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As Cassie continues to talk about her love for fibers, it’s time to dive into sewing in the art room! In today’s episode, Cassie discusses everything you need to get started sewing with your kids in the art room. Listen as she talks about when and why to try new things in the art room, her favorite ways to teach sewing basics, and why kids love sewing their own creations. Full episode transcript below.
Cassie: If you think really hard and think back to that one thing that you created maybe in art class, or maybe with an adult, a grandparent, at a camp, at a vacation bible school, which is almost always where I was learning how to make things, what was the one thing that you made that got you so excited about creating, that was, we’ll call it, your gateway drug so to speak, your gateway object that made you decide that you wanted to do this forever, for the rest of your life? For me, gosh, it was so many things. But if I were going to say what those things that I created all had in common was that they were functional.
I remember making my first woven bookmark. I remember stitching my very first little wallet out of a pair of old jeans using my mom’s sewing kit, sitting in front of the TV watching Laverne & Shirley. Does that date me or what? Or just even making something simple. Like in eighth grade, never having worked with clay before, suddenly I made a pinch pot that I could put stuff in. And I just thought making something that just wasn’t a cool drawing or some nice painting that my mom might put on the fridge for a little while and then it would vanish into the depths I’m sure of the trashcan. Something that I could actually use was really, really magical. And I’ve noticed that when I introduce projects to my students, projects that in the end have a function, a woven pouch that they can use to keep their lunch money in, or even just something simple like a sewn stuffed animal, monster, what have you, they eat that up.
And I bring up sewing because a couple of weeks ago, we were chatting about weaving, and I was sharing with you all of the fun projects that I do with weaving and why I love teaching it so. And I promised you at that time that we would circle back and eventually talk about more fibers projects. And that’s what I want to chat with you about today, sewing. Because sewing is that gateway craft. I think it gets dismissed as a craft. But it’s actually this amazing art form where you can create something that can also have a function or learn a skill where you can go on to create things that could have a function.
Let’s talk about sewing in the elementary art room today. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room. Okay, so before we get chatting about sewing with kids in the elementary art room, which sounds super fun and amazing, let me just press the pause button and say this. If you are a first-year teacher, if you are a third-year teacher, shoot man if you are a seventh-year teacher, and you’re still learning the ropes, getting the hang of things, figuring out your place in your art room, and just the idea of teaching sewing to your students sounds completely overwhelming, then take a deep breath, relax, enjoy this podcast, and just tuck it in the back of your mind. Because let me just say that as a person who’s been teaching art for 20 years, when you get to a point when you’ve been teaching for a while, you’re ready to start trying new things in the art room. You’re comfortable and you know a little bit more about child development, and you understand what’s age-appropriate and what’s not.
So if just the idea of me mentioning sewing in the art room sounds completely overwhelming and you’re getting stressed at the thought, I don’t want you guys to ever feel like, especially when you listen to this podcast, that you have to do the things that I’m talking about. Think of them as suggestions and just do your very stinking best in your art room. And when you feel confident, and you feel comfortable, and you feel like, “Yeah, I’m ready to go forward and tackle something a little bit different to really push myself as a teacher and my students,” then I say give it a shot. And I say that because if I were a first-year teacher, and somebody mentions sewing to me, I think I would have fainted. I would have been like, “I don’t even know how to distribute paint. I don’t even know how to teach them how to get them caps snapped back on those markers.” Let me just tell you, you’re never going to figure that one out.
So take it with a grain of salt and just … Yeah, let me just share with you what I do and maybe you’ll find a way to make it work. It doesn’t have to be next week. It could be a couple of years from now. All right, so sewing in the art room. I’m going to share with you my five “keys to success.” And I’m saying that in quotes because there are times that when I’m in the middle of teaching sewing, I really start to question my sanity and my choices in life. So let’s take a listen to those keys to “success,” shall we?
All right. So when it comes to sewing, the biggest struggle, and weaving, that I feel most teachers have and the reason that we want to end up pulling our hair out or sprouting more gray hairs, is because we don’t get our kids as independent as we can as possible. And what I mean by that is this. After the first … And I have my students usually for about 30 minutes, my younger students, and my third and fourth graders for an hour. So after the first two 30-minutes classes with my younger students and after the first hour class with my older kids, I have a very firm rule. I am not threading needles. I am not tying knots. And I am not removing stitches. Those are my three rules. Because if you don’t really establish that and get those kids being independent, then you are going to constantly be at the mercy of, “Can you thread my needle? Can you tie this knot? Can you show me how to do this? Can you fix this?” and next thing you know, you’ve got a big long line of kids who need help, when really they could figure it out themselves.
