5 More Things Learned Teaching Kids to Quilt

Summer’s here, along with some special time to spend quilting with kids! I get a week and a half with my granddaughters doing all sorts of fun things. This is the second year they’ve traveled from Indiana, without their parental unit. We seem to be settling into a few Colorado traditions: spending time with their boy cousins, a concert at Red Rocks, horseback riding in the mountains with poppa, and… wait for it…QUILTING WITH GRAMMA!! This year, their dad dubbed our time “Gramma’s Quilt Retreat” and I simply love it.

Last year was our first go with learning to quilt. In fact, I wrote about our experience in a blogpost, Kids are Quilting: 5 Things Are Learned Teaching Kids To Quilt. It was the girls’ first time quilting; the first time using a sewing machine for then 8-year old Lily. I was so happy when Morgan and Lily both told me during a visit-planning phone call, “Let’s make a quilt!”

Morgan arrived with her design to make diagonal rows with setting triangles. It wasn’t long before Lily and I came up with a design for her to refresh and refine what she learned last year. We planned our trip to the quilt shop, finalizing designs and calculating yardage for the fabric. Thirteen-year-old Morgan decided to use her favorite color blue for her quilt, and Lily is still into all the colors of the rainbow. The quilt shop was alive as the girls pulled out bolts and auditioned their fabrics. I left Morgan to work mostly with one of the staff quilters to help select most of her fabric, (another good experience to have). We spent more time this year talking about finding the right color values that work together, mixing prints, tone-on-tones and solids—adding a visual balance and texture to a quilt top. It was a flurry of activity as the girls settled on a large number of different fabrics for each of their quilts. And then, I did something I told myself I would never ever do with my grandchildren. When Lily gasped at the sight of the total cost of the fabric for 2 queen-sized quilt tops Gramma said, “We don’t talk about what we pay for fabric. What’s spent at the quilt shop stays with the quilt shop.” I couldn’t believe that came out of my mouth! But, you know, that’s part of teaching kids to quilt.

Home again, we set up the dining table with our sewing machines, lights, and supplies to set up for quilting. Morgan, with the lessons learned from last year, dug right in with little direction. I was totally impressed she had remembered so much about the process. She asked for some advice here and there, and I offered some here and there, but mostly she managed on her own. Lily and I worked together to get her started. I’m still not comfortable with her using the rotary cutter, so while I cut her strips she made sure I had cut enough, organized them and used the leftovers to design clothing for the dress form in the studio.

Perhaps another interest brewing with cloth?

Perhaps another interest brewing with cloth?

For me, it was another year of learning some things that seem to work well when you are teaching kids to quilt. Here are some of my observations.

1. The size of your machine matters.

Lily’s beginner machine.

Lily’s beginner machine.

I set up Lily with a beginner kids’ sewing machine last year. The presser foot is larger, feeds fabric slower and is generally built for stitching shorter seams. With guards built in for safety, it worked really well for teaching the basic skills of running the machine and stitching. We started with the same machine this year. As the strips of her quilt grew longer it wasn’t long before I noticed she seemed to be struggling with sewing long straight seams. I think because she was pushing against the regulations built into the machine for younger children. So, I decided to experiment and brought out a regular size machine for a try. She’d learned the safety lessons and basic operation from her beginner machine to get comfortable with sewing, transferring them to the new machine seamlessly. I found that changing the machine size at this point definitely helped Lily move ahead in her abilities.

Lily is cruising now.

Lily is cruising now.

2. Build in a learning curve.

I re-discovered the learning curve for quilting could be longer than expected if you are a newbie with the sewing machine. There are a lot of things that have to come together; the psychomotor skills of running the machine, manipulating fabric, where you enlist body parts, as well as knowing what you are doing, to create the design. As with last year, we fell into just the right projects for the skill level. Morgan was able to extend her knowledge gained from last year for the basic piecing of her quilt and Lily’s strips were perfect for practicing start-up skills. Morgan made her quilt with minimal guidance using the skills she had gained–a confidence booster for sure to make all of your quilt top at 13. And, Lily became quite good at working with a sewing machine and the importance of making straight seams.

