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Oct 14, 2011

Toy Sewing Machines for Children -- Yea or Nay?

Friends, I have no children of my own, nor do I have anyone else's.  I do wonder, however, what it might be like to teach a small child to sew, how young is too young and, related to this, what kind of sewing machine to start a child on.

Many people opt to purchase a toy sewing machine, while others choose an adult machine, perhaps one with a hand crank, or a regular electric machine, to be used only under supervision.

Toy sewing machines have been around nearly as long as sewing machines.  They were usually powered by hand, and could produce a respectable chainstitch.

The evolution of the toy sewing machine mirrors that of adult machines, particularly in the way sewing machines became increasingly gendered (female), and marketed to specific demographic groups (college co-ed on the go, young homemaker, etc.).

Early toy sewing machines looked gender neutral and often were designed to look like miniature versions of adult machines.

Over time, hand cranks gave way to battery-operated, and occasionally even electric, foot pedals.  Of course, even when the look was strictly utilitarian, these were primarily intended as toys for girls.  But they were sturdy metal machines and they worked.

Just like adult sewing machines, with the introduction of plastic in the Sixties, toy sewing machines got flimsy and increasingly shoddy.  Reading some of the feedback for the toy machines for sale today on Amazon, one wonders why anyone bothers buying one.  They sound more like a punishment than a creative plaything.

To make matters worse, today's toy sewing machines all seem to come from the same cartoon kingdom of unicorns, fairy princesses, and Japanese anime.  Notice a trend here?

"Shake Lights and Music"???

What child over the age of two would want to sew on something like that -- or is this an accurate reflection of little girls' tastes?  Don't any girls prefer yellow...or, heaven forbid, blue?  And how about the little boys?

In your opinion, if a child -- and I'm not talking about an infant or toddler -- shows an interest in sewing, would she, or he, do better with a real sewing machine on which they could actually make something?  If electricity is an issue, why not a vintage hand-crank machine?  A decent vintage machine won't cost much more than a shoddy plastic toy, and is less likely to be tossed in the trash when it falls apart or when the child hurls it against the wall out of frustration.

In closing, readers, both with children and without, can a cheap toy sewing machine have value, in your opinion, or is it better that the child, under supervision, use a real sewing machine?

Did you have a toy sewing machine growing up?

Toy sewing machines for children -- yea or nay?

Photo courtesy of Craftastica.


  1. I remember taking my first stitches around the age of 4. While she initially taught me to sew by hand, it wasn't long before my mother was teaching me on her machine, which was great, but big & heavy. Someone gave me one of those crappy little plastic ones you mentioned, ran on batteries, chain stitch, not great. but it gave me something portable that let me sew when i was had to be elsewhere or if she didn't have time to supervise a 6 year old. I probably didn't use it more than a year before I was competent enough to prefer the real deal, but i'd say there's definitely a time and place for both.

  2. Awwww, this is very near an dear to my heart. My son (4 yrs) has expressed an interest in sewing. He loves to sit on my lap and watch while I sew. I let him push the reverse button and pick thread colors. Sewing is a great way to teach kids colors and shades of colors, shapes, we count everything (buttons, pins etc) and we learn about going slow and having patience. While I wouldn't let him operate it alone yet, I do let guide the fabric through while my hands on his. I thought about getting a "toy" sewing machine but they look like crap and are always bright pink. He wouldn't use it if it had unicorns and Barbie junk on it anyway. They are certainly making sewing a gender specific activity. I think I will just let him keep going at the pace we are at (making capes for his superhero figures and whatnot) and if he continues to express an interest in sewing next year then I may splurge and get a vintage 'child size' miniature machine. I will most assuredly use it again to teach my daughter when she gets old enough. I am already having little daydreams about us sewing 'mommy and me' outfits together and she is only 1 1/2 years old.

  3. Aboslutely not. When I was about 6 (so we're talking early 90s), my mom got me a toy Singer. Mom said if she had known ahead of time what a piece of crap it was going to be, she would have never bought it.

    More recently, I bought my daughter (then 2.5) a similar toy sewing machine at a rummage sale. I paid a dollar for it and bought it from some 10 year old girl. You could tell it had hardly been used. When I got it home and played with it, I wanted to go back and talk to that girl and beg her not to give up on sewing based upon this machine. I highly doubt the thing ever worked. It was nothing more than a cheap, plastic piece of crap. It wouldn't sew a stitch, and I'm sure it never did.