If you do stuff for kids all the time, then, of course, they’re going to let you. It’s far easier to let somebody else do the work for you. It’s not that they’re not able to, it’s just that you’ve enabled them to be dependent on you. So the faster that you can get kids threading their own needles, tying their own knots, and figuring out those sewing mistakes, the happier they will be, the more independent they will be, and trust me, the happier you will be. And we’ll dig a little bit deeper into that when I share some projects that I do with my students.
Another thing that I find to be super helpful when I’m teaching sewing to my kids is having some backup help. It is tremendous. I love having backup help when it comes to sewing, when it comes to printmaking is nice, but especially with clay. You know what I’m talking about. It’s always great to have another pair of adult eyes watching the kids, looking out for them, looking out for them making mistakes and helping them out. I used to send out emails to parents when we had a much larger PTO. We no longer have that luxury. But if you do have a nice PTO that’s a good size, definitely reach out to them and just say, “Hey, in the next couple of weeks, we’re getting ready to embark on a sewing project. We would love your help in the art room, even if you don’t know how to sew.” Make sure to stress that. Because if they’re in the room when you’re teaching sewing to your students, then they can learn along with your students and be able to help them.
And how cool is that to see Mom or Dad or Grandma learning along with you. What a great experience that could be for your kids. And trust me, it will help so much for your sanity to have another adult or a couple on hand to help kids when they’re learning how to sew. All right, now let’s talk about appropriate lessons for teaching sewing skills to kids. I do not do any kind of sewing with my kindergarten kids. I feel like when my students are in kindergarten, there are some kids who would get it no problem. First day, they would be off and running. And then there are the other kids who just are not developmentally ready to understand the concept of sewing. And that’s okay. But it can be very frustrating for both them and for you.
And the last thing, me personally, that I would ever want to do is cause one of my students to be so frustrated with an art activity that it turns them off to that art activity, that they potentially shut down. So for that reason, I do not do any sewing projects with my kindergarten students. But I do start it as early as first grade. Now, in the podcast where I was chatting about weaving, I shared that my weaving project for first grade is a simple paper weaving project. What I love about the paper weaving project is that the paper, the weft is going over and under the warp. Sewing is very similar. Your needle is going up through the fabric and down through the fabric.
So when my students have finished their weaving project, I usually will do a project where we hole punch along two of the sides of the weaving, and then the kids learn how to do a whip stitch around the edge of their weaving. And we do that with yarn, and like I said, I hole punch the holes for them. I’ve tried having them hole punch the holes before, but that usually ends up in kind of a disaster. They usually end up putting the hole punched holes too close to the edge of the paper causing it to have the thread just constantly fall out. So I usually do it for them, or like I said, recruit those parent volunteers. They’re always wonderful and game to help out.
Why I love doing that with my students is because you can teach them two kinds of stitches. You could show them how to do a running stitch along the edge of their weaving. Once they’ve gotten that, they could just pull the yarn out. Great, you learned how to do a running stitch. Now, let me show you how to do a whip stitch. And I like to show them the two different kinds of stitches just because it’s something fun that they can do easily and then they kind of have that vocabulary and understanding for when they go to second grade. I know it seems silly, like how are they going to remember in one year’s time something they did in first grade? Trust me, when it’s a unique experience, like sewing, and if you call it sewing, they’re going to have so many memories of or thoughts I guess of parents or grandparents, so that stays with them.
And when you carry that over to the second year and say, “Remember when you were in first grade, we learned how to do two kinds of sewing stitches, a running stitch and a whip stitch?” And even if you pull out the old example, a lot of them will remember that. Okay, so now let’s move on and chat about second grade. I’ve done different kinds of sewing projects with kids over the years. But one of my favorites is to use burlap as the fabric that we stitch on. And I really like burlap because you can buy it inexpensively and it’s a woven material that you can kind of see through. So the kids can see their hand underneath the fabric and know where to pull their needle up to create their stitches.
Something I don’t love about burlap is number one, I guess I could Google what is it made out of. But those little, weird fibers that get all up in my nostrils and tickle and I’m constantly sneezing. Maybe I have an allergy. Maybe I should look into that. But that’s thing number one I don’t dig about burlap. The other thing I don’t love is that it tends to unravel. And I have a solution for that. So when you purchase your burlap … And do a little bit of digging on some of your art supply catalogs because you can get burlap in some really beautiful colors. You don’t have to stick to the traditional brown. One thing you can do when you’re prepping your burlap for your students is this. Unroll … I usually like to buy it by the bolt. Unroll your bolt a little ways. Take a small snip of fabric. And what you can do is gently tug and pull one of the burlap threads out. And as you do that, it’s going to create a runner in the fabric. And what that runner does is it provides a line for you to cut along your burlap.
