An Interview with Kids Sewing Book Author Wendi Gratz

Over the next few weeks I'll be intervewing sewers from around the world...most teach kids sewing at home or at camps...all have written sewing books or craft books or's been so interesting hearing from people involved in an area that I've also been working in for the last two decades...and I see the same look in the kids' eyes...they just look so proud of their creations...hope you enjoy these interviews as much as I have. 

My first interview is with Wendi Gratz of Shiny Happy World who, together with her daughter Jo, is the author of Creature Camp: 18 Softies to Draw Sew, and Stuff and runs sewing camps in North Carolina.

The most popular sewing project you make with kids? 

Definitely the Snake Charmers! Oh my goodness - kids love this pattern so much! Sometimes when I teach a camp some kids just want to make snakes over and over again, and I let them. 

It’s a great way to get a feel for how the sewing machine pulls the fabric though, how to sew straight lines and turn corners, how to sew on buttons, how to embed the tongue in the seam and how to sew up the stuffing opening. So many skills in one crazy simple pattern. :-) 

Of course, the kids who make it over and over again often eventually change things up - making giant snakes and two-headed snakes and more. You can see some finished snakes here. And the free pattern is available here.

One piece of advice you’d give to parents who want to teach their kids to sew? 

Follow their interests! Let them choose the project and the fabric and the thread color. Let them set the pace. If they’re nervous about the machine but want to try it, let them control the foot pedal while you feed the fabric. Basically, let them guide the whole process. They may take you places you never would have imagined were possible!

How did you get into teaching kids sewing?

My daughter sees me sewing all the time and wanted to start using the machine when she was four years old - so I let her. :-) I’ve taught all kinds of things to kids - Mad Scientist Camp, Harry Potter Camp, and more. Sewing was just a natural extension.

What things have surprised you in teaching kids to sew?

When Jo was four it blew my mind how well she could follow a line on her sewing machine if I drew it on the fabric for her. She could sew RIGHT ON that line perfectly, right from the very beginning. 

I’ve learned that that’s the case with just about all young kids, so now with beginners I almost always draw the sewing line on for them. It’s almost impossible for them to follow an imaginary line, but dead simple to follow one they can see. It gives them a lot of confidence and really successful starter projects.

Why do you like sewing?

I love everything about it. The look and feel of the fabric, the satisfaction of watching a project take shape, the confidence of knowing I can make things that are exactly what I want them to be.

Best sewing experience? 

Making owls with 20 kids in a Harry Potter Camp I taught. It was complete chaos and the kids had an absolute blast! You can see some of the kids with their finished owls in this post.

Worst sewing experience?

My very first sewing project. It was a complete disaster! I had just bought a new machine and I had no idea how to use it. I had never sewn before, never took Home Ec in school, and had no clue. I made a tablecloth - which you wouldn’t think you can mess up too badly - but I did! 

I didn’t prewash the fabric, so it puckered badly along the seams the first time I washed it. I didn’t cut off the selvedge, which made the puckering even worse. I sewed a seam right down the middle of the piece instead of adding equally to each side - so there was an ugly, puckered mess of a seam running right down the center of the table. 

I didn’t know there were different kinds of threads so I just grabbed the first spool I saw in the right color at the fabric store. It was buttonhole twist - a very thick, bulky thread. And I used one of the decorative stitches on my machine to sew the hems, so it was basically just a mass of ugly lumps of thread all the way around. So much ugliness!