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How to Sew a Bookmark with a 4 Year Old

We got lucky. Really lucky! Our son absolutely LOVES to read. Just about how much does he love to read? Well, I started reading to him when I was pregnant. When he was born, I would read to him as soon as he could see, and I would show him the pictures.

For diaper changes, I would put a book by his head so he can look at the pictures. At 3 months old, his first week in daycare, his teachers were amazed because he was trying to turn pages.

We go to Children's museums, he finds the book section. We go to the park, and there's a lending library swap box, he will take a book and read it on the ground, next to the slide and swing sets.

There are books in every room of the house, in all the cars, and there's no bedtime routine without a story.

He used to get out of bed after bedtime, turn on the light, and read. So, to be one step ahead, I unscrewed his lightbulb. That should teach him! So then he would start sneaking out in the hallway and read using the light coming from our bedroom, and he was quiet enough not to get caught. He got caught.

Then he would wake up in the morning, lift his window blinds, and spend as long as he could reading in his bed until we would realize that he's awake.

We go to the ER (he is a boy!), we grab a book to take inside.

So the problem is that he never wants to stop reading, which sometimes makes bedtime difficult.

UNTIL I taught him what bookmarks are. Now, when we pause a book at night, we can put a bookmark in, to remember where to continue tomorrow. Meltdowns over! Parenting win!

To make it fun, I decided that sewing a simple bookmark would help. Better yet, involve him! So here we are, from selecting fabric, to organizing it, to using the sewing machine, pinning, removing pins, help cutting (which means mommy cuts and he takes away the scraps after the rotary cutter is far away), and even pressing.

Do not expect perfection in this tutorial, but do expect fun! And outfit changes, and short attention spans. For both of you!

In case you are wondering, the books below are in Romanian. He loves them, even if he doesn't really understand the language yet.

He is familiar with my sewing area, we share a room: half mommy play area, half his play area; this way I can attempt to sew while he plays, and I can keep an eye on him.

As he is very curious, I had to teach him from a very early age the safety of the area. He know what's allowed to touch and what not to, the dangers associated with the items, and how to touch things safely. One of the items I allowed him to use, with supervision, are sewing pins. He has his own pincushion and he knows what part of the pin to touch, never to walk with a pin in his hand, and if he needs to move pins around, they always have to be in the pincushion. And of course, never ever ever to touch anything without permission, or use pins without mommy right next to him.

You will need:
  • (10) 2.5" squares of fabric (quilting cotton)

  • Fusible fleece, about 3" by 11". Or go ahead and cut width of fabric, because you won't stop at just one bookmark.

  • Pins. All of them.

  • Pincushion

  • Glue, whatever is handy

  • Sewing machine

  • Thread

  • Scissors

  • Pinking shears

  • Quilting ruler

  • Rotary cutter

  • Cutting mat

  • Optional:

    • Eyelets/gromets, 3/8"

    • 10" piece of yarn or very thin ribbon

    • 2 buttons or beads

    • Snacks

    • Wine

We started with a mini charm pack (2.5" squares) of On the Go by Stacy Iest Hsu for Moda Fabrics. We selected 10 charm squares, five for each side of the bookmark.

We also used a strip of 3" wide by width of fabric of fusible fleece, but you can use batting, or anything else in between, that will not be fraying too much or fall apart if left with raw egdes.

He had a blast selecting fabric, and I respected what he chose and the layout of it, and I must say, he has great taste!

We used my computerized sewing machine (Pfaff Performance Icon), that has a presser foot up/down button, thread cutter, needle down/up, and the ability to sew without the foot pedal, by pressing a start/stop button. Also, the speed was really slow, and he quickly started to learn when it's time to put the presser foot down, when to start, when to stop, and when to cut.

Here's how to do it:
  • First, decide on your fabric layout, as stated above, 5 squares for each side. And then redo it, as the child will change his mind a few times.

  • Chain-piece (sew two at a time one set after the other without breaking the thread) each side into two strips, 5 squares each.

