Monday, December 20, 2010

Embroidering with My Daughter

The Green Phone Booth welcomes Amber of for today's Meaningful Memory.

I like to think of myself as a crafty, do-it-yourself type. I knit. I sew. I needle felt. I bake bread from scratch and do home canning and grow my own vegetables. I do these things in an effort be green, to save money and to reject the rampant consumerism that can be so prevalent in our culture.

I have a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, and I like to involve them in my crafting and do-it-yourself-ing as much as possible. It's not always easy, though. They can't knit, my 2-year-old tramples the seedlings in my garden, and my 5-year-old staunchly refuses to eat any canned food I prepare. Children often don't co-operate with adult visions of a happy family all working together to create a modern homestead. I realize this, and I try not to sweat it.

I haven't been able to completely let go of my desire to involve my children in making things, though. And when I was reading Amanda Soule's fabulous book The Creative Family, I came across some suggestions for embroidering with preschool-aged children. I decided to present it to my daughter Hannah, who was 4 at the time, and see if she liked it. I chose a fabric with a loose weave and got a needle with a slightly blunt tip and let her loose. To my surprise and happiness, she really enjoyed it.

Hannah drawing an embroidery pattern

There is no right or wrong way to craft with children, so you can feel free to forge your own path. But I will tell you what we do, to give you an idea of what embroidering with a young child looks like.

Hannah starts an embroidery project by drawing a picture of what she plans to embroider. I have explained to her that we only embroider outlines, and we can't really fill in the picture. Laying out guidelines up front means that we get a picture that is manageable for Hannah to embroider. Once we have a picture, I transfer it to a piece of fabric using a pencil crayon. I draw the outline as best I can. It doesn't have to be perfect, because Hannah's embroidery isn't perfect, either. It just gives her an idea of where to do her stitches.

Hannah embroidering

I bought an embroidery hoop and a whole lot of colors of embroidery thread at the craft shop. Having lots of colors makes embroidering much more appealing for kids (and adults, too, for that matter). We choose a color to start with, and I thread the needle and do the first stitch, to give Hannah a starting point. Beyond that, I leave it mostly up to her. When a child is learning, they will make mistakes. We have a lot of tangles, and at first Hannah would mess up her stitches. I am available to fix it, but I've found that she works and learns better when I let her do it on her own.

Hannah has sometimes been frustrated when her work didn't look the way she envisioned it would. She's asked me to do it for her on occasion. I emphasize to her that the person receiving the finished embroidery will love it because she did it. And it's the truth. The imperfections in a child's work embody the person that they are when they do it, and make it more precious.

Hannah embroidered a crow

Once you have a finished piece of embroidery, you can do a few things with it. We usually make a pillow and sew it on to that. I do this part, but a slightly older child could make a pillow themselves. You can also frame it, or add it to a quilt or bag or even the front of a T-shirt.

Hannah's created embroidered gifts for grandparents, aunts and teachers. They're one-of-a-kind objects, and they're relatively simple projects that can usually be completed in a day or two. This makes them good last-minute gifts, which is always a great trick to have up your sleeve. Not only are you knocking off something for hard-to-please Aunt Patsy, you're doing it quickly and bonding with your child at the same time.

Have you ever tried embroidering with a child? How has it worked for you? Or, do you have other ideas for last-minute gifts that kids can make? I'm sure we'd all love to hear about them.

Amber is a crunchy granola mom, suburban superstar and aspiring writer. She lives with her family in Metro Vancouver, Canada. You can catch up with her regular adventures on her blog at


Alison said...

Neat! One of my son's teachers (he is 3.5) took another job and I wanted to send her something special over the holidays. At the same time, a friend who is a teacher said that the sweetest gift she ever received was a handmade pillow. I think we have a winner here!

And, for a reverse share: in regards to the home canned food, I just make up a story about magical powers or other amazing things that might happen if the food is consumed. Works for us, but maybe I've got a weird kid!

Green Bean said...

Very cool. This is actually a planned project with my boys this week. They did do this for Halloween a la spider web.

Right now, I've got lots of crafting ideas for the boys for handmade gifts - from Crafty Crow and other kids craft websites. As you point out, though, kids often have their own ideas. They spent all Saturday making sock dolls that have their own special charm.

Lori Alper aka Groovy Green Livin said...

I have three boys, 10, 8 and 7 and we are going to try this over vacation! I am always trying new crafts with my kids and I love that they are willing to jump right in. I love what you said about imperfection-what a wonderful lesson -we must learn to accept imperfections in our work and in our selves, because we are only human and that's who we are.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I used to love to embroider with my grandmother! What fun :)

Anonymous said...

How wonderful to carry on crafting traditions and also embrace a child's own creativity!!

- Mary

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for sharing your comments!

@Alison, I love your technique for getting your son to eat your canned food. :)

@Green Bean, sock dolls sound cool!

@Lori, I'm not always good at accepting my own imperfections, but watching my kids is teaching me to embrace them.

@Abbie, I'm glad you have those memories. I hope my kids develop them, too.

@Mary, it's really amazing how creative kids are. :)


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