Trixi Symonds is a softie designer and sewing teacher who has been teaching kids to sew for over 25 years. She is the founder of the global sewing phenomenon Sew a Softie. She is also the author of Sew Together Grow Together (2014), with 20 original projects to bring parents and children together through sewing.
We are thrilled to participate in Trixi's blog tour for her latest books: Sewing Simple Softies With 17 Amazing Designers (Schiffer 2021) and The Zenki Way: A Guide to Designing & Enjoying Your Own Creative Softies (Schiffer 2021). Today Trixi is sharing some of her tips for sewing with kids and a simple softie tutorial. If you love this, be sure to check out our amazing giveaway at the end of the post!
Kids love sewing. And not just girls - boys too! Over 25 years of running sewing workshops for kids puts this beyond any doubt. Kids are pretty good at sewing and it’s good for them. It helps to develop their independence, self-confidence and creativity. And most importantly, it allows them to experience the "Wow! I made this myself!" feeling. Once a mum told me, "It was as though I could see my child growing right before my eyes."
I started Sew a Softie in 2016 to inspire people all around the world to start sewing something simple with the next generation. It’s been an amazing success because of this one simple fact: kids really do love sewing.
The most common obstacle to sewing with kids is that many parents or teachers don’t know where or how to begin. I often get emails asking, “What sort of project should I begin with?” or “I’ve tried sewing with my daughter, but she loses interest.”
Tips for Sewing with Kids
Here are a few useful tips on what sort of projects work well with kids as they start their sewing adventures:
- Softies are great for kids to sew. They're something kids can allow their imaginations to play with. And they're something kids, even very young kids, can easily relate to. They can be ordinary objects from the everyday world or characters brimming with energy and life.
- Whatever project you choose, it should not have too many bits and pieces to pin, insert or to sew together. The fewer pieces there are, the easier it will be for your kids to manage.
- Your child should be able to complete the project in a fairly short time. Kids are great at concentrating on something they really enjoy doing, but they will become disheartened if it takes too long to finish.
- Avoid projects that demand complicated stitches. Running stitches are wonderful for kids. And remember, their stitches don’t have to look perfect. I’ve known mums who find it hard not to help their kids tidy up their stitches. Mums, leave their wonky stitches wonky! It’s hard for our kids to have fun when they feel that they’re doing things wrong. If you asked me what I think is the single most important secret to successful sewing with kids, I’d say, “That’s easy. Their sewing has to be fun!”
Zenkis: The Simplest Softies Ever!
Creating simple sewing projects has always been my main interest, but a few years ago, I took this interest one step further. I set out to design the absolute simplest softie ever! Sounds ambitious, I know, but the result was a new kind of softie that I called a zenki.
Zenkis are softies that require only two pieces of felt, a running stitch around the torso and no fiddly insertions for arms, feet and whatever other bits and pieces they need to express their wonderful, and sometimes, quirky natures.
Felt was very much a part of their design. It’s soft to work with, it’s easy for kids to hold and push a needle through, it comes in wonderfully vibrant colours, and it doesn’t fray. Wool blend felt is my favourite fabric for kids: it’s good quality, reasonably priced and just lovely to sew.
The more I experimented with the zenki design, the more I discovered how endlessly adaptable it was. I’ve chosen the tutorial below to give you a taste of what a zenki-style softie looks like and to demonstrate just how simple zenkis are to make with your kids or classes.
A Zenki-style Koala Softie
Little Bluey is my contribution to Sewing Simple Softies With 17 Amazing Designers which showcases a colorful spectrum of wonderful softie designs by Sew a Softie participants.
Little Bluey, however, is not exactly like the Bluey who is very proud to be the first project in Sewing Simple Softies. His template is exactly the same, but I’ve made him smaller. And my Bluey in the book isn’t, well, blue. He’s the kind of colour that koalas are, but as you’ll see, little Bluey is blue. Partly because I like him that colour and partly because kids like using all sorts of odd colours for their creations. It’s something I guess I’ve picked up from them. And also, my very first Bluey was very blue. I was using some left-over scraps that I had and there was just enough blue felt left to try out his design on. That’s how he got his name too. And as it turns out, his name is very appropriate: “Bluey” is an old-fashioned, but very Australian moniker, originally used by Aussie troops in the First World War.
Skill Level: Beginner
Time: 1 hour
6" x 5" of Cyan Wool Blend Felt
5” X 4” of Aqua Wool Blend Felt
Small Pieces of Pink, Black, Smoke and White Wool Blend Felt
Weighting Material (Rice)
Little Bluey Template (click to download)
1. Print and cut out the PDF pattern above. Trace the template for the back of little Bluey onto Cyan wool blend felt and the front of little Bluey onto Aqua wool blend felt and cut them out.
2. Trace the template for the nose onto Smoke wool blend felt and the inside of the ears onto Pink wool blend felt and cut them out.
3. Make circles for the eyes from the White and Black wool blend felt scraps. There are all sorts of hole punchers that are great for making small circles. I’ve used a replaceable hollow punch to punch out the pupils and whites of little Bluey’s eyes.
4. Glue the eyes and nose into place on the front of little Bluey. To make the mouth, I’ve used two stitches.
5. Pin the front and back of little Bluey’s body together. Sew around, as below, leaving an opening for stuffing at the top of his head.
6. Fill the bottom half of little Bluey with weighting material. I’ve used rice grains. Stuff the top half and sew the opening closed.
7. Glue on the inside ears.
Don’t let little Bluey out of your sight for too long. Little koalas can get up to all sorts of mischief. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Happy sewing, Trixi
Thank you to Trixi Symonds for designing and writing this tutorial! You can follow her on Instagram @sewasoftie or visit her website. Visit our Instagram @benziedesign and enter to win Sewing Simple Softies and The Zenki Way as well as all the felt, stuffing and supplies needed to make Bluey! Get your kids ready for some stitching and crafting this summer. Three winners will be announced on Friday, May 7. Good luck and happy crafting!