    Fortunately, I never had high hopes for it: I got it for my daughter strictly for toy/play use. She can sit at the machine and run fabric through it, which pleases her (she's 3.5 now). If and when the day comes that she really wants to learn to sew, I'll be teaching her on my sewing machine, a 1970s Touch and Sew. For actual sewing, the toy machines are utterly useless.

  4. As we speak, I'm watching several vintage metal toy sewing machines for Bit. She wants to sew, "just like Aunt Laura" and has been absolutely fascinated by my sewing machine since she was a baby. We're going for hand crank now, and by the time she's five or six, I expect that I'll have taught her how to use the real thing. We'll start the way I learned--dolly clothes. I was hand sewing at her age and was using the big sewing machine by five or six with supervision. If it turns out later that she doesn't really want to make clothes and things, she'll at least be taught enough to repair and maintain her own clothes.

  5. I still have the wooden spool of thread from the toy sewing machine I received on Xmas age 6. It was metal, fire engine red with gold lettering and scroll decoration - and very heavy for its size. Don't remember who made it.
    Made some of my first doll clothes using this machine. Unfortunately, it was one of those items that ended up in the Goodwill pile when my parents sold the house 25 years ago. I regret not taking it with me :(


  6. My daughter always loved "helping" me sew, so I got her a toy sewing machine for her 6th birthday, similar to the 5 toy ones in your post. It was so frustrating and disappointing for her. They would not keep a proper tension at all. I wanted her to love sewing like I did. We ended up getting her the Janome Hello Kitty model (a little girly for my tastes, but she loves it!). She wants to sew all the time now.


  7. Me, I used to sneak on to my mom's treadle machine when she was out, from the age of 8 or so!
    Though I do find those vintage babies attractive now.

  8. I learned to sew at about age 6 on my mom's Viking using the reduction gear. She was too busy to supervise much so she just told me to be careful not to sew my fingers. many years later my hubby gave me a toy Necchi for Christmas. After a few hours of obsessing over it, I was ready to throw it out. The looper that formed the chain stitch was plastic and wouldn't make a proper stitch and the whole thing weighed so little that it kept tipping over. So I am glad I didn't learn on that!

    But, I must admit, I am curious about the all-metal clamp down models and I love the look of that Elna!

  9. I couldn't have been older than 7 or 8 when my mom taught me a few basiscs on her big, burgundy Husqvarna Viking and let me have at it. I recall seeing toy machines in the annual Sears giant Christmas catalogue, and yes, although they were for girls, I would have been delighted to unwrap one of my very own, I'm so grateful that she trusted me and encouraged my budding creativity on with her precious Viking.

    LOVED the ruffler attachment! Can't use one of those on a toy!

  10. Isabel's DaughterOctober 14, 2011 at 10:59 AM

    Those toy machines are an absolute waste of time and money and an exercise in frustration. Bought two different ones for my granddaughter and tossed both. She is learning on my Vikings.

    I would, however, love to find one of those little electric machines you have pictured. Are the flea market finds?

  11. My youngest used to play on one of my machines with a hand crank. He really just liked turning the handle. I think two hands are better on the project though. If they sew on a good machine to begin with they will have more success and are more likely to continue. The older machines are better and most of the time cheaper. The 3/4 machines are good. The problem kids will/ may have is reaching the foot pedal. Whatever it is is needs to be clean, adjusted and running well.

  12. I knitted things for my dolls from about age 8. And at 10 I was making things on a treadle machine. I remember the bobbin so clearly. I would definitely recommend a treadle, you have so much control. Recently, I taught my grandson at 14 to sew. He took to it really well, but he used a really good Janome.

  13. I don't think anyone that actually sews would go for a currently available toy machine.I've had non-sewing friends ask me about them and I tell them to steer clear. I let my daughter use mine, with supervision- She's 6 and has been doing it for about a year. When she really wants to get serious I'll either give her my current one or get one of my vintage Kenmores tuned up. I wouldn't want her first sewing experience to be as frustrating as those toys must be. Plus, she'd absolutely gag at the pink sparkles.

  14. Nay on the toy sewing machines, especially if the child is eager to learn. I remember getting a toy sewing machine when I was 6 and boy was it disappointing! I still remember being so upset, that I was not going to be able to make an outfit for my Barbie!!!
    My mom was a terrific seamstress, and she got so mad at the machine, that she refused to even try to make it work. She also was not a good teacher unfortunately , so I learned by WATCHING her cut and sew. She was too worried I would hurt myself on her machine. I took a class when I was 15, and I have been sewing ever since. I did learn A LOT by just watching her though. I think most kids around the age of maybe 10 could handle it. Depends really on the kid I suppose.

