Sewing projects with a 4 year old
October 5, 2017 11:14 AM   Subscribe

What are good sewing projects I can do with my 4 year old that don't require too much set-up time and plenty of sewing machine time?

Last year, my son LOVED to sit on my lap as I used my sewing machine to applique a skeleton ribcage on his skeleton Halloween costume. He has asked many times since to sew with me, but I work full time out of the home and don't have much time to prepare - find patterns of stuff I want to make, find fabric for it, cut out the patterns, trace the patterns on the fabric, read the instructions and THEN bring the pieces to the sewing machine.

He really loved watching the machine run and lifting/lowering the foot, so the applique process was good for that for us.

I am also a beginner at sewing due to not a lot of time to work on my craft, so what more experienced sewers might think is normal work takes extra time for me.

I've seen some blogs where people make lots of cute easy-to-make dresses for their young kids, but my kid doesn't want to wear dresses. Are there easy-to-make shirt or pants patterns out there? Or other kid-friendly things? Should I do more applique work? Are there packs that are good for this?

Kid's interests include spooky stuff like skeletons and ghosts. Maybe horses. Firetrucks and tow trucks and police car stuff. He isn't a fan of too-childish designs, though.

(I see this previously but that is more child-directed and we *do* have a sewing machine.)
posted by jillithd to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Two ideas:

Bandana pants are the bomb, and once you master the very simple technique, it's something he can help with, and you can apply to any simple squares of fabric. My son lived in these pants for years, and when time allowed we'd take trips to the fabric shop to pick out patterns he liked. I've also made them out of Ikea dish towels for the sturdiest-ever kids pants.

The other thing my kid and I always made together was "fighting sashes" and the like -- meaning, he'd help me pick fabric out of my stash, and then we'd measure out a simple narrow sash-type shape. I'd let him decide if the ends should be curved or pointy or whatever. And then I'd sit in front of the sewing machine with him on my lap and he'd help me guide the fabric, etc. 15 minute later -- voila, a FIGHTING SASH!!!! to tie around his waist or head or whatever.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:29 AM on October 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

How about a pillowcase? Super simple to set up, and you can use just one fabric or attach several together for maximum sewing-machine time.

Other ideas: simple tote bag; pajama pants.
posted by Siobhan at 11:34 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Could you applique to the sceleton his bed sheets or towel? I assume as you did it before maybe less prep might be required the second time around?
Or let him pick new curtain fabric for his room and sew curtains, i am not a good at sewing but curtains i found easy to do.
posted by 15L06 at 11:36 AM on October 5, 2017

What about a bandana quilt? No patterns necessary - just sew together 9-12 bandanas, sandwich with some batting and backing, and he has a new blanket. Very little assembly, lots of straight-line sewing. Amazon should have a good bandana selection, for ease of shopping.
posted by tan_coul at 11:38 AM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cherry pit footwarmer! Go here and buy yourself some cherry pits. At the fabric store, buy 100% cotton flannel. Now you're going to cut a piece about 12x18, fold in half wrong sides together, and sew around two sides. Turn right side out (so you've got a little sack), and fill about 1/2 to 2/3 full of cherry pits. Then sew the open side shut (turning the raw edges inside is prettiest but you really don't have to.) Basically the rectangle shape here.

Pop this in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and you get a beautifully warm, cherry-smelling "pillow" that holds heat for ages (much better than rice or buckwheat!) that you can go stick in your bed to warm it up before you get in, or use as a heating pad on sore muscles, or cuddle up with on the couch, and they are glorious, and they make perfect gifts, and everyone who receives one adores them and wants more. (People constantly ask me, "Are you doing cherry pit footwarmers this year?" to see if they can get on my list.)

My sons have been sewing them basically solo, with me supervising right next to them, since they were five. Last year they did all their own teacher presents and made some for their grandparents too. I let them pick the fabric, so everyone's kinda getting cars-and-trucks pattern footwarmers, but they're still warm!

(Two tips: It must be 100% cotton because you're going to microwave it and you don't want a synthetic that might melt. If you heat it too long, it may smell like burnt cherry pie, but the smell will fade and be normal again, it's not ruined.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:57 AM on October 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I would also suggest simple block quilts (like a nine patch or a four patch, or a square in square). In addition to the piecing, you can also machine quilt them which adds time he can sit on your lap and watch.

