The Trick to Teaching a Handicraft
This post contains affiliate links that are irresistible. I mean, who doesn’t want to cross stitch a scene from Hogwarts?
OK, this is mostly a mom-brag post because I want to show off this awesome costume that my daughter made.
My little Jedi. ♥
I didn’t even take pictures of my other two kids, which is definitely going to cost me some points in life’s ongoing mother-of-the-year competition. It’s okay though — I’m fairly sure I’m out of the running, given how much candy my two-year-old ate yesterday. It doesn’t really matter though — Forest wore the spider suit that both my girls have worn at least twice, so I’ve already got four years worth of photos of that costume. Third kid and all, right? If it wasn’t for Instagram selfies, I don’t know if we’d have any photos of him at all. (I’m kidding. Have you seen how stinkin’ cute that kid is??!)
As for Harbour, she changed her costume 57 times through the month of October and then just wore a supergirl cape over a sweater. I’m kind of sad that she didn’t stick with her original Ghost-Fairy-Chicken idea, mostly because it would have been fun to watch people trying to guess her costume on Halloween night. I suppose that the Ghost-Fairy-Chicken was too fussy, and Harbour is utterly practical when it comes to costumes. One year, at two-and-a-half, she rejected my handmade costume at the last minute and insisted on wearing her duck raincoat instead. And then it rained while we were trick or treating and everyone praised me for my foresight and brilliance. I totally took credit.
River takes the costume part of Halloween a lot more seriously. She decided to be a Jedi back in June when our dance recital finale was set to a Star Wars-themed mashup. It would be an easy costume since we already had the gauzy tunic that she wore on stage. I bought her a cheap lightsaber and we were done. Sweet! Then I accidentally googled “Jedi costume” and I saw just how easy it is to sew a Jedi robe.
It would be a shame not to make it, I thought. It would take an hour tops, I thought.
I should think less and Netflix more.
Thankfully this project was actually pretty straight forward. I think it took us three hours, even with my daughter doing most of the sewing herself. To finish the outfit off, we added the lightsaber, a pair of boots, and some silks from our playsilk collection to mimic the tunic. Because we use silks in every costume. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with playsilks.
Can I be nostalgic for a minute? I miss the days of homemade Halloween costumes — back when we were kids and we made them ourselves. I wonder what changed. Is it that social media displays our costumes for the world to see and suddenly our five-year-old’s attempt at a simple ghost doesn’t cut it anymore? We’re worried that our Instagram photos won’t measure up? Maybe we’re afraid that we’ll simply come off as cheap or lazy for not getting our kids a “better” costume.
Making costumes was always part of the Halloween fun for me, and it was a treat to see my own daughter work hard on her own costume. And of course the homeschooling mom in in me is delighted with all the lessons she learned too. For example:
Lesson #1: You can tell yourself that sewing something yourself will save you money, but you will end up spending more at the fabric store than if you had just bought the item at the store. That’s okay though. See Lesson #2.
Lesson #2: Store-bought hems are straighter, but you will love your crooked hems more — because you sewed them yourself.
Lesson #3: It’s super important to count the amount of pins you’re using at the beginning of your project so you know exactly how many are still missing when the two-year-old is suddenly up from his nap.
Lesson #4: If you’re going to be wearing something once or twice, you don’t really have to finish the seams.
Lesson #5: Your mom will try to add proper french seams to your costume if you let it out of your sight for a minute. You know, just in case someone checks the inside of your costume when you show up at their door to ask for candy.
Lesson #6: The automatic shut-off on an iron is the only thing that stops your mom from skipping a Halloween event and returning right home because she’s not sure if she unplugged it or not.
The Trick to Teaching a Handicraft
As I watched my eight-year-old happily hunched over the sewing machine, I realized that this Jedi robe is a much, much better learn-to-sew project than the fiddly shirt that we’ve been working on for so long that it probably won’t fit River when we’re done. The Jedi robe was so simple that we couldn’t mess it up, and because of that, it was nothing but fun.
Maybe that’s where I go wrong when I teach my children how to do handicrafts. I pick projects that are too complicated — that have too many things that can go wrong.
When my daughter learned how to knit, I gave her some beautifully soft yarn and set her to work on a scarf. Easy, right? But it wasn’t the right project for her. She kept dropping stitches here and picking up stitches there and I spent a lot of time getting her back on track. She lost interest because half of her knitting time was spent waiting for me to fix her mistakes. What if I had given her some beautiful colour-changing wool instead and just let her experiment, adding and decreasing the stitches at will? Maybe I should have given her the opportunity to play with the yarn before giving her a project to do that required a steady hand.
In Charlotte Mason circles, we talk a lot about choosing quality over quantity. We want our children to work on handicrafts that require both skill and time — crafts like knitting, embroidery, sewing, and … well, I’m sure there are handicrafts beyond my own hobbies. Woodworking maybe? Sounds dangerous though… When’s the last time you saw someone take off a thumb with a crochet hook?
The point is that we Charlotte Masoners want our children to work on crafts that require patience and perseverance. We skip the quick and easy activities, like crafts that involve milk jugs, popsicle sticks, and glitter. We just say no to the turkey made from a handprint. And the dinosaur made from a handprint. And the giraffe made from a handprint.
We want to teach our children about the joy of creating something beautiful, useful, and honoured for the time and effort it took. But maybe I’ve missed the point. I’m so focused on creating something that will bring joy that I’ve forgotten that the crafting process itself should be enjoyable too.
It’s okay to do simple, easy projects at first. They’re fun and they develop skills. A clumsily knit scarf for a doll is not crafting “twaddle,” it’s practice.
I made the same mistake with needlework. Just last month, we decided to give embroidery a shot. I purchased a class on Craftsy and we started making samplers using the colours and the pattern in the class notes. River stuck with it for a few days, but then she asked if she could do her own design in the corner of her canvas. She wanted to stitch a letter H for her sister. Maybe she would have enjoyed the learning process more if I had let her freely stitch the canvas with the colours of her choice, playing with the thread and getting a feel for the rhythm of stitching. Then, once she felt comfortable, I should have chose a simple pattern that would bring her joy. Something small. Something Harry Potter themed (affiliate link).
When I learn a new hobby myself, I choose a project and I pick up the skills as I go. That’s how I learn. But kids learn by playing and I keep forgetting that.
River mentioned making a doll and immediately I mentally started going through the supplies for a fancy Waldorf doll like the ones I made. That’s silly — I should just give her some scraps and see what she comes up with.
River saw some crocheted seahorses on Ravelry that she liked and I right away started coming up with a lesson plan. Why? I should just teach her a few basic stitches and see what designs she creates. I just need to let her play with the yarn. We can do the seahorses once she’s mastered the stitches.
The trick is to start small. Let them play. Teach the process and don’t worry about the end result.
River is itching to get back on the sewing machine again. I’m going to finish off the shirt that we started myself, and I’ll have her do simple projects instead. Maybe I’ll sew up a couple quilted placemats and let her stitch random patterns across the tops. Maybe I’ll encourage her to hand stitch clothes for her doll from my scraps so she can see how clothing comes together. Maybe I’ll just give her some fabric and let her create some art with it. Whatever she makes, I’m sure it will be wonderful and we will treasure it. And if it doesn’t? Christmas is coming up and we’ve got a lot of grandparents that will need presents. 😉