  15. I learnt on an ancient hand crank model with some very limited help from my Dad as chief mechanic.

    My son (21 months) is fascinated by my machines. If he wants to learn then I'll teach him on my machine as it's got a speed control that slows it right down. I think I'd start him with a needle and thread first though.

    I think that he will probably prefer mechanics as he's already showing a strong preference for our Land Rover and my husband's tools. Typically male, but we're trying not to direct his interests!

  16. I've taught my niece and nephews to bake, and I think that working with real tools gave them a better experience than if we were using an Easy-Bake Oven.

    "is this an accurate reflection of little girls' tastes?" - I'm sure that there are girly girls out there, just like there are little boys who are into sports or play guns/fighting from day one. But I think part of it is what we condition girls to want and think is appropriate. Personally, I always liked blue more than pink.

  17. I teach kid classes often at Sewtropolis in Minneapolis and age 8 seems ideal for an age to start on a real machine. Most 7 year olds need too much attention to attend a group class, but at 7, a parent could easily teach them on an adult machine.

    Unfortunately it seems like ages 11-13 have to have a super fast-moving project to keep them paying attention and on task, and it's much better if they don't have friends in the same class to pull their focus. To my experience this ends at 14 when they are able to maintain focus throughout a class with friends. Cell phones distract everyone too much no matter which age.

  18. Toy sewing machines are a waste of your money. They do not work. I work at a fabric store and every toy sold comes back. Start out with a basic machine and save your time, energy and money.

  19. My sister and I have learned to sew with my mom when we were about 5 and 7. The machine was a Singer Fashion Mate from the 70's. Later in the 80's I received as present a very modern at that time plastic Singer, but I have never liked it. Now a days it sits at my sister, but she preffers her Featherweight. :)

    I found out that a good sewing machine for a kid is the Elna Grasshopper, without folding the table. It has an attachment(sometimes lost) to slow the speed of the motor and also the knee lever is very easily to be controled by a kid.

  20. I vote nay. I got a toy sewing machine for Christmas as a child and do not recall using it even once. However, my mom persisted and bought me a 1940s Singer at age 9 (electric, with foot pedal), and that sparked an interest in sewing that lasted to this day. I made many lovely clothes for my Cabbage Patch kids from the scraps of material my mom saved. I still have the patterns I used for my dolls all those years ago -- talk about a trip down memory lane!

  21. I agree about the toy machines, or even machines intended for children are total junk! My sister-in-law bought a toy machine for me to teach my niece to sew on. Let me tell you, it was miserable to thread, sewed a terrible stitch, was loud & scooted all over the table because it was so lightweight! We have up after about an hour and switched to my Huskystar. MUCH better, it has a speed control, which was great for her. She was 7 at the time. In general, I recommend a Singer "student" model for beginners of any age, though it would be nice if they had speed control. Nothing fancy, but does a decent variety of stitches, zigzags & buttonholes. Also nice if they upgrade to a better machine later, most singer feet are compatible with many other brands. No, I don't work for Singer :) I just find them to have a great range of machines.

  22. Ooooooh interesting! I had totally forgotten that I had a toy sewing machine growing up and definitely used it. It was a Petite one in a carry case, like this one....
    I was also lucky that my school had 10 old-fashioned hand-crank Singer machines so we all got to learn on that as well, there were 9 of us in my class!

    I now have a 7 year old daughter who is very keen on sewing, knitting and all types of craft, but it hadn't even occurred to me to get her a machine. I'm going to look into it and would love to know what people recommend..... actually my old machine may even still be in my parents' attic!

  23. I have an 8 year old who is keen on sewing. I've decided to let her use the Spare machine. It's basic , but works well and is easy to use - I want her to be supervised when using it. but she is bright and capable. shell be making her own clothes in no time.

  24. I have both kids sit on my lap while I sew. I think the dangers of the needle should be taught early( keep your fingers out of mama's machine or you'll get a big booboo!) My son(5) has loved "sewing" on my old plastic machine without a needle. Moving fabric is really quite riveting! Hand sewing is coming soon for him, but I do have an old singer hand crank as well as a few vintage kid sewing machines - one beautiful metal Necchi and some singers.
    Those reviews on Amazon were pretty hysterical! But - I would also say that a lot of the "beginner" machines meant for grown ups are equally crappy! Vintage Machines Forever!! :)

  25. As a guy, I didn't know there were toy sewing machines growing up. I'd watch my grandmother sew and just be amazed that she was making something useful, and not 'playing'. She first allowed me to use her Singer 401 after she would clean an oil it. She'd remove the needle, and let me 'run in' the oil while learning to use the knee controller. Thirty-plus years later, I have the wonderful 401 now and use it for all of my sewing. I still can't, however, properly control a machine with a foot pedal; that knee controller spoiled me. :)

  26. When I was very small I was sewing by hand first, which I think is important for kids.
    I also sat on my grandma's lap while she ran the foot pedal and LOVED that as a little one.

