Hand Sewing: Nine Patch Pillow

For our last co-op Sewing Club project for the older students we chose a simple nine patch quilt square that they will make into a pillow.

To introduce/aid the students in laying out their design, I made these miniature “quilt boards”.  I cut numerous 1 1/2″ squares of the three fabrics we would be using and then cut 4″ squares of off-white felt for each student to use as their pattern board. We talked a little about patterns and color value and then gave them 5 squares of each color and let them experiment. (Side note: This is an addictive activity and I can see me turning it into a “quiet book” page in the near future. I would need to stabilize the squares with iron on interfacing, so they could stand up to frequent handling.)

After they settled on a design, they “copied” it onto a 14″ piece of felt with the actual squares they would be sewing.  This will keep their pattern in order as they sew piece to piece and row to row.

With the fabric/pattern selection done, we then reviewed the running stitch, focusing particularly on how to achieve the smaller-sized stitches they would need to make strong seams. So in addition to helping them draw a 1/4″ seam allowance stitching line, we also directed them to divide that line into inches with a short perpendicular line. The goal was to get 5-6 stitches per inch and then one back stitch before continuing on. They caught on quickly to this and could consistently achieve the “goal”. We also directed them to “weave” 2-3 stitches on their needle, before pulling the thread through to keep their stitching line straight. (One of the girls liked when I said “take several bites of your fabric, before pulling your thread through.” 🙂 )


All in all, it was a good start and we are all looking forward to next week.











Language Arts Warm-Ups: Mystery Box

How could a simple box with a hole for your hand have anything to do with improving vocabulary and communication?                                                                              

The answer to that question is the reason for this post. 🙂

I have had a mystery box in my home/school for over 30 years, no kidding! I can’t take credit for the idea of using a mystery box to aid in language development, and it has been so long since I first heard about it, that I also can’t give credit to whom it is rightly due.

What I can do, is share with you how I have used it over the years.

Benefits of using a Mystery Box:

  • Enhances the sense of touch
  • Helps build precise vocabulary
  • Strengthens thinking skills/use of analogies

Due to its versatility, I have used my mystery box with ages 2 and up.  I hope when you are done reading this post, you will be inspired to find a box in your home that’s just waiting to be upgraded to your home’s mystery box. 🙂


  • For toddlers, place objects in the box that have different tactile properties like soft, rough, smooth, hard, bumpy, squishy,etc. and ask them to reach in and pull out something “hard”, “soft”, and so on. One variation on this would be to have them reach in and touch an item and say a tactile word description, maybe even guess the object and pull it out to see if they were right. Another variation would be to have a duplicate set of the items in front of them, and you point to one of them and ask them to find its twin in the box.
  • For grammar stage students, the process is similar, except you are expecting more words from them as they describe what they can feel with their hands. They can guess what it is, or if they are certain they know what it is they are touching, they can keep giving clues for you or a sibling to guess. The variation on this, is to let the person who listened to the description put their hand in to select the object that was described.
  • For grammar stage and up, put familiar objects in the mystery box and let everyone have a turn selecting an item by touch and then describe it in detail to another person/group, including how it is used. (I have used this many times as a fun way to review sewing tools/items/terms.)
  • For grammar stage students, you can record the word clues/descriptions they give and then use them later for copy work and eventually for dictation.
  • For grammar stage and up, give everyone the same object (though they could be different sizes) in their own “mystery bag” and have them write down all they can about it and what they think it is. Then before looking in the bag, they compare and discuss the descriptions with the other participants.
  • For grammar stage and up, establish together what properties can be discovered just through the sense of touch: Texture, Size, Material, Geometric shape/2-D or 3-D, Weight. Then you could build a vocabulary word bank for each of these properties as you go along. This helps guide their analysis. If they run out of descriptions, you can direct their attention to the chart and point out which properties they have/haven’t mentioned.

I’m sure you will find even more uses for this prosaic learning tool.

Happy Teaching!


( I made mine from a shoe box that I covered with fabric. For the hole, I used the sleeve from an old sweater, but I have used part of a sock before. It’s helpful to have something that keeps one from easily seeing down into the box.)