Now, once you’ve gotten your burlap pieces cut to size, and in this most recent project, my second graders stitched on burlap that was about 5 by 6 inches, a little rectangle of burlap. I lay all the burlap out on a piece of paper. And I draw a line of white Elmer’s Glue around the edge. The next day I come back, the glue holds the burlap fibers together so that even if the kids tug on it, it’s not going to completely unravel and fall apart.
Another thing I love about burlap is that when the kids are stitching with it, you don’t have to use embroidery hoops. Oh gosh, I’ve done so many sewing and embroidery projects with kids where I’m having to use embroidery hoops, and I’m taking them off and on to prep for the next class. It’s just a headache. I think it’s an important skill for them to learn, but not in a 30-minute time slot like what I’ve got. So if you’ve got that little rectangle of burlap, you don’t need embroidery hoops. Now, on those, my very first day that my kids are stitching, we use what’s called a tapestry needle. They’re metal needles. I love them because they have a large eye so the kids can thread them pretty easily. But we do have a trick for that. And they’re also blunt needles. So they’re dull on the end, and there’s no worry about kids getting harmed or poked with a needle.
I also have my kids stitch with yarn when it comes to burlap, which I love because it comes in a wide variety of colors for them to choose from. When they thread that needle, I have little tiny pieces of Post-it Note paper that I fold in half. That acts as our needle threader. The kids simply take that little-folded piece of Post-it Note paper, they unfold it, put their yarn inside. It’s shaped kind of like a long skinny hotdog bun. That’s actually what we call it, is a hotdog bun. They put their yarn in the hotdog bun, pinch it, slide it through the eye of the needle, pull it through, and voila, the needle is threaded. I always have them knot the yarn both at the needle and at the bottom of the yarn. And those are things that we learn on that very first day in 30 minutes. We do absolutely no stitching, we just learn how to thread our needle, tie knots, and we do what’s called parking our needle.
I have enough needles that each of my students can just keep the needle they’re using. They don’t have to take it out and give it back to me at the end of class. That to me is time-consuming. So I’ve splurged a bit just to make sure that I have enough of those tapestry needles for all of my students. They also make tapestry needles that are plastic. But there’s something about giving kids the “real art supplies,” a real metal needle, as opposed to a plastic one that just feels like a junky toy. It’s going to make them sit up a little taller and feel like they’re using actual grown-up supplies.
For this most recent project, my students did a running stitch around the edge of the fabric. So that was their first task was to learn how to do a running stitch. Then they could pick a little motif to go in the middle of their burlap fabric, a star, a heart, or a rainbow. I would draw it with Sharpie, and they learned how to do back stitch, which is just the same thing as a running stitch, except jumping forward a little bit with your stitch and then coming back to the original spot. And yeah, they had the best time. And they also did a really good job of, because I have my rule of I cannot help you thread your needle or tie your knots, they did a really good job of seeking out friends who could help them. Or if they were really smart, they just learned how to do it themselves because they found out things go a lot faster if I just figure this out on my own.
Now, when it comes to my third and fourth graders, who I do have for an hour, thank goodness, we’ve done all sorts of sewing projects. And usually it’s not an embroidered project like second grade or a tapestry, but it’s an actual sewing project. And let me tell you, they get so stinking excited. We have sewn emoji pillows, doughnut pillows, pizza pillows were and are a huge hit. You can find a video for that on my blog. And we make them huge, like the size of a New York style pizza. And we’ve also made stuffed monsters, another lesson you can also find in my blog.
When my students are sewing, they have to learn how to use an actual needle, one that’s not just like the tapestry needle, but one that’s actually sharp and pointy on the end. Those needles that we use for sewing are called chenille needles. This is important. I love chenille needles for use with the kids because they have an eye that’s just big enough for them to possibly thread without a needle threader, although we still use the same needle threader trick. So that’s great because then they can remember what they learned in second grade. So we’re building on that knowledge from second grade.
I also love chenille needles because they’re sharp on the ends, so it can really pierce through the fabric. Speaking of fabric, when it comes to sewing stuffies or pillow with my students, I love using craft store felt. I almost always buy it by the bolt. It’s way cheaper to do it that way. So with the emoji pillows, I bought a bolt of the bright yellow fabric, and we made big pillows, like the size of a plate, a dinner plate. And I say that because I actually took my stash of dinner plates to school for my kids to trace around. Mitch was not so happy about that because we had to eat off the tiny little dessert plates for a couple of nights. He got over it.
