Just east of London, the County of Suffolk has a rich and long-standing history on the East Coast of England. (For full details, see Wikipedia.) It’s an account that details how the Angles that England is named for became the northern folk (shortened to Norfolk) and the southern folk- which eventually became the county of Suffolk around the 5th Century. The area is one that archaeologists like to frequent for artifacts from the Stone Age, Iron Age, and Bronze Age. Charles Dickens found it so interesting that he chose this area as the setting for his well beloved tale of David Copperfield. So, it’s no surprise that Yosaic/ Yo-Yo/ Suffolk Puff Quilting can trace it’s history here as well.
There are mentions of Suffolk Puffs as early as 1601 in England. Among the rural farming families that produced many of the textiles of their day, Suffolk Puffs sprang up out of the frugality and ingenuity of hardworking housewives determined to use every last scrap of fabric and puff of stuffing material. Suffolk Puffs, as they came to be known, were used to make scrap-work dolls for children as well as for decorating clothing, making “patchwork” coverlets, pillow shams, and the like. Often children and beginning sewers were called upon to create these puffy circles out of worn out clothing, scraps of fabric, and stuffing materials (such as sheep’s wool) that the economical homemaker saved and put to use. By the 20th Century, it was widely known as Suffolk Puff Patchwork Quilting and was particularly popular in the Victorian era.
In America, they’re called (fabric) Yo-Yos. It is widely assumed that the name comes from how similar the fabric circles look to the popular toy by the same name which arrived in the US around 1921. They were just as popular in the west as they were across the Atlantic. McCall’s patterns for Yo-Yo dogs, clowns, etc. date back to the 1970’s. Today you can find Yo-Yo templates to aid in making various shaped Yo-Yos such as hearts or flowers. They’re just as easy to make by hand in any size you choose without the template and one of the most portable quilting projects you’ll ever have!
There are SEW many things you can make from Suffolk Puffs or Yo Yo’s that one quickly becomes addicted to making these fast and easy scrap busters!
Yosaic™ Quilt Blocks
Yosaic™ Bridal Wear
Yosaic™ Hair Accessories
Yosaic™ Holiday Decor
Yosaic™ Little Sewers Early Learning Projects
Yosaic™ Paintings (The new Impressionism!)
From tiny scraps the size of a bottle cap to giant circles the breadth of a yard of fabric, any piece of fabric can be your Suffolk Puff! You can use a variety of circles you may have around your home to trace a pattern or for more precise measurements and cutting simply purchase a rotary circle cutter. Your finished Yo-Yo/Suffolk Puff will be about 1/2 that size. (If you want to create a specific finished size, the circle you cut out should be 2 1/2 times that size.)
For more ideas on what you can make out of Suffolk Puffs/Yo-Yo’s, check out my Yosaic™ shop page for patterns!
I learned to sew when I was 5 years old. My paternal grandmother moved in with my family when I was 2 years old; so I grew up playing under her quilt frames. One day, while I was still young enough to be carrying around my blankie, I remember looking up, watching Grandma’s needle going up and down through the quilt- and wanting to do that! So, I asked and she took the time to stop what she was doing, thread a needle for me, and teach me to sew on my blankie. I remember seeing those stitches on my little blanket for years.
“THE LITTLE SCIENTIST”
Around the same age, my mother taught me to knit and crochet. Knitting at that age was easier than crocheting. I remember crocheting at least a skein or two of just chain stitch and rolling it up into a ball slightly larger than a softball! Now, as a professional educator, I have some reference for what I was doing.
When a child is learning something, they will repeat it over and over again until they understand it and are ready to move on.
It was good that my mom didn’t push me to go beyond the chain stitch before I was ready. I remember exactly where I was sitting on a pale blue bean bag in the basement when I started to experiment with the chain stitch, pushing myself to do more. At that point, I showed my mom what I was doing and she taught me the next steps. I moved quickly from crocheting a ball of chain stitch to a queen-sized afghan, all because I was ready to learn. Author of “The Psychology of Intellegence,” and a leader in cognitive development in children, Jean Piaget once noted that children are “little scientists” testing and exploring every aspect of their world as they mentally map it out. When you see a child engaging in repetitive play, it is likely that this is what they are doing.