  • Aim for 1/4" seam allowance, but whatever happens, happens, because he's only 4 and he's doing his best!

  • Having a small thread cutter, as seen in the middle image below (light blue cutter attached to the edge of my table) have the kiddo cut the thread between the pieces sewn. He loved this step, and it was safe!

  • The result should be two strips of 5 pieces each. The strips will roughly measure 10.5". R-O-U-G-H-L-Y!

  • Press the seams to one side. I had my son assist, he thought he was pressing, but the temperature of the iron was low, he had one hand in his pocket, and the other hand on top of mine while I was holding the iron. No steam, and mandatory safety brief prior to the operation. I mean, I am in the Navy, used to work in naval aviation: there's always a safety brief before anything we do. If you're Navy, you'll know I'm talking about ORM :)

  • Have your child step back 3 whole feet with arms up so you can see them. Those little fingers are slippery and wondery, keep your eyes on them!

  • Shout "Rotary cutter open, back offfffff!!!!!! Don't move a muscle!"

  • Enjoy the look on his face while he happily plays along.

  • Trim the strips to 10" long by 2" wide. This way, your squares will be...well...squares. Or whatever size you can, as long as both strips are (almost) identical.

  • Close the rotary cutter blade and put it in the exact opposite side of where your child is. High shelf is ideal.

  • Don't touch anything now, let him come over and remove the scraps. It's a fun game! And he pretends it's spaghetti, so there's your snack time too. Fabric is practically fiber, right? (joking, don't let him eat it, as much as he insists it is REAL spaghetti).

  • Trim a piece of fusible fleece to the exact dimensions of your sewn strips.

  • Bring out the pins. This is the FUN part (for him, slight heart attack for you).

  • PRO TIP: I have these super fun pins from Just Another Button Company. I may or may not have an insider connection there, aka his Nana, Cecile, who owns it, and we do get the most fun pins. His favorite: Christmas. And I am not allowed to use them for my personal use, as the rules that have been set by my son. Which means I need to be careful not to get caught. I mean, I do LOVE Christmas, and I need my own set of Santa pins. (Nana, hint-hint). If you want to purchase a set, check this out. No, I am not sponsored by JABC, other than the fact that I married Nana's son and made this wonderful child.

  • Sandwich a strip of fabric, right side down, the fusible fleece, and the other strip of fabric, right side up. Yes, there will be raw edges and no turning.

  • Pin the 3 layers together. Use as many pins as your child says to use. Trust him, he knows everything. As of last week, when he declared that he now officially knows everything.

  • Sew a straight line, about 1/8" from the edge, all the way around the bookmark. Go ahead and explain to your child what 1/8" is. Or what straight means. Or do what I did: because mommy said so!

  • Potty break. Right in the middle of sewing that seam.

  • Remind him of what you two were doing when you find him playing in the other room after he forgot to wash his hands. Oh, yeah!

  • Teach him to stop to take the pins out and gently put them in the pincushion.

  • Outfit change. For you. By now, you're sweating!

Technically, you could be all done by now. But no, you want more. So here we go. Next steps:

  • Choose a decorative stitch on your machine. He chose trees, and cars, and houses. And I had to stop him there.

  • Stitch one of them the wrong way.

  • Unpick it. It's taking forever. Argue why the seam ripper is not safe for him to do. Make sure you win this argument.

  • Finally stitch again.

  • Using pinking shears, aka "mommy's scissors that look like lightning", and pretending that he's helping you hold the handle, cut all the way around, careful not to trim the stitch line.

  • If there are any loose threads left, let him trim them under strict supervision. I let him use my "very extra special" duckbill appliqué scissors.

Again, you could stop here. But not me!

  • Using a punch and small grommets/eyelets, install one about 1/4" - 1/2" away from the top edge. This step is not mandatory, but it sure feels good to hit something with a hammer right about now. For both of you!

  • Add a piece of thick thread or yarn, or ribbon, with two buttons attached to each side. My buttons are hand-dyed by Nana, at JABC. Tie a knot and secure the knot with a dab of glue.

