Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Radical Home-making: Sewing and Knitting for Children

Pattern here.
A photo gallery of clothing-making inspiration - for parents, grandparents and unattached adults - reclaiming another lost skill of working with fiber arts, making clothing with love and meaning - sized and tailored and envisioned and imbued with love just for that special person - to keep them warm, to dress them up, to cheer and to make feel special. Above is a girl's dress made for my God Daughter - woolen dresses are so good to keep the little bottoms warm while looking feminine and lovely. Knitted dresses are also great for long time - as the child grows, the dress becomes more of a long top, still functional and much loved!
Child's body needs to grow so fast! Unrestricted belly is important for proper organ development, and many modern day outfits have very restricting waist designs. Until about age of seven, children's bellies are big and round and need to be comfortably unrestricted by tight-waist clothing. This little summer number below is very light and loose - and it worked for two seasons. Made out of old linen shirt, so soft and comfortable - and without any elastic to restrict the body.

Linen summer pants.
Sewing is not as hard as it may seem. When I went to school in the late 70-s and mid 80-s, we were taught how to sew some basic items - though these lessons were wasted on me, and I found the sewing machine terrifying and the whole process utterly oppressive with its neatness and need of complicated measurements and patterns. But deep inside I had the urge to create, with any media, fabric being rewarding with the potential of making something wearable! Over the years I discovered that one can sew without patterns, one can simply make a pattern by tracing over favorite clothing item, and one can definately use a very simple sewing machine and still be able to sew stretch and knit fabric - i.e. pajamas, shirts, skirts, comfortable onesies for children - are all possible at home! Sewing allows not only the pleasure of creation, it allows to reuse loved items after they become worn off and re-purpose them for something else:

Striped Summer Pants
The orange trim and decoration on Striped Summer Pants above are reused from Daddy's boxers! The waist band is so soft, that it does not restrict belly in the least - benefit of being long worn by the Daddy! The rest is new fabric. Originally was made for a one-year old boy with plump little legs - but still fits a long-legged almost four-year old now - as shorts, of course. Once I figured out how to make pants, it was time to try out new skill: double-layered pants.

Infant pants, flannel with knit lining.

Lined pants are a must  for cold long winters in our region - and the top layer can be commercially made pants like on the picture below, or you can make the entire set from scratch as you see in the picture above.

In this case my son really insisted on wearing jeans so he can look like his father. Jeans are the worst possible outfit in frosty weather - especially so when worn by children who spend long stretches of time outdoors. Jeans are made with cotton, which offers no protection from cold and wearing cotton can result in frost bites. Lining jeans with thick soft flannel offers some protection while keeping the basic look:

Lined child's jeans.
Light-weight, but made with warm water-repellent wool this vest is a charmer. Knitted with left-over yarn, top-down, on the round - an easy beginner project for boys or girls, or grown-ups. 

Top-down vest, pattern here.

Stretch fabric holds a lot of appeal - with the potential of making softer t-shirts, pj's or even dresses that are so soft and easy on the body. Regular sewing machine will sew stretch, if you replace your sewing needle with special Stretch Fabric needle - and set it to sew in zigzag fist and then regular stitch next to zigzag for added strength. Use very high quality sewing thread (polyester is the best) for strong stitches. Try making your own woolens - like these below, 100% merino wool knit from at fraction of cost of comparable commercially made!

Woolen undershirt/ pajama top
The pajama top above is made with 100% Merino wool knit. Sleeves and body are longer that commercially made shirts have. Longer bodice allows to keep the shirt tucked in the whole time - not an insignificant thing with those round big bellies of young children. Sleeves can be rolled if needed - and the child can grow into this item. Two-three years of use? You bet. Long Johns below arer made with same material and are used interchangeably in the winter months, assuring that child's bare legs are never exposed to winter wind and cold. Wool keeps moisture away. Our child fell in the winter river several times while hiking with us - and miraculously stayed dry at the bottom layer!