    My parents bought me a toy machine at some point and I HATED that thing. The stitches would just pull apart, if they would even work at all. I would go to my mom with failed doll clothes and such and (probably) annoy her until she would let me use her machine.

  27. Interesting post. My son 8 likes when I sew for him but has no desire to sew for himself. My daughter who is almost 4 has a toy wooden one that is just for play but uses my scraps to pretend with it in my sewing room. She also likes to hand me pins when I'm cutting things out. As for the pink toy ones I'm sure there are girls who do not like pink but for Emily the Hello Kitty one would be a particularly accurate reflection of what she would like. Not sure about the quality of those though. I had a Cabbage Patch Kids one when I was little that was awful and that's coming from someone who spent years on a crappy modern cheap Kenmore that couldn't sew straight no matter what.

  28. I bought a toy machine on ebay. It is cute but a real pain to sew on!

    I have a couple of Singer 99s for my granddaughters but until I get the electrical replaced I don't want them to use them. So, the 7 year old sews on my Singer 15-91 because she can use the knee pedal and the 9 year old picked my Elna SU because it seems more "modern". These machines are always up and ready to sew on because I use them constantly. My granddaughters have been sewing on them for over a year and consider each machine as "theirs".

    At first I did try to get a finger guards with no luck. They made them at one time but I'm not sure where to get them anymore. It seems to me that a smart sewing machine manufacturer would stock them in the accessory box when buying a machine. After all, it would make for future customers.

    Last year the girls made their Halloween costumes completely by themselves. I did not sew one stitch! And they were adorable and very well sewn. The oldest had patch pockets that had topstitching to rival yours. But when no one believed that they sewed the costumes it was rather discouraging for them. Sad!

    By the way, both my sons(a 41 year old Navy Captain, and a 21 year old college student) sit at the sewing machine and enjoy it. My daughter on the other hand could care less!

  29. I learned how to sew on my grandma's old treadle machine. My coordination wasn't so good so there was lots of starting and stopping at first but I thought it was so cool to be using an old machine. Graduated up to my mom's electric machine when I was 12 and felt cool then too 'cause the machine went so fast :)


  30. For my daughters 9th birthday, I got her a nice babylock (lightly used) with variable speed. Now keeping her in fabric is the issue:)

  31. My Mom didn't teach me to sew (no patience)-- I had a horrible sewing class in high school that turned me off sewing and I didn't go back to it until I was a young, broke mother who wanted to make baby and toddler clothes, and I borrowed an Elna and taught myself.

    I bought a Singer 128 Blacksides with a crinkle finish and I'm converting it to a hand crank for my granddaughter (who is currently 9 weeks old, so I've got a while to get it running.) I bought a finger guard from to install.

    The toy sewing machines are for pretend and they don't actually sew as far as I can tell.

  32. Guess who has taken over your lovely Spartan? My 7 year old. She has cranked out a beautiful scarf and skirt so far.

  33. Oh heck yeah! In elementary school, I had the Mattel sewing machine (Sew Perfect?) with the snap in cartridges. I loved it! It ran on batteries and made a horrible racket! I finally got an old sewing machine from my grandma late elementary school-ish, say 4th grade?, and sewed to my hearts content. Somewhere around five or six is when I started sewing, both by machine and by hand. Everyone should learn to sew!

  34. Great comments, everybody!

    Isabel, great to hear from you again -- and so happy to hear my Spartan is still chugging along!

  35. My daughter (age 3) has a wooden play machine I bought for her on Etsy (it doesn't actually do anything, but she pretends to make clothes.). She also helps me by turning the wheel to set the needle down, and pushing the reverse button when I'm sewing. I definitely wouldnt buy her a pink plastic piece of junk, but if I saw one of those vintage models at a flea market, I would not be able to resist.

  36. I think if it is a toy sewing machine it should be just for pretending with, like a play kitchen. I think at around 4 a child could sew on a machine with assistance and learn hand-sewing. Maybe at 6 or 7 I would let my child use my machine on her own with supervision. Why would a child want to sew unless it was in order to be competent and to create something? A junky plastic toy machine isn't going to support those goals.
    As for pink: at 2 and a half, my daughter came home from preschool saying "pink and purple are my favorite colors," so I think it's a message they get from everywhere around them: You are a girl, you MUST like pink!

