Although my daughter is already predisposed to the world of making art and being creative, she is only six and I have had my doubts about her ability to handle various types of artistic media – like embroidery – that require more patience and control… and sharp needles.
Regardless, she has been watching me embroider more closely in recent months and has been quite upfront about her desire to try it out.
I decided to start her out with plastic canvas like I did when I was a kid. For the kid that is currently all about “now that I’m in kindergarten I’m a big kid” I chose a metal tapestry needle instead of a plastic one to make the experience feel more authentic and instead of big sheets, I found small hearts that could be quickly held in the hand and completed. As anticipated, these were a big hit.
Our first session went absurdly well. With the concentration I was not aware my child could maintain, the straight-stitch, cross-stitch, and a wrapped edge stitch were quickly learned; after only a couple of hours she had even learned how to thread a needle.
Honestly, given her more typical patience level I expected that she would lose interest rather quickly when she realized how much tedium and slowness is involved in the embroidery process. I am truly happy that I was wrong because sitting side-by-side and sharing in something that I personally love and enjoy was pretty amazing.
The Little worked diligently to cover the hearts in multiple sessions over the next few weeks and in no time at all she started to experiment more and more with the length of her stitches. The finished hearts have made delightful ornaments and they sparked a deeper interest in the art form.
I could tell that she was getting a little bored after awhile, however. She kept watching what I was doing and she even tried to sneakily work on one of my pieces when I got up to use the restroom at one point. The inevitable question “when can I make a real one” came much earlier than I expected.
Though I still felt a bit of trepidation (and not wanted her positive energy to be spoiled with the frustrations of fabric that you can’t see through) I made her a promise – if she kept practicing and still wanted to learn with fabric I would teach her over winter break.
Over the coming weeks I showed her a lot of artists on Instagram that embroider differently than me (as I favor more natural and realistic imagery). She is interested in abstract art and loves color so I tried to share work that matches her growing aesthetic. She continued to work on the hearts but as predicted, she got tired of doing the same-old-same-old and did not seem to be motivated to try new things on the remaining canvas panels.
Because she had seemed to move on to other things, I admit that I forgot my earlier vow and so was understandably a bit thrown when she announced bright and early (6:30 am) on the very first day of winter break “I’m ready to learn how to sew now”.
So, again, I tried to make it as easy as possible by starting with a light fabric that could be held up to the light to aid in seeing the needle when necessary and I kept the bigger metal tapestry needle we used with the plastic canvas because it is blunt and fits her tiny hand well (and thankfully pierces a looser weave fabric).
We sat down early that first morning and I watched her nervously begin threading her needle in and out of the fabric. She was a natural. She did not seem phased by the opacity of the fabric and intuitively started to find the right spot by flipping the piece over on the back. Her attention was held once again by the possibilities offered by the fabric surface.
I am pretty sure that she might be a better artist than me. She has a good eye for color and she has an imagination that takes her to places I find difficult to reach without a lot of effort. I am happy to see her exploring a new artistic medium without hesitation. Sometimes when she begins something new she seeks constant affirmation that she is doing it right and asks again and again for instruction and reinforcement. When she picks up thread and needle, she seems more confident and willing to think for her self and take risks.
We have sat down many times together in the weeks since her first lesson exploring new ideas. For Christmas I made her a matching sewing kit complete with a bunch of new threads, fabrics, and hoops. She was really excited when she opened the gift and got a little overwhelmed and just wrapped her little arms around my neck when I told her that I was so proud of how patient she had been in learning some of the basics.
I see other artists encouraging their young children to explore embroidery too and it seems that each of us attacks this a bit differently. For each parent, it is clear that they apply what they know about their child’s personality in their choice of materials and approaches.
I know that for my own Little, simply treating her like a “big kid” (and not hovering too much) helped her feel more confident and motivated to prove that she was old enough. That confidence helped ease my anxiety and give her the space she needed to let go and have fun with the joy of new discoveries.