3. Fabric management is tough.

You forget all of the pieces and parts that go into learning a new skill. Fabric management was an eye opener for me this year. Last year, Lily’s quilt was made of 12” blocks, with short seams to sew. She sewed them into rows and then I helped her sew them together. Her quilt this year was made of 4” wide strips, with each strip getting longer as she added to the quilt top. It was a perfect uncomplicated project. As she added strips, she had to manage the whole quilt top until it became too cumbersome for her smaller hands to hold onto the fabric while keeping it straight to feed through the machine. I ended helping her by breaking down what I do to coordinate the interaction of the fabric, hand and machine movements all at the same time. That was a trick in itself. We finally figured out the biggest helper is laying the fabric on the table around the machine to support most of the weight of the growing quilt top, leaving just the right amount between you and the machine to feed through about 12-18” at a time. Stopping the machine regularly to adjust the fabric also helps. Thinking about it, I was amazed at how routine all of the little motions become as you become a skilled quilter.

4. Build in fun.

Kids just have a knack for making fun in life, don’t they? I praised them as they mastered additional skills. Being the sports-minded gals that they are they also wanted high-fives for gaining particular skill. And, I wouldn’t deliver until it was worthy. Fist bumps were added to the high-fives when something extra tough was accomplished. At some point, as they were adding rows to the quilts, the notion of a victory lap came into play. The girls would check in with each other to coordinate finishing a row and then take a short break to run through the house with quilt tops flying.

Victory Laps!

Victory Laps!

5. Practice is progress.

quilting-with-kids-morgan-finished-quiltAs quilters, we grow as we try bigger projects with more complex parts to put together. Last year Lily sewed a seam and I sewed all of the seams again to straighten the blocks. This year I decided the focus had to be on just learning the skill of making accurate ¼” seams. By default, it also became one of building endurance for a 9-year-old. Lily’s project was perfect for this. Starting with an 18” center block, she added strips around the center, making a huge log cabin block. It was great because with each strip she had to focus longer on keeping the seam straight. There were definitely some crooked seams, but she was a trooper when I asked her to re-sew them. We also worked on the importance of not accepting anything less than accurate because if care isn’t taken lack of it influences the finished quilt. At the end of adding each strip, I asked Lily to evaluate her work and answer the question “How did I do with this seam?” We evaluated a do-over together until she eventually came to me to confirm a re-do. I decided the message here is still practice, practice, and practice to make perfect.

Last day in Colorado. Quilt Tops (above, above, right) Done for a Photo Finish!

Last day in Colorado. Quilt Tops Done for a Photo Finish!

Thinking back to our time together this summer, the very best part of the week for me was sitting around the table with my girls, happily stitching, talking about our projects, singing with the music playing and sharing the things happening in our lives. I’m sure quilting together is one of the very best ways we’ll have to create a bond that lasts well into their adult years. And, the bestest part…when their projects were nearly completed they started talking about the quilts they’ll make next year!


Quiltmaker November/December 2017 Holiday Festival

Quiltmaker November/December 2017 Holiday Festival

Just one more tip… Sew with the kids. It’s true they learn so much from role models. Choose a simple project so you don’t end up frustrated because you don’t get a lot of time to concentrate. Like last year, I worked on a holiday project for the November/December 2017 issue of Quiltmaker, Holiday Festival. I’ll remember this quilt the most because Morgan helped me remove the paper pieces. Check it out! It even made the cover!


This year, I worked on another holiday project, for the December/January 2019 issue of McCall’s Quick Quilts, Rocky Mountain HideawayWatch for it!

McCall’s Quick Quilts December/January 2019 Rocky Mountain Hideaway

McCall’s Quick Quilts December/January 2019 Rocky Mountain Hideaway

Happy Quilting!



Comments (2)

  • Maureen T

    What a delightful article Tricia. What an amazing Grandma! What a skillful teacher!

    Your granddaughters are are lovely and blessed to experience this time with you.

    I so admired your approach to their lessons. It was a joy to read.

    PS: your home is beautiful too?

    July 18, 2018 at 6:51 pm
  • Anne W

    I love the victory lap! I might have to work that idea into my classes.

    One of the most important things I have found with teaching kids (and many adults) is that you can’t treat a mis-sewn seam as a failure, and ripping it out a punishment. I am careful to point out why a seam needs to be ripped out and re-sewn, and point out that it happens to all of us. We even call unsewing the Frog Stitch….”rip-it, rip-it.”

    July 19, 2018 at 5:17 pm

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