It has the added benefit of you can use a variety of fun fabric patterns but you don't have to fuss with pattern pieces--just cut out squares and sew them together (hey! math/counting practice, too!)

There are a ton of internet resources (I've used this one--their Irish chain was the first quilt I ever made), but the library will have good books of basic blocks, too.
posted by crush at 12:09 PM on October 5, 2017

Coloring books have simple designs you can trace and use for appliqu├ęs. Alphabet letter templates are easy to find online. Cut out from one fabric, stitch onto another. Resulting squares can be joined together for a wall hanging, a pillow or a bed cover.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:21 PM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Strip piecing is the most simple method of quilt blocking. You just cut strips of fabric and either sew them together to make nine patches or just joined together in a pattern, like a rail fence.
posted by crush at 12:30 PM on October 5, 2017

Dinosaur stuffed toy?

I made one of these when I hadn't operated a sewing machine in a decade and it was super easy and the finished product looked really good.
posted by threetwentytwo at 12:35 PM on October 5, 2017

My kids liked to just sew contrasting thread on to fabric. No need for two layers. Just make designs. Check out all the fun zigzag stitches. Later, this newly created fabric could be used to make a pillow. Stuffing the pillow is another fun task.

Drawing a character, then tracing and cutting out fabric in the shape of the character to make a custom pillow might be fun - bringing your own creature to life. This doesn't need to be fancy. I'm thinking a smiling circle with the face drawn on with a sharpie (or sewn with your help).
posted by RoadScholar at 12:41 PM on October 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think cut and sew/sew and stuff pillow panels are still a thing, although a Google search is just turning up vintage ones mostly. This Etsy link is the kind of thing I'm talking about -- basically a pre-printed panel that's often in the shape of a character/animal that you cut out, sew together and stuff.

You can definitely DIY that like what threetwentytwo linked to but pre-printed ones may be more of a success.

(I was probably a bit older than 4, but this sort of thing was one of my first sewing projects.)
posted by darksong at 12:54 PM on October 5, 2017

Lots of printed cut-out-and-sew stuffed toys at Spoonflower. You could sew thread decoration on the pattern too.
posted by clew at 1:06 PM on October 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

My daughter and I made dinner napkins together and they were a big hit. She got to pick out the fabrics and sew (everything is pretty much straight lines) and those napkins, a year and a half later, are still used at every meal. We've even made sets for friends who have come over and loved hers so much they wanted their own. Once you get the hang of the mitered corners, they come together very quickly.
posted by danielle the bee at 1:25 PM on October 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Pajama pants are super easy. These from Oliver and S are very simple (one seam, elastic casing, hem legs) and since they're pajamas they aren't fitted and the hems don't have to be super even and can be done by machine. The top is also very easy but not quite AS easy as the pants.

He's probably old enough to get a kick out of practicing his own sewing skills by sewing over a traced design on paper--he moves the paper, you control the pedal.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 1:33 PM on October 5, 2017

At that age, it's pretty fun to just stick some scrap fabric under the foot and try out all the fancy stitches. At most ages actually.

Drawstring bags are pretty easy. Elastic waist pajama pants if you're feeling adventurous.
posted by kjs4 at 2:08 PM on October 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would also look for precut quilting fabric if you're interested in making a blanket. Lots of manufacturers make variations on these and then they're already perfectly cut to size so you can just sew them into a grid, maximizing sewing machine time, with zero prep.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 2:23 PM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

At age 4, he'd be happy sewing thread in random patterns on construction paper. I have a cool abstract that my kid made around that age hanging in my office.
posted by pizzazz at 4:08 PM on October 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

How about a sewn paper garland?

Safety tip: my mom always made me wear (non prescription costume) glasses when sewing. Needles break occasionally.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:57 PM on October 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of sewing toys (for which you could even make things as simple to cut out as stuffed cubes and pyramids), how about sewing a book? You could use applique/patching and felt or lightly stuffed/quilted fabric and it could be as simple or complicated as you want. (If using the machine to make the actual content of the book would be too tedious, you could even just sew a book in light-colored fabric and then draw the actual pictures/text, or dye some fabric together and make a book out of that...)
posted by trig at 9:18 PM on October 5, 2017

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