Teaching a child to quilt, sew, knit, or crochet is entirely feasible at around age 5. How fast they progress depends on the child. Not too many years ago, it was very normal for a child of either gender to gain those skills at that age and be required to help contribute to the family’s cottage industry. There are a number of journal entries of mothers helping a fidgety child finish the number of rows that they had to knit before they were allowed to go out to play, indicating that children were part of the home’s economy at a very early age. (For a full and very interesting history, read No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting)
HAND CRAFT IMPROVES READING AND WRITING
Waldorf Schools teach various knitting and crochet skills as part of their normal early childhood curriculum. They have found that learning these traditional arts contributes to the child’s reading, writing, and fine motor skills. Extensive research also shows that participating in these activities negates the stress of modern life from a fast paced schedule & too much screen time, as well as teaching the participant patience & persistence. (Reference: “Teaching Kids to Crochet and Knit: Why Waldorf Schools Incorporate Crafting Into Their Curriculum”)
IT’S KIND OF LIKE HUGGING A CAT…(you might need stitches afterwards)
So, we know it’s possible. The real question is, “Where do you start?” As an educator with K-12 Art certification, I have taught folk arts, like hand sewing and quilting, to summer campers as young as kindergarten. No- I’m not crazy… Okay- well, maybe I was by the end of the first session. I had to bring in several reinforcements for the needle threading session. And, I almost got stabbed several times, but hey- we all survived! And, the kids had an absolute blast! In fact, it was the most popular class that year at camp. I have pictures of the kids lining the hallway in between each class working on their quilts every time they had free time. I was soooooo excited! They really loved it! One of the younger kids opted to take private lessons after the camp and went on to open her own sewing booth at local festivals at around age 10.
Sewwww- Besides Patience…
Teach them how to thread the needle and tie the knot. This will take lots of practice but it’s an absolutely essential starting point. It’s okay to do it for them at first, but each time you do make it a teaching moment. Show them what you’re doing and ask them to try before you do it for them. Try making it a challenge or a game. They’ll want to master the challenge if you make it FUN!
Use a large eye needle that’s easy to see and loose-weave cloth that’s easy to push a large needle through.
Draw dots or lines on the cloth with a fabric pen or pencil for guidance- the same as learning to write their letters on dotted lines!
CELEBRATE every right- or almost right- step! Improvement comes with practice and we all start somewhere! Encouragement goes a long way to ensuring that kids- or adults keep practicing until they get it.
Focus on the absolute basics and make sure you set them up for a win first! Sewing 2 squares together along one seam is totally a win! If they’re 2 bigger squares, that can count as a blanket for their doll. Double win!
Making something they can have an immediate use for- even if it doesn’t look beautiful and amazing to you, will make them SEW proud of their work and SEW much more likely to continue to progress. A doll blanket, a barrette, a yo-yo that they can sew on their favorite skirt, are all huge wins!
Pick a project that has a few simple steps, like a 4 patch square, a yo-yo, or hemming the ends of a scarf.
Let them go at their own pace. If they’re stuck on one particular project, repeating it over and over again for several months, don’t fret! They’re instinctively working on a skill. Once they get it, they’ll move on automatically and the speed at which they move forward will be much faster than if you had hurried them through to the next steps before they were ready!
Try out different types of sewing. Embroidery, patchwork, cross-stitch, & machine sewing all require slightly different skill sets. Your child might love one kind and absolutely hate another- or grow into a task at a different age. (I didn’t get into making clothing until I was an adult, but I have always done hand-sewing.)
Have a sewing themed Birthday or Slumber Party & invite friends to learn! It’s never too early to start a sewing guild- even if you aren’t old enough to drive to the meetings. Ha!
EARLY LEARNING PRODUCTS I RECOMMEND:
Please, I beg you, DO NOT purchase cheap, no-name thread & supplies just because they are kids. They will learn more quickly with tools that work. All of the little sewing kit that you see in craft sections have thread & scissors that are absolutely WORTHLESS! (They break. They don’t cut. Etc.) Buy a pack of needles, DMC Floss for embroidery, and any of the name brand threads for sewing such as Coats and Clark All Purpose Thread. I prefer to use Dritz Embroidery Needles for all of my hand sewing because embroidery needles have a longer eye and are easier to thread, but you can go with any hand-sewing needle you or your student/child likes. I also like to use a pair of Fiscar’s Kid’s Scissors with blunt tip for most of my sewing projects. They cut fabric as well as thread perfectly for years at a time and they’re safe for everyone to use!
Pick projects that are easy to start and show progress right away! My FAVORITE first sewing project was a Punch Needle kit that my mom and I got at a quilt fair! It was so simple to use! You hold it like a pen, put a section of your jacket or fabric (whatever you want to embroider) in an Embroidery Hoop and simply push the pen up and down on a Design that you have ironed on. (It’s always great to Make Your Own Iron On Transfer with Coloring Pages!) I will never forget the jean jacket that I embroidered this way & how PROUD I was of it every time I wore it! Punch needle embroidery is a fast, easy first embroidery project. However, the needles are sharp; so if you are doing this with a child under the age of 8 I would recommend putting a piece of foam or leather on their lap to keep them from injuring themselves as they do it. Otherwise, it is perfectly safe & easy! (Again, I recommend DMC Embroidery Floss. You can buy it by the Pack with a variety of colors or individually by the Skein. Cost is usually around .33 cents/skein.)
