Month of Makeovers Day 18: On Halloween Pins & Needles!

thumbnailI started my afterschool sewing classes this week. That means I get to play around with wool, cotton, thread, pins, needles, scissors, and ideas with a bunch of elementary school kids who don’t bring any of my neurotically grown-up “Make It Perfect Or It’s No Good!” vibe to the party.

I’ve learned a lot about creativity from these little people!

Over the years I’ve noticed that many kids don’t come to me with much to speak of for hand skills. The girls can often do a three-part braid, since that’s the easiest way to braid their hair. But most of them have never held a needle before. A few of them tell me that their grandmas are teaching them to sew. Very, very few ever tell me that their moms are teaching them. Somehow, sewing as a set of useful, fun, creative skills seems to have skipped a whole generation.

Janeray and I are so old that we had Home Ec in high school. (Yes, we’re THAT old.)  I don’t know of any high school that still has an entire Home Ec department. But if we hadn’t learned in school we would have learned from our mom, who could sew anything. (Hi, Mom!) And Janeray earned my undying 7-year-old sisterly affection by sewing extremely fashionable clothing for my favorite doll, Annie. (Janeray’s older than me. There, I said it!)

So my first sewing project for kids is something that’s very easy, very quick, and teaches several sewing skills all at once. Wool button bracelets!


Here’s one of the samples I show the kids. That luscious jade green wool came in a giant stash of vintage wool strips cut for rug-braiding. I nabbed the stash at a yard sale. There were some great autumn colors in the bag. I start kids with wool because it’s easy to sew with a blunt needle.


If you’re not lucky enough to find precut wool strips, you can cut up woven wool garments that are too shabby to wear, or moth-eaten wool sweaters.

I show the kids how to loosely measure their wrist, add one more inch for the buttonhole space, and cut two pieces of wool that length. It can be the same color wool or two different colors. One piece of wool will be the top of the bracelet that gets the buttons sewn on. The other piece will be sewn underneath later to hide all the button stitching. The two layers give the bracelet more body, too.


It’s pumpkin colored!

Then they choose buttons from a huge tin. Whenever I find buttons at yard sales or the thrift shop, I scoop them up. Here’s one of my button tins.


Every household needs a button tin! My own kids still talk about the “button games” they played. A big fancy pink button would be the princess, the flower buttons in a row were the garden she loved, the rhinestone button was the fairy who granted her wish for a magical pony . . . Sorry about the pony, kids.

My students always go for the snazzy and colorful buttons. The “boring” black and brown ones got left out so often that I finally picked them out of our class button tin and put them in their own container. This year I looked at that tub of boring buttons and got the idea to make Halloween bracelets, starring those overlooked black and brown buttons. The kids loved this.

Here’s how to do it. For beginner sewing, I use tapestry needles in several sizes. They have a blunt tip and a large eye. Here’s a tapestry needle on the left, and a chenille needle (with its sharp point) on the right.


You can accidentally poke yourself with a tapestry needle, but it’s hard to actually stab yourself. Just make sure your needle goes through all the buttons you’ve chosen.

For the thread, I use a string-like, tightly-spun cotton yarn like Knit-Cro-Sheen. The tight twist makes it easy to thread through the needle.


It comes in lots of colors, including variegated. And it’s easy to find at thrift shops. Even when it’s vintage (like these two balls without UPC codes on their labels!) it’s still strong. I wouldn’t give beginners the kind that’s spun with a metallic thread (like this Twinkle-Sheen—isn’t that a great name?) because that metallic strand always wants to unwind. I wind the Knit-Cro-Sheen on empty thread spools so it looks like thread, not like yarn.


We plan the arrangement of buttons on the bracelet. Make sure you put one button close to one end of the wool strip—this will be the button that actually buttons your bracelet closed. Leave the other end of the wool strip empty for your buttonhole.


Here I’ve got seven black vintage “fakelite” buttons. They’re plastic molded to look like carved Bakelite!


More fakelite buttons! You can use a Sharpie to mark the position of each button. The dot helps beginners know where to aim their needle.

Now it’s time to sew! In another post I’ll show you the world’s best handsewing knots. They’re simple and they work every single time.

When all the buttons are sewn down, pin the bottom strip of wool underneath the top strip with the buttons, and sew the two strips together. You can use a running stitch if the wool isn’t too ravelly, or an overcast stitch if it is. Cut the buttonhole through both layers and stitch it with buttonhole stitch. And you’re done!


Happy Halloween!

Then you plan your next one . . .


. . . mustard-color fringed wool on top of orange wool with vintage brown fakelite buttons . . .


And your next one . . . plaid twill with orange and green buttons . . .

And your next one . . .

See the entire list of projects for our Month of Makeovers HERE.

5 Comments on “Month of Makeovers Day 18: On Halloween Pins & Needles!”

  1. janeray says:

    Luray, the word “sew” gets highlighted by the automatic spellchecker. It isn’t even common vocabulary anymore! How pathetic is that? … And I’m not THAT much older!!

  2. I wish they would bring ‘home economics’ back. Especially in the city. But I know that would devastating. “Just kidding’. I caught the very end of it and was able to learn the beginning of sewing. To me, handmade art is a skill!

    • luray says:

      Emma, I wish they would bring Wood Shop back for everybody too! It’s tough to find an 8 yar old girl who’s not afraid of a needle, but probably even tougher at least in my neck of the woods to find an 8 year old boy who knows how to use a pocket knife. Hand skills—the ability to manipulate, to create, to turn this into that—I think are part of what makes us human. When we stop doing those things and leave them to the “professionals” then we’re losing something important. Just my two cents! 🙂 Anyway, once you know the basics of sewing you can pretty much teach yourself the rest, especially with Youtube!

  3. Kerri says:

    These are sooo fun! Great project for kids.

    • luray says:

      Hi Kerri, I’ve coached kids as young as 5 year olds through these bracelets and they are always SO proud at mastering the sewing skills to create something sophisticated. You just have give them all the right materials for success. Thanks for stopping by!