  • Your bookmark is (finally) all done.

  • Relive the scene from Zootopia when the bunny walks out of the DMV, and realizes that "It's nightime?!?!?!?!". Yes, this did indeed take all day.

  • Admire your work. Realize that one side is crooked. Smile, because that will forever remind you of how much fun you've had, and how proud he is of himself by now!

  • ENJOY reading!

But wait, there's more. Soooo..... realize that one bookmark is not enough. Here we go, again, for another bookmark, this time, different style!

You will need the same items as before. But this time you decide this will NOT take all day, so you make adjustments.

  1. Shorter bookmark

  2. Quilt as you go, basically three seams and your bookmark is mostly done! No chain piecing!

Here's how to do it (again):
  • Start early in the morning, you know this may take a while. You know what? Don't even get him out of jammies. You just don't care anymore (notice in the first bookmark photos his hair was all combed and everything? Not here!)

  • Begin with your child remembering his pincushion. Wait until he's ready. Then he can pick fabrics.

  • Lay out four pieces of fabric on top of the fusible fleece, and four to the side (those will be on the back).

  • Lay two pieces right sides together on each side of the fusible fleece, and pin all 4 fabrics, with the fleece in the middle. Yes, we're going for it, we will sew through all of that!

  • Make sure they're lined up as best as you can see. If they're not, no big deal, you can trim later.

  • Sew 1/4" away (Ha! You know that's never going to be 1/4") from the bottom edge.

  • Fold open the fabric sewn, revealing the magic! Your child will think this is the coolest thing ever!

  • Finger press, no need to iron. Fusible fleece is a little bit sticky naturally, so your fabrics will not shift much.

  • Repeat the process, adding two more squares on each side, front and back, this time to the bottom of the second square from the top.

  • If lining up is difficult, use a light box. Or, if you are like me, and don't have one, use your window. You should be able to easily line them up as the light passes through the fusible fleece.

  • Side note, nice science lesson about mediums, transparency, and light for your little one!

  • Again, sew the bottom seam, 1/4" away from the edge. Open the seam, and repeat with the last set of squares.

  • Trim the bottom of your fusible fleece, if you were like me and you had a piece that was way too long when you started.

  • Now you can iron gently. This will fuse your fleece to whatever side you had the glue of the fleece pointing towards. It really doesn't matter.

  • Trim to 8" long by 2" wide, if you want perfect squares, or to whatever size you want. It's important that you trim the excess off.

  • Remember the spaghetti!

  • Take a break while you realize your child got distracted (again), and is now organizing your accessories drawer. Gently redirect.

  • Sew a "lightning" (zig-zag) stitch all around the bookmark. You can teach him to turn at the corners, or let him veer (waaayyy) off the fabric with each side. Doesn't matter, you're not entering this in a craft show unless it's for preschool. In which case, you better win!

  • I was going to go with an overlock stitch, but then remembered how long that actually takes, especially with a slow sewing machine speed, so I decided on zig-zag.

  • Using your pinking shears, trim all around the edges.

  • Skip the eyelet, ribbon, buttons, just get it done!

  • ENJOY a second bookmark!

We had a blast sewing together, and now we have the bookmarks as projects to remember. They have truly helped reduce the "time to close the book, it's bedtime" meltdowns!

You can definitely do this as an adult project, and sew amazing bookmarks for your friends, teachers, librarians, doctors, delivery people, etc. Will they fray? Maybe! I'll let you know, but we have been using them for weeks and no sign of fraying yet!

I love to look at the pretty fabric every time we read a book, and using fun fabric also serves as a little game of hidden objects (how many cars does this bookmark have?).

If you enjoyed this tutorial, and you are using it to create your own, tag me on social media or #quiltinginromania . I would love to see what you make, and how you get your little one involved!


Elena and Andrew

Final note: You may not use this tutorial for mass production of items for sale, nor sell items made from this tutorial without specific written permission from me. In addition, the images and instructions contained on this website are not to be copied or distributed under any means. Feel free to contact me for any questions and permissions.

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