a few weeks. I prefer to buy something online, but the reviews of the "kids" sewing machines on Amazon are abysmal. Should I just get a small-sized "adult" machine? I don't have much sewing experience, so I need something that's super-easy to use and maintain. Experiences with little crafty kids using sewing machines, and specific product recommendations, would be very welcome.
posted by nkknkk to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I would get an adult machine. My mom taught me to sew on her sewing machine when I was elementary school aged (I think closer to 8 or 9, though?), and I don't recall the size of the machine being daunting.


Keep in mind that she is really not going to be able to use the thing unsupervised (and I assume the same would be true of a "kids" sewing machine, assuming it's a real machine that actually sews). A sewing machine is a motor-driven needle punching down at very high speeds. It's the kind of equipment a careless adult could be hurt by, let alone someone who is barely old enough to read.

What about teaching her to sew with needle and thread first? I remember learning to thread a needle and do the most basic stitching around kindergarten age. And even then, you know, sharp needles, adult supervision (at least at first), etc.

I think five is a little young for something as ambitious as sewing doll clothes with a sewing machine on her own, to be very honest with you. I think she could probably "help" you do it by picking fabrics and patterns, cutting out, pushing down on the pedal when you say it's time, etc. This is not something she's going to be able to manage all on her own.
posted by Sara C. at 12:49 PM on March 22, 2014 [12 favorites]

I don't think most five year olds have the manual dexterity to use a real sewing machine safely. Looking into kids' sewing lessons and simple kits seems like it might be a better place to start in terms of both safety and successful projects. Here's one such kit
posted by leslies at 12:51 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oops, didn't mean to imply that she would be "on her own" at all. This would be a high-parental-involvement activity.

However re: this particular kid, she's made her own paper dolls (with sharp scissors, not kid scissors), sewn simple stitches with a real needle, and done other fine-motor crafts with adult supplies - so I'm optimistic that with the right machine and a watchful eye, she could get excited about some basic straight stitches and things, and we could do some fun projects together.

Should also mention that I don't have a dedicated space for this piece of equipment, so it would have to be moderately portable and store-able.
posted by nkknkk at 1:09 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, get a full sized sewing machine, and the deal is that you are the one who is actually using it while she "helps". Depending on her dexterity and trustworthiness, you might be able to let her "sew" by sitting on your lap and pushing the fabric through the machine while you pedal, or something like that. But, again, very sharp needle flying at high speed, so YMMV in terms of safety.

Most sewing machines are portable enough. Get one that comes with a carrying case. In my house growing up, ours lived in a closet and was typically used on the dining room table.
posted by Sara C. at 1:13 PM on March 22, 2014

I learned how to sew on my mom's sewing machine a lot later than 5 years old, but I also was sewing with a needle starting around 6 or 7. You can actually sew quite a lot by hand and it might be fun for both of you to work together to try to hand-sew some clothes first before graduating to a sewing machine. Especially if you do not feel super comfortable with one.
posted by ruhroh at 1:16 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a basic Brother machine I got at target for about $75 bucks. It's great, and I've used it to make everything from curtains to my kid's clothing. It doesn't have a ton of setting options and it's very simple to operate.

When KidBlahLaLa liked to help me sew, I would sit in a chair and he would stand in front of me, in front of the machine. I'd operate the foot pedal, and he'd steer the fabric with a little guidance from me. Other times, he'd do the pedal and I'd hold the fabric. That seemed like a good plan with a young kid - don't have them holding the fabric and being in charge of the foot pedal at the same time, cause that could lead to unpleasantries.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:17 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

A basic Singer should be perfect.
posted by waitangi at 1:26 PM on March 22, 2014

Idea kind of out of left field: what about teaching her to knit or signing her up for a knitting class? Knitting doesn't involve anything sharp or potentially impaling, doesn't require adult supervision, and starting with doll-sized things will be perfect for her.
posted by Sara C. at 1:28 PM on March 22, 2014

I am of the view that a smart 5 is not too young to start learning on a machine. Risks here are pretty small; a puncture wound is not an electrocution or drowning or... Yeah, dreary to think about. Look for a finger guard, an automatic stop when resistance is felt, and slow speeds.

Have you considered a treadle-operated machine? That would up the safety considerably, and antique sewing machines are very durable things, and not particularly expensive thanks to that durability. There are still non-electric ones being manufactured, though.