Hand Sewing with Preschoolers

When I started my Little Stitches Hand Sewing class, my first students were newly 4 years old.  As with any class, structure is needed.  The challenge here was for our time to appear ‘organic’ and fun.

We would start each 60 minute class time with our sewing song. ( I love making up thematic songs to familiar tunes; the following song is to the nursery tune “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) First, I told them story of Dorcas in Acts 9:36-41, then taught them this song.

Dorcas used her [hands to sew] (x 3)

Dorcas used her hands to sew                                      cropped-photo1.jpg

To cloth and help the poor.

I can use my [hands to sew] (x 3)

I can use my hands to sew

Just like Dorcas did.

Once we had learned it (easy), I would use it to help them focus or to give them a brain break. (see more ideas below)

Then we would go over our class “rules” before starting our activities.

Watch. Listen. Try. Share.


Here is the list of sewing-themed brain breaks that I came up with.

  • “Button, Button” or “Hide the Button” ( We would hide 5″ card stock circles with holes punched in the center to look like buttons.)
  • Preposition Play Obstacle Course: to reinforce positional words we will use in class – around, over, under, through, on.
  • “Follow the Leader”: a visual for when I say, “The thread always follows where the needle leads.”
  • Sewing Objects in Mystery Box: I would put sewing objects in the box and another set in plain view. We would play two ways. First, they would feel the object and show us the matching one on the table. Then we would take turns pointing to an object in plain view, and the finder would need to find it by touch only.
  • Gluing fabric squares on card stock with one inch grids, using a glue stick. This can be laminated and turned into a place mat.
  • “I’m going to grandma’s and I’m taking…”: each student repeats all the items that have been said before her current turn, and adds one more. You know the game. 🙂
  • (This one is better for older students, but could be made to work for ages 4-6.) I think it was called “Railroad Word Game”; I changed it to “Stitch a Word”. The first person says a sewing related word and the next person has to say a sewing related word that starts with the last letter of the word just given.  It is easiest to have the words written on individual cards that you can read to them, and even color coded for success. Example – ButtoN, NeedlE, Embroidery hooP, PinS, StitcH, Hand sewinG, GatheR, Running stitcH, Hide knoT, ThreaD, DorcaS, Scissors.

Future posts will cover the goals for each week and the projects we completed.

Stay tuned!

Happy stitching. 😉





Classical Writing Instruction: Logic Stage

Writing Coach

(The following is a summary of information I gleaned from Writing With Ease by Susan Wise Bauer.)

Grades 5 – 8: Writing With Style

By middle school, the technical act of writing has been conquered. The student can summarize in his own words, ideas he has read, and get those words on paper without difficulty.

The next challenge is to learn how to order ideas.

This is done at the sentence level and at the composition level.

Sentence-Level Ordering through Diagramming


  • To be able to test the logic of his sentence: “Does it sound right?”
  • To be able to think critically about his sentence structure:”What are the logical relationships between the parts of this sentence?”
  • To be able to fix weak sentences, which result from fuzzy thinking: “How can I improve the structure of this sentence?

Composition-Level Ordering through Outlining


  • To learn correct outline form AND how to rank information by its importance and relationship to other ideas/facts in the composition.
  • To practice outline form by outlining the (non-fiction) writing of others, beginning with isolating the main points of paragraphs, then adding supporting facts and additional information.
  • To continue narrative summaries by reading the passage >>outlining the passage >>rewriting from the outline only >>comparing the rewrite with the original piece.

Summary thoughts:

  • You are NOT asking the student to originate an outline and then write from it. You are letting him see models of how other writers do that by having them read an author’s finished work and letting them work backwards to create what the original  outline might have looked like.  Then they turn that outline into their version of the original, and then let them judge how well they did.
  • Don’t give in to the “my-child’s-writing-more-than-your-child” pressure from others.



Machine Sewing with Children: Free Printable

Printable Basic Sewing Guidelines and Terms –  a helpful reference/checklist for both teacher and student.

Sewing Guidelines/Terms

Good Sewing Habits:                                                                                001

  • Wash hands before sewing.
  • Organize work area.
  • Adjust lighting.
  • Set up machine.
  • Put items away promptly.
  • Clean up your sewing area after each session.

