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making with kids - letter pillow - part 1

first! have you subscribed? i'm heading towards a weekly newsletter, and if you: dig any of these posts, sometimes channel your inner 13 year old, like weird info about things and stuff, and sometimes miss having sticker books, you should scroll down to the bottom and subscribe! i think this will be a continuing series- projects-i'm-doing-with-elementary-kids (k-5). i realized, if i'm detailing out the process (for students who want to take projects home to work on), it'd be cool to share the info, so here's the first one i've compiled.

i'm currently teaching sewing in our neighborhood elementary school, and i have to admit, i kind of fiercely love it. we have 2 hours after school on tuesday and thursday, and i've got the die-hard, committed bunch. i have a kindergartner and first grader who will sew anything you put in front of them. i rarely sit- there's untangling, and re-threading, and knotting... but ever so slowly i see real progress. it's really lovely to impart a beloved skill to another human. and when those humans are twee, and adorable, plus, want to be there... *gush, swoon, heart eyes*

the following supplies and directions are a suggestion. at most steps along the way, students have personalized, or made it completely their own. i love when that happens. supply a framework, watch creativity abound.

this pillow was initially (see what i did there?) something i found on pinterest. if i find the source (edit- looks like it was a pillow at nordstrom rack!), i will link and give credit. here's the pin... i use this board to keep inspiration for things i want to make, both me, and me-with-kids. the students collectively agreed this was the next project, prior to this project, we made versions of these.

let's jump in!

supplies needed (above):

fabric (22" of 90" muslin or equivalent)

fabric scissors



disappearing fabric pen or equivalent (tailor's chalk, transfer paper and rotary)

paper (white, 11x17 is what i used- bigger is better in this case)

pearl cotton or thicker thread or yarn (floche, danish flower thread or sashiko would all work- keep it to a one strand option for less tangles)

sewing needle (with kids, i tend to use bigger needles with a bigger eye)

to begin, using my clear ruler, i drew out the letter i want to embroider (above), on paper. my main goal is to make it large. i'm using a black sharpie so i can see it's outline through my fabric for tracing. it covers the entire height of the paper, and it's the thickness (2" wide) of my ruler. this letter R is from my class. for this pillow, i need a P. when i trace it, i'm just going to leave off the leg of the R.

next, fabric (above)- the pillow inserts i got from ikea are 20"x20". i cut a 22" strip of fabric from 90" wide muslin. you can definitely cut less, but i find that sewing with kids, having a little extra for unforeseeable mistakes, never hurts. lay the fabric out in a long horizontal strip on a flat surface.

a note about fabric choice- i chose muslin, because... it's inexpensive, and i have about 10 students. of course this project translates on to colored fabric, printed fabric... yard dyed... anything really. but for ease, and cost... getting everyone going, i went with muslin. (other fabric options: recycling a piece of clothing- t-shirt, men's dress shirt, skirt or dress, curtain, bedsheet)

next, i'm going to take the letter i've made, and put it under the far right side of my fabric. i'm going to center the letter from top to bottom, and side to side. i'm not really trying to perfectly center it, just approximate. also, this placement is a chance to personalize. it can be placed anywhere within the 22" square.

with your removable marking pen, trace the letter. i use a ruler on the straight edges, but it's not needed. this tracing is just a guide for your stitches.

here's my completely traced P (this is the face, or front of the fabric), now it's time to consider how you'll stitch the outline. cut a length of thread as long as your arm, and put it on your needle. knot the end. for my letter, i chose to backstitch along the marked P, chain stitch to the inside of the back stitch, and then blanket stitch along the outside. most of my students went with backstitching, and some used chain stitch for decorative stitching inside their letters. anything works. and if you want extra color and detail inside the letter, with no more extra stitching (creating the outline took a couple weeks for some students), i'll detail creating a simple screen print in part 2. it's fast, easy, and best of all gives added color and detail to the letter, without a lot of additional work. (the screens take about 15 minutes to make, and 10 minutes to paint- so. easy.)

you can see my backstitch tracing the P outline, and i've just started adding the chain stitch to the inside of that stitching. below are a few videos- back stitch, chain stitch, and a quick time lapse of adding the blanket stitch. check back on next tuesday for part 2. i'm going to detail the super easy freezer paper screen, and the next step of our design, some grid quilting around the letter to add dimension and more texture. part 3 will cover finishing and hopefully have shots of my students pillows. they're turning out great, and i can't wait to share them. hope this inspires you to get making with some kids near you! xoxo- k.

p.s. i'm rubbish at video editing but swear i'm going to improve. to that end, i got a little lost on editing my chain stitch vid. i'll try to post it tonight, so check back- the other two are here, and a 3rd one is on the way. swearsies.


time lapse blanket stitch

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