(I started letting my daughter use a sewing needle at 4. Not a machine, but, still, nothing bad happened. We have lots of little dolly pillows and amusingly constructed dolly clothes now.)
posted by kmennie at 1:29 PM on March 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

My wife has the Ikea sewing machine and it's a nice little thing.

Well made, pretty small and has a built in handle so easy to carry around. The light that shines on what you're working on is a nice touch.
posted by chrispy108 at 1:37 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

My mom taught me to use her sewing machine when I was about 5 or 6. I come a lot closer to hurting myself now when I play fast and loose with the machine than I did then, when she had it set on the slowest setting and was watching me.
I recommend getting real tools. This is a kid you trust with sharp scissors. She deserves the real thing. I don't have a specific recommendation, though I know Janome has some half-size or kid's machines that have real mechanical elements, but the best place to ask would be Pattern Review. They have forums and reviews of sewing machines, and membership (required to see some parts of the site) is free.
posted by katemonster at 1:39 PM on March 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

Also, one of the features I highly recommend is a drop-in, or top-load, bobbin. SO much easier to use and less frustrating for you and her.

This machine looks good and seems to get good reviews: Janome Portable.
posted by katemonster at 1:43 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get her a real sewing machine -- mini-machines are nothing but tension nightmares and trouble.

I'd particularly recommend getting her a machine with speed control, both because it will make easier for her to learn to sew and because it's much safer for a young child to use if you keep the speed down to a minimum. That's a feature that won't come on the lowest end machines, but if you can afford to go upscale a bit, it's the one thing I'd most recommend.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:07 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Brother machines co-branded with Project Runway are intended EXACTLY for children, teenagers, and other beginners who want a good, working machine that can do buttonholes but don't want to spend a lot, fuss with maintenance, or need a machine capable of sewing live birds to sailcloth. They are pretty low cost because they are meant as gateway drugs to sewing, and Brother machines are ubiquitous and can be repaired at any sewing shop of you have problems. I am a long-time sewer and I LOVE my Project Runway/Brother machine.

They have them on amazon at 3 or 4 price points but seriously everyone loves them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:51 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Okay I got on my real computer so I can make a link (which is hard on my phone). Here is a $130 Project Runway/Brother machine (with reviews in the comments about using them as children's starter machines). Consumer Reports also loves the Project Runway/Brother machines, which I think is how I first decided on one when my last machine kept breaking and dying in the middle of IMPORTANT PROJECTS. They've changed how the display looks a bit so I'm not totally positive if I have the $130 one or the next price point up, but one of those. They all have automatic threading of the needle (which would be very helpful for a small person), drop-in bobbins, and mine has a good range of stitch speeds. Comes with several basic accessories (buttonholing foot, zipper foot, etc.). (I do find, as a beginner machine, when I'm doing very long seams it takes longer than on a more powerful machine because its highest speed isn't as high as fancier home machines, but usually I don't go that fast anyway.)

Like I said, since it's a Brother, you can pick up bobbins, needles, accessories, etc., at any fabric store, and every sewing specialty store will service Brothers with no problem if you have any maintenance needs with it.

I've really found it to be the lowest-maintenance machine I've ever owned and it does 99% of everything that I (as an "advanced hobbyist") want to do.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

How about one of these? (or something similar?)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:34 PM on March 22, 2014

Chocolate Pickle, my experience with the handheld sewing machines is that they are not worth the time, nor are the little $20 machines. As jacquilynne said, nothing but tension problems. The handheld ones also tend to have one speed - fast! A real machine with just a few features would give her success and confidence, not tears and frustration :-) And it would be great for you to learn on too, OP! I have a basic Sears sewing machine (which is a Janomie) and no problems with it whatsover. I believe it was $250 Canadian.

There is the Sew Cool machine which is just a needle felting machine. It seems like there can be problems with needles breaking, and one reviewer notes that flocked felt from a fabric store is essentially the same kind used in the refill packs. I think it would be easy to make some simple patterns and felt them together. TBH, I have been wanting to get one for myself just to try out!
posted by Calzephyr at 3:45 PM on March 22, 2014

I've heard wonderful things about the Hello Kitty branded Janome sewing machines... both from people who bought them for their kids, and people who ended up using it themselves.
posted by Caravantea at 4:10 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sewing on a serious machine doesn't just involve the fine grained movement & control of digits (I am really doubtful about a five year s control), it also involves coordinating movement of the foot pedal and making judgments about the power and speed of the machine against tension (of the fabric itself 're its slip, the stitch type and length)... Even reasonably practiced sewers have things jam and fly off on them (unlikely, but a bobbin could go if it's not secured). You say you don't have experience, so...