Then when we make pizza pillows like I said, those are massive, so I always buy a huge bolt of the tan pizza crust color fabric. So that’s one kind of fabric that I love to use. I also really like having my kids stitch with something called Smart-Fab. If you think about what those bags that you take to the grocery store, your reusable bags, that’s essentially Smart-Fab. It’s great. It’s cheap. It comes in a huge assortment of colors. And very easy for kids to get needles through.
Now speaking of stitching, let’s talk thread because this was little bit of a learning curve for me. When it comes to sewing, you think, “Well, we’re going to sew with thread.” I don’t love sewing with thread because I’ve noticed, especially if you use inexpensive thread, it tends to snap and break really easily. One thread that’s a little stronger is crochet thread. And this is what we use, and I absolutely love crochet thread. I guess you could call it crochet yarn. But when you go to the craft store, you want to buy the crochet thread that is the thinnest and smallest as possible that you can buy. I like it way better than embroidery floss, because if you’ve ever done any embroidery, you know that embroidery floss is actually six separate strands of thread, which is, gosh, just a mess of a tangle. So I suggest using this crochet thread. It’s my favorite stuff to use. And you can buy it in a pretty good amount. And I usually just get white. And that’s what we use to stitch together our pillows.
One last thing that I love to have on hand when my students are learning how to sew, my older students, is I love to have patterns for them to use. For example, if you didn’t want to use your dinner plate, that was, of course, our pattern, but had actual paper circles cut out. Or we always have pizza patterns for my students to use or even the monsters, they have to create their own pattern. It’s important for them to learn that aspect of sewing because when you are sewing, you’re always using a pattern. And if you’re using a pattern, you have to learn how to use a pin and pin the pattern to the fabric. And that’s another tool that I always include when we are sewing with my students.
So that’s a lot to take in. And now let’s talk for a hot minute about wrangling all of those supplies. Because if your schedule is like mine, you have back-to-back classes. And I have kindergartners come in right after my fourth graders. So if they’re sewing and they leave pins and needles on the tables, then we’re going to have an issue when I have kindergartners come in the room. So here’s how I keep up with supplies for sewing. And again, when it comes to needles, I have all of my students have their own needle. So when they’re finished stitching for that day, instead of tying a knot and putting the needles back, I simply have them park their needle. It’s a little bit more of an expense to make sure everybody has their own needle, but that’s just what’s worked for me. And I know other art teachers do it in a different way, so find out what works best for you.
As far as pins go, I love magnetic wands. You can find magnetic wands at your local craft store. And they’re great because the magnet in them is so strong that when you just kind of gently sweep it over the table, it’ll zap up any of those pins, especially the ones you might not see. And in the past, I’ve put together sewing kits. And my kits, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get my boys on board with sewing. Trust me, you guys, they’re going to love it. I went to Dollar Tree and bought a bunch of their toolkits. They’re black. They have a bright yellow handle. They’ve got these really loud snapping latches. And when it’s cleanup time, they drop in their magnetic wand, their thread, and their needle book if they happen to have any needles that they’re not using into their toolkit and snap it shut.
So those are just some of the things I do that have really been my keys to “success” when it comes to sewing with my kids. I don’t know if that might help you. Hopefully, it does. Definitely check out my blog if you’re wanting a couple of more sewing or fiber arts videos because I’ve shared quite a bit. All right, guys. Happy stitching with those kiddos.
Tim: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. If you’re enjoying this episode about sewing and you want to learn, even more, check out Cassie’s learning pack in the Art Ed PRO Library called Sewing Basics in the Art Room. You can learn how to get started with all of the sewing fundamentals that you need. You can explore instructional strategies that work best when you’re teaching sewing and find the techniques that you need to add to your fiber arts curriculum immediately. All of that can be found, along with a ton of resources, in the Sewing Basics in the Art Room Learning Pack in the Art Ed PRO Library. And if you aren’t a member of Art Ed PRO, you can check it out and start your free trial at theartofed.com/pro. Now, let’s turn it back over to Cassie as she opens up the mailbag and finishes the episode.
Cassie: Wow. Since I done jibber-jabbered about sewing so much, I’m going to take a real quick dip into the mailbag. And this first question comes from Jill. She asks, “What kind of projects do you do for your Artome fundraisers. Okay, if you’re not familiar, Artome is this company out of Atlanta, Georgia where your students create a work of art on a 9 by 12 piece of paper, which they can provide. You send the artwork to them, and then they will double mat frame the artwork with a beautiful black frame. Then they bring all of the artwork to you on your designated art show day, a date that you can pick, set up your entire art show, and then you can sell the artwork. They, of course, because it’s a fundraiser and they’re a business, they gotta make some cha-ching, they take a portion of the sales, I believe it’s $19 per framed piece, and then whatever you upcharge is what you pocket for your art room.