Good Safety Habits:

  • Pins – Keep in pincushion or in your fabric – No loose pins!
  • Needles – Keep in your needle book or in your project.
  • Shears and scissors – Keep closed and on the table when not in use.
  • Seam ripper– Cut away from yourself when using – keep away from your eyes!
  • Iron – Hold by handle only; keep face and fingers away from steam. Rest iron on its heel, not flat down on its sole plate. Turn off iron when you leave the sewing area.
  • Sewing Machine -Use slow speed when first learning to operate. Keep your fingers away from the needle. Follow cleaning and maintenance schedules as noted in owner’s manual.

Good Terms to Know:

  • Back stitch- the reverse stitch on the sewing machine used at the beginning and ending of a seam to secure it.
  • Baste – a long temporary stitch done by hand or machine.
  • Grain – the lengthwise and crosswise threads of a fabric.
  • Guide sheet – the instruction sheet that explains how a sewing project is constructed.
  • Marking – transferring pattern details to fabric from the pattern pieces.
  • Notions – small items used in sewing, such as thread, buttons, elastic, snaps, etc.
  • Pivot – to change the direction of the machine stitching by turning the fabric while the needle is still in the fabric.
  • Seam allowance – the amount of fabric from the cut edge to the seam line.
  • Seam line – the line on which the seam is stitched.
  • Selvage – the finished edge of woven fabrics that runs parallel to the lengthwise grain.

Sewing Guidelines

Machine and Hand Sewing Students and Their February Projects


One of the pillowcases she made for her brothers for Christmas.

One of the pillowcases she made for her brothers for Christmas.

E was one of Learning Home’s first sewing students.  We worked on Christmas gifts for her family in 2015 and then birthday and Valentine presents in early 2016.

We enjoyed scrolling through dozens of images of hand crafted owls, and then set out to create our own owl patterns. She made the large one and I made the baby.

“They’re sooo cute!” was our go-to response for each detail added to our little friends.

E showed impressive design sense as she intentionally chose which colors to put where, in order to create a cohesive pattern.

And once she was done, she managed to keep the owls and Love Bugs hidden at her house for a week, so she could give the owls to her mom and the Love Bugs to her friends on Valentine’s Day. (I didn’t get a separate picture of the Love Bugs, but if you look closely you can see one in its various stages in the pictures below. 🙂 )





I was privileged to do the love bug activity with a large group of homeschoolers in Huntington, WV, ages 4-11, and they did a fabulous job.

I made this hand out so the older ones could practice following written instructions.

love-bug-directionsI was especially impressed with their patience and carefulness at the rice station. 🙂




Language Arts Warm-Up: Parts of Speech, Syntax, Vocabulary

Language Rocks!

Did you read the first line as a simple, exclamatory sentence or as an adjective modifying a noun?

In this case, both readings are intended.

I had been looking for a non-consumable way for my students in Language Arts Lab to play/practice with sentence structure, parts of speech, and punctuation.  Using little pieces of note cards for each new “sentence puzzle” seemed so wasteful.  Taking inspiration from a mom who stored small word blocks in a clear canister for similar purposes, I got the idea to use the skipping rocks I had collected in a similar way. I love the look and feel of the rocks, and though I ran out of the free rocks and had to supplement with purchased rocks (only $1 at Dollar Tree!), overall, I am pleased with their functionality. The upside of the black rocks is we can write on them with chalkboard markers, so anytime we want to change up our word selection, we can.

As you can see in the pictures, I am currently sorting them in “parts of speech” sections.  This leads to good conversation about where words should be sorted when they are out of the context of a sentence. For instance, in which section would you put “down”? Is it an adverb or a preposition? How about “work”? Noun or verb? You get the idea. : )

How to use “Language Rocks”:

  • Let them create sentences of their own from the words available.
  • Let them create “Mad Lib” style sentences.
  • Reinforce memory work (poetry, Scripture, speeches, etc.), by solving sentence “puzzles”.
  • Integrate new vocabulary (from various subjects) into the word mix.
  • Let them add in words from their “working vocabulary”/ areas of interest.  (Minecraft, sports, princesses, sharks, ballet, etc.)
  • Practice correct punctuation placement.

Make a set for your family and enjoy exploring language together with “Language Rocks”!