Long Johns/Pajama bottoms
 Sewing by hand is another delightful skill for mothers of young children. How many of us have been a bit challenged by having to sit at the sand box, idle or with little to do, watching children play? Not much inspiration for the little ones to see, though they are not watching us they are surely aware of every move and action of their parents. Needlepoint and knitting are low-tech crafts that can follow you to any play date, picnic or park day - with actual meaningful work accomplished and much relaxation for the mother! A hole in the pant leg, or ripped seam? A dress that needs new hem? Sewing by hand creates much lovelier look, allow to experiment with thread types, is immensely more flexible as far as setting goes (ever tried bringing out your sewing machine with an infant or toddler in the room? Or following said infant/toddler explorations while using one?) -

 Kittens on a boy's outfit!
Ripped knee on the denim overalls is not a cause for a new pair. Simple playful patch is lovingly sewn on while the child plays nearby. Have you noted how drab and boring boys' clothing has become? Your child can enjoy a playful fabric design that no commercial outfit would dare to use!

The whole picture.
Sweater pants is another great discovery for cold winter days, or wet spring hikes. Wool repels water, this is a well known fact, but when you actually fish your playing child out of icy water where he is impersonating a boat, woolen pants are a saving grace. Very costly to buy, long to knit. Easy to make out of adult woolen sweaters which are found in abundance in Good Will stores. For about $6 you get a sweater that is enough for making pants (out of sleeves, plus some fabric for the waist). This model worked for three winters - long at fist, the pants could be rolled on a toddling toddler. Now they are short, but work just fine with winter boots which make up for the missing length. Combined with woolen Long Johns, so no skin is exposed to cold, and everything is wool! Cozy. What is left from the sweater can be tailored to become a matching vest or dress for a girl:

Made out of adult used sweater.

Hemmed by hand, with contrast thread.

To keep delicate skin protected from harsh sun in the high desert climate, we committed to wearing only long sleeves in the warm season. Finding long sleeved shirts made with light-weight summer fabrics is not easy, at least for boys. Things are either too heavy for comfort, or too formal looking (who, by the way, wants their two-year old looking like he is going to work in the office with tailored shirts proliferating in stores?). Here is the home-made linen shirt, traditional Russian design, the pattern is amazingly made to only sew rectangular pieces! Pattern can be seen here and adapted further as needed for child or man. Made with rectangular pieces only, this shirt is delightfully simple and comfortable. The top is hemmed with bias tape, with hand stitches.
Linen shirt for a young boy.
Warm scarf to keep Daddy warm, stylish, hand knit while walking around with goats. Yes, I can knit while I walk, and talk, and even watch TV. And yes, I used to watch TV. Long time ago. Knit on the round, this scarf is not knitted lengthwise, but from the side down, allowing for a much more interesting patterning. I have never cast on that many stitches before in my life!  - 294 stitches.

Pattern here.

Vests are critical in keeping active and warm. This one is in its third season of use (from 1.5 year old to 3.5 year old). I took it apart when my son was 2.5 years old and added to length, essentially giving this garment 2-3 more years of use. With knitted items it is possible to alter them to certain degree - this one needed shoulders and v-neck taken apart and lengthened to work for an older, taller child. Baby Alpaca yarn, by now my most favorite - holding up to some very, very serious abuse of tree climbing, goat riding, ground explorations and much more. Soft, darling yarn and sweetest garment to put on a child.
Knit one, I invite you! Pattern is here.

Good table manners start early. Napkins are on the table to be used to wipe hands - one year old can be shown and inspired to follow adult example. Instead buying napkins at Pierre One (or Bed, Bath and Beyond!) make your own! Most homes have enough scrap fabric to manifest a set. Excellent project for a mother while sitting near the sandbox, stitching by hand - an opportunity for inner focus time that is so rare with young children. These napkins can be easily washed by hand when doing dishes - and dried on the dish rack - ready to re-use within hours.

Hand-made napkin set.
For snacks, found objects, water bottles and all little items that toddlers wish to bring with them anywhere they go: a "Postman's" Bag. It seems that every household has a collection of fabric bags decorated with some brand names, professing saving the Earth by using it for shopping. Yes, kind of... Too ugly to use, not ugly enough to throw away. Facelift to a lovely bag with some good fabric applique - new life to an old bag, no need to buy anything new!

Old bag, new life

Tell me about your projects! Sewing for adults is next.

1 comment:

purplepear said...

OH MY GOODNESS WHAT A GREAT POST. FULL OF SO MUCH INTERESTING AND IMPORTANT INFO. I think my partner must have found you somewhere and it was waiting for me when I got up this morning. I'll be sure to pop back.