So I usually charge $25 for a double matted, beautifully-framed work of art by a kiddo. I think that’s kind of a steal. We’ve been doing this fundraiser, this will be I believe our fourth year, and I love it. Now, I am not a person that repeats projects. But when it comes to the Artome fundraiser, I’ve kind of honed in the five, kindergarten through fourth grade, the five projects that always guarantees success for the kids’ beautiful work of art, and we always do self-portraits. If you ask a parent, “What’s the one thing your kid could make that you would really cherish,” they’re going to say a self-portrait, at least that would be my guess. So I never really ask. Maybe I should ask.
So all of my students, kindergarten through fourth, do a form of self-portraits. I have each one of those lessons on my blog and my YouTube channel except for the kindergarten project. The reason being is because it involves a photo of my students, and I cannot share photos of my kiddos on my blog. I probably could. I could probably have permission. I’m just not comfortable doing it. So I will just gently skip over that one and just share with you what I do with my first through fourth graders.
My first graders, we do a project titled Royal First Graders, royal first-grade self-portraits, where they make a painting of themselves and then we learn how to make a little crown, and we attach that to our self-portrait. Super cute turns out great. You can, again, find it on my blog or YouTube channel titled Royal First Graders.
Second grade, we do superhero self-portraits. So we learn a little bit about Van Gogh, create a really cool sky, paint a city under the sky, and then make a little cartoon superhero version of us flying over the city saving the day. That would be under Superhero Selfies.
My third graders do a project that is super popular on my blog. It’s inspired by the artist, Sandra Silberzweig. And these are abstract portraits with black glue on black construction paper with chalk. A show-stopper. These look gorgeous.
And then my fourth graders usually do a Romero Britto-inspired self-portrait with a lot of color and a lot of pattern. This project, however, does take a very long time. And I know my students this year quite well because I’ve taught them since kindergarten, and I know that they’re patience might not be able to last all the way through the duration of this project. As a teacher, you gotta know your people. And I know my people. So we’re changing it up a little bit where my students are using bingo daubers to create a simplistic self-portrait. And we will be using chalk and liquid starch to create a really colorful Fauve-inspired self-portrait. If you’re not familiar with the chalk and liquid starch trick, then hop over to my blog and look up Clair West landscapes. Chalk and liquid starch is about to blow your mind. And those words have never been spoken before in a sentence.
If you have a question for me, then hopefully I won’t talk about sewing so stinking long that I’ll have the time to answer it. You can send it my way at the Everyday Art Room at theartofed.com. You’re welcome.
Cassie: You want to know my most favorite thing about sharing my love for sewing with my students is watching them become in love with sewing as much as I am. Recently, I told my kids, because I’m just going to be honest with you, it takes forever to sew with kids. I’m talking forever. I don’t know what’s happening, but some of my kids are done in a heartbeat and my other kids, they’re just meticulous with those stitches. And y’all, they’re going to stitch until that very last day of school. So I have been putting deadlines on them.
You guys, today is the last day for sewing. Early finishers, you’re on standby to help my friends who are still stitching. But just so you know, these are the projects that you’re going to move on and work on. Which by the way if you’re curious, my early finishers are working on the sketchbook covers, which is an open-ended assignment that they can work on any time. Anyway, what I have done was I’ve opened up my art room to my students during their recess time. If you guys want to keep working on your sewing project or create something new, you’re welcome to come in during your recess time.
So I have a group of about a dozen fourth-grade kids who are now dedicated to coming to my room during recess, and I am living for it. They come in while I’m teaching my kindergartners, and I have established that I cannot help you. I cannot chat with you. Please make sure that you get out the supplies you need and make sure you put away everything. I told them that if they left even a single pin out, sewing club during recess would come to a screeching halt. These kids have been so amazing, so independent, creating additional things for their backpacks, little tiny emoji pillows, little heart shapes, checkerboard games, you name it, they are blowing my mind.
And I really think it’s because I have shared with them something that adults just don’t do anymore. They wouldn’t be able to learn from their parents because perhaps their parents don’t know or don’t have the time to share that with them. And it’s something that is a functional object, something that serves a purpose. And they made it with their hands. And how stinking awesome is that. I don’t know why I’m getting teary, but I am. So I’m just going to stop there and wish you the best upcoming week ever.