Some kids craft sewing kits are okay. Usually not great, but okay. SEW MANY TREATS is an affordable first sewing kit that provides all of the materials and clear instructions/patterns on how to cut out and sew stuffed play food! It really does look like SEW MUCH FUN! Kids would have fun with their creations for a long time after making them and each item they make is a mini-win! They don’t have to make them all to feel like they’ve accomplished something & to want to make more. That’s the kind of thing that you want to look for!
PRODUCTS TO STAY AWAY FROM:
There are a LOT of sewing kits and kids crafts stuff out there that is just plain JUNK! You’ll waste a lot of time, money and possibly contribute to a sense of the child not being able to do something when the problem is in the materials, not the little sewer!
I always pull out my art materials as an example for parents. They can easily see that there’s a BIG difference between artist quality paints and craft quality that come at a fraction of the cost and simply don’t work the same way because they aren’t the same product. It’s not just that they are lessor quality. They literally aren’t the same product. They won’t do the same things.
That goes for colored pencils, fabric from places like Walmart, and sewing machines that cost $20. But- they’re still kids; so you don’t want to spend a lot, right?
Here’s the solution:
Start out with simple projects that don’t cost a lot in materials.
You can cave a little on some things. Material from Walmart isn’t a terrible thing for a kid to start out on- but a $20 sewing machine is. So, start with hand sewing. A pack of needles and some good DMC Floss (not the no-name junk!) is worth a lot more than a plastic toy that’s going to teach bad habits and break right away.
You could also purchase a used sewing machine that has been refurbished- or look for one for free that just needs to be repaired. They’re not that hard to find if you check around a little among neighbors or on Craigslist. You may also be surprised to find out that you can actually get a very nice Brother Sewing Machine with 100 built-in stitches & sewing table for around $158 on Amazon. I do recommend going to your local quilting shop and getting a name brand sewing machine there (basic models start in the same price range- I LOVE my BABY LOCK!), but if you do want to start off with something fast and cheap that will still get the job done, the Brother Sewing Machine is a good option.
THE RIGHT TOOLS MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE!
Because when you purchase something that’s more than just a toy YOU will be more likely to teach them to respect and take care of the materials. They will feel proud of what they have and more interested in it because it is special.
The wrong tools can either hinder you completely, make you feel like you’re no good at something, or get you hurt. At the very least, they build bad habits. It’s better to have quality than quantity!
BINDING MORE THAN QUILTS
Sewing time can be some great bonding time. Sitting out of the porch on a summer evening, or working on a project during a girls night with some popcorn and a great chick flick will encourage secrets and memories. Traditionally, many young girls had made 6 quilt tops for their trousseau by the time the were old enough to go courting, which means that they had become accomplished seamstresses by their early teens. This hints at a lot of mother-daughter and grandmother- granddaughter bonding time where memories, stories, & wisdom were stitched into fabric along with utility and warmth. Take the time to pass on the tradition and share a few moments together today.
Quilting as we know it today is a uniquely American invention. Yes, there were pre-cursors to it in Europe long before the Pilgrims came, but it changed and developed into something quite different here. The latin word for “quilt” means ‘stuffed sack.” In medieval times, many, many layers of fabric were sewn together with the running stitch that we know in quilting today to form a protective layer under soldier’s armor called a Gambeson.
There are many different types of quilts:
Whole Cloth Quilts
A LOST HISTORY
There are not many records of early American quilts. Women made the things that their families used on a daily basis without thinking to document them. Homespun fabric and handmade quilts were a necessity, not an art form. Patchwork quilting came into existence quite naturally. The amount of time that it took for a family to first buy the sheep necessary to grow wool or raise crops for cotton, then manufacture it into thread, weave it into cloth, and turn it into clothing and other household items was enormous! Frugality was a fact of life in a way that we can never comprehend today. When a child outgrew a piece of clothing and there was no other child in line to wear it next, the woman of the house cut it up and made it into something else. Patches quickly became patchwork, and scraps of fabric found their way onto beds across the nation. Naturally, women love to trade ideas and try beautiful things they’ve seen, and so, from cottage industry an art form was born.
INDUSTRY CHANGES EVERYTHING
Quilting flourished between 1750 & 1850 as manufactured fabrics became more easily accessible. Women began to spend years on heirloom quilts, which were typically wholecloth and medallion quilts, made to show off to friends and family. With more time to devote to her quilting, the early American woman was able to exercise creative abandon. Appliqué quilts came into fashion among the wealthy that were able to import more expensive fabrics and spend enormous amounts of time creating elaborate designs.
AMISH QUILTING BEGINNINGS
It may be surprising to note that Amish women did not join the quilting craze of the 1700’s at the beginning. They brought traditions of feather bedding with them from Europe and only gradually admitted American quilting into their rich heritage as they had more and more contact with the New World.