I would use a model for kids and take the 'appropriate for age x ' indications seriously. The idea of tender little fingers getting run over by a fast needle is scary to me, and I don't have kids. Or stick to knitting, maybe needlepoint, but five sounds kind of little for that too. Obviously some children have to sew for money in some places so it's not impossible to teach them, but, maybe those conditions are different.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:20 PM on March 22, 2014

I used my mom's sewing machine around that age for the first time, so it's not that young. But I didn't stick with sewing because she had an ancient antique Singer which was difficult to thread and fiddly. I'd actually recommend not going with an antique model for that reason--the project runway machine looks pretty awesome and userfriendly, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:42 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about a handiStitch? You can get them used on eBay. They look like a stapler and you just run it over your material. Requires very little dexterity. Very safe.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:05 PM on March 22, 2014

I was going to say I saw a recommendation for the Ikea machine for beginning sewers, on one of the sewing blogs I read. She got one for her children to use, and liked it. I'll try to find the post, but i browse through a huge number of sewing blogs. I would also second katemonster for reviews.

Google! Ikatbag is the post I was thinking of. Apparently, I'm not the only one to notice it.
posted by annsunny at 5:37 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have an entry-level Brother that has been great, so I'd second everything Eyebrows McGee says there. (I am planning on upgrading, but seriously, it was like $100 at Walmart and it's completed multiple sets of curtains, household items, multiple quilts... including the quilting on a full-size quilt. It owes me nothing and it's easy to use.)

I have also heard good things about the Stitching Pretty with Hello Kitty machine by Janome, which is available from Target.

And five is plenty old enough for a real sewing machine with supervision. (Rotary cutters, now those you want to lock up.)
posted by pie ninja at 6:25 PM on March 22, 2014

It sounds like you might also be excited about sewing. You've got a couple of weeks; what if you took a few classes yourself in that time? Some fabric stores run beginners' classes, where they teach you to understand, maintain and use sewing machines. Some have them onsite. Always easier to learn these kinds of things with in-person instruction. Maybe they could give feedback on how to best support your daughter's interest.

(I think I learned like a basic hand stitch at around 6, knitting a bit older than that, sewing with a machine around 10. But my mom, aunts, and grandmother were all very skilled at one or another craft and knew all the secrets. I myself only had the patience to learn to sew simple patterns.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:25 PM on March 22, 2014

A good machine is important, but the how-tos of sewing are, too. If your sewing experience is limited, you will need a book or two and maybe lessons as recommended above. I'd look for age-appropriate classes for her, too. Nothing like mother/daughter tears around the frustration of learning to sew. Ask me how I know.

Is the great-aunt around to help? Sewing doll clothes by machine in almost any size from Barbie to American Girl is really fiddly sewing--all those little pieces and short seams lead to real frustration! Not to mention the hassle of cutting the pieces out. I can sew and would not recommend starting machine sewing with doll clothes. Doll blankets, doll diapers, pillows, ditty bags, gift bags, bandanas, 6- or 9-patch quilt blocks, and similar straight-seamed items would be far easier and more rewarding for her. Practice makes successful sewing. She can move on to making her own pajama pants and then some for friends--a simple project with fun results.

If she is dead set on doll clothes, start with simple shapes and hand sewing and ask the great aunt to help. We want her to be successful and love sewing, not think it is too hard/frustrating.

Good luck! If she sticks with it, she will be the envy of all her friends when she can make her own prom dress or her own tent and hem her own jeans.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 10:16 PM on March 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

A real machine. I have had several kid machines and they are frustrating because they are light and move around. The chances of getting hurt go way up. Simple forward, backwards and buttonhole should be enough to do what she wants. And yes, with supervision at first, she should be fine.
posted by 101cats at 10:39 PM on March 22, 2014

Get her an entry level adult machine. She will thank you forever!
posted by BlueHorse at 3:51 PM on March 23, 2014

If budget is an issue, check pawn shops. We bought our 9-yr-old niece a reasonably new Singer machine at a pawn shop for $25. It works well and she's been having a great time with it.
posted by chazlarson at 8:22 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Move-packing hacks   |   Seeking hair stylist for boomer aged folks north... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.