Amish quilts are revered and coveted today. They often have distinctly traditional designs; with some of the most recognizable being the black and gem toned color blocked quilts. Many are hand quilted by groups of Amish women together in Quilting Bees, which means you’ll see a variety of quilt stitching lengths on the same quilt depending on which quilter was working on which section of the quilt.
YO-YO QUILTING/ SUFFOLK PUFFS
Yo-yo quilts came into fashion in the early 1900’s, around the war years. (1920’s-1940’s). It’s not surprising to note that with the scarcity of the Great Depression, and the world wars, women turned to using up scraps of fabric again. There is some speculation that fabric yo-yo’s are named after the toy that gained great popularity at the same time. Whatever the reason, it’s certain that women loved them because of their portability and frugality.
Yo-yo’s are one of the easiest forms of quilting to carry with you. You can make them in any size and use new or re-purposed fabric. Brits call them Suffolk Puffs, with some evidence that points to their origin among the poor in the county of Suffolk, in 1601. It’s sometimes called, “Suffolk Puff Patchwork Quilting,” and looks the same as it does in America.
FUTURE OF QUILTING
What will the future of quilting in America look like? With new inventions to aid the way, it’s hard to say. Digital products allow for programmable stitches and a whole host of techniques that enhance photo transfer and/or the creation of unique fabrics from the comfort of home!
More women than ever are also going Green in their quilting and finding new and innovative ways to use up every last scrap of fabric. As we’ve seen with the start of quilting & the popularity of yo-yo quilting during the world war years, this is both new and old. The new part of it is how they are using the scraps and the technology that is available to aide the process!
Modern quilts are also highly customized! In today’s world, most quilts are not made from scraps of fabric cut out of worn out clothing. They dazzle the eye with brilliant colors and incredible designs! Quilters have an almost limitless supply of patterns- both free and available for nominal prices at their local quilt shops or on the web. There are classes available everywhere, and tutorials for every level. Limits in creativity are more a matter of the quilter’s willingness to take risks and try new things, than available materials and ideas. Nearly anything is possible today.
NOT JUST QUILTS!
Quilting today is not limited to just bedspreads to wrap up with. Today’s artists can choose from patterns and ideas of every shape and size. Beginners may want to start with a quilted pillow, table runner, ornament, or other small object. More advanced quilters are looking at new ways to apply their art everyday. You might look around a quilter’s home and see:
Quilted Shower Curtain
Quilted Purses, Diaper Bags, or Backpacks
Furniture Re-upholstered with Quilts
Hand-made Oven Mitts/Hot Pads
Christmas Tree Skirt
Women need the strength of one another in our modern day just as in days gone by. So, it’s no surprise that one of the elements driving today’s innovation is the same thing that developed the art originally- women gathering to help each other. In modern quilt guilds, just as in days gone by, women gather, share ideas, friendship, support, and love for one another over the common thread of quilting.
Most quilt guilds are advertised through local quilt shops and may have rules governing the number of quilters who can join before the group needs to subdivide to keep it manageable. Guilds often offer classes, guest speakers, and weekly work sessions in smaller themed groups, as well as annual trips and other fun events.
If you can’t find a guild close by, you may want to consider starting one! Churches are often open to hosting such groups, and all it takes is a few friends to get a group going. In no time at all, you’ll have a lively group with a lot going on! “If you build it-“ they will truly come!
BENEFITS OF QUILTING
There are more benefits of quilting than can easily be summarized here. They include:
A Visual Legacy
A Place in Quilting History!
What’s the only bad thing about becoming a quilter? You may have to add a few more rooms onto your home for your fabric stash! Don’t worry. It’s a risk worth taking. 😉
“An exquisite and authoritative look at four centuries of quilts and quilting from around the world
Quilts are among the most utilitarian of art objects, yet the best among them possess a formal beauty that rivals anything made on canvas. This landmark book, drawn from the world-renowned collection of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, highlights the splendor and craft of quilts with more than 300 superb color images and details. Fascinating essays by two noted scholars trace the evolution ofquilting styles and trends as they relate to the social, political, and economic issues of their time. The collection includes quilts made by diverse religious and cultural groups over 400 years and across continents, from the Mediterranean, England, France, America, and Polynesia. The earliest quilts were made in India and the Mediterranean for export to the west and date to the late 16th century. Examples from 18th- to 20th-century America, many made by Amish and African-American quilters, reflect the multicultural nature of American society and include boldly colored and patterned worsteds and brilliant pieced and appliquéd works of art. Grand in scope and handsomely produced, Four Centuries of Quilts: The Colonial Williamsburg Collection is sure to be one of the most useful and beloved references on quilts and quilting for years to come.”