  37. I learned in second or third grade on my mom's machine. she would draw shapes on a piece of paper (lines, spirals, boxes, triangles) and with an unthreaded needle I was supposed to "sew" along her line. then we made a reversible vest together: plaid on one side, dogs on the other. I was a really project oriented kid and having watched mom sew for me and my sister my whole life it was something I really wanted to learn.

    I wouldn't ever give a kid crayons that don't draw or roller skates with out wheels, why a sewing machine that won't work? even in the name of safety I wouldn't do it. supervision, proper instruction, and working equipment are all key. (and screw the gender stereotyping on toy sewing machines. that's just infuriating.)

  38. My daughter expressed a keen interest in sewing so for her 8th birthday I bought her a proper grown-up sewing machine, a bottom of the range Brother which was barely more expensive than the toy ones I saw for sale. I really shouldn't have bothered. It's the most dreadful piece of crap you could imagine. It's clunky, doesn't sew straight, the dial is so stiff that it's hard for little hands to shift, the thread keeps tangling, etc. End result, she used it once or twice, got frustrated and stopped sewing for a whole year. This summer she decided to try again - on my own machine this time, and what a difference it makes! I can set the speed on my machine to slow (not an option with hers) and it gives her the confidence to learn with nice straight lines before moving on to more complicated stuff. She's since made herself a cushion, a bag and the beginnings of a skirt.

    So my answer would be that unless the child is VERY young and you want some kind of protective guard, best to let them try on a decent machine from the word go. Otherwise there's a chance the result will be counter-productive, putting them off sewing altogether instead of encouraging their interest.

  39. I think if little girls are marketed that Pepto Bismol pink, yucky-girly stuff at an early age, some of them will develop a taste for it.

    If I had kids, I'd teach them hand sewing, and then introduce them to a simple but reliable adult sewing machine, on which they could straight seams under my supervision. If they really wanted a toy machine and it wasn't too expensive, sure, I'd spring for one, while explaining its limitations.

    I don' recall having a sewing machine as a child, but as a teenager I would see miniature machines marketed for everyday sewing tasks and wonder "What is the heck is that? How could it possibly work well?"

  40. Absolutely NO little kid sewing machines here! My daughter has learned on my machine, she started at 4 and she's actually pretty good. The kid ones are something she would love, until she realized that it didn't work, then she'd be very upset. My son will start learning on my machine in a year or two (he's only 2) and he's already helped me a little with my serger. The new little sewing machines are just a waste of money, and time. Not worth it at all!

  41. I learned on an old 60's Singer. I had one of the plastic 80's toy machines, and it was TERRIBLE. I used it mostly for paper crafting, in the end, iirc.

    I have heard decent things about the Janome Sew Mini Sewing Machine.

  42. Oh no! Just get them going on a regular machine. The small ones are just too unpredictable and frustrating. Now, you might not want to go ahead and let them use your best machine unsupervised, but I am sure one could pick up a machine at a yard sale or used store for not too high a price. That way, there's no need to worry about some little one doing damage to your best machine :)

  43. I bought my daughter the pink plastic Singer in your pictures above. I let her use it once. It was so much more work for me that I hated it. The stitch was loose, it was noisy, and it was a pain to tie off ever seam to keep it from unraveling.

    Her interest at the time wasn't very deep (aside from the novelty of nagging me for the pink monster every once in a while). But shortly thereafter I gave her my old machine. It was my first sewing machine. A basic, 13 stitch Brother with nothing resembling a bell or whistle. She doesn't sew as much as I would like, but she has hauled that beast to 4H for two years now and produced some wearable clothing with it.

    My youngest is interested in sewing now. I wish there were a good, small machine for children. Something sleek and not made from unicorn vomit. A few basic stitches would be great. I've looked at the Singer Pixie Plus, but the reviews don't look good.

  44. I never had a toy machine. When I was about 7 or so, my mom would help me when I wanted to do something or let me help when she was making Halloween costumes for my brother and I. She had a regular sewing machine and watched basically to make sure I didn't sew my fingers. The thing had a picture inside as to how to thread the needle so it wasn't like she needed to do that for me.

    Whenever my grandma would come visit she would help me with projects, too. My grandma did give me her vintage Singer about 10 years ago but, unfortunately, it is one of the horribly useless vintage machines and not something that I actually want to use.

    I think a few years later I wanted to do more sewing so we were looking at buying me my own machine but the cheaper ones were all flimsy pink, plastic crap so she decided to just let me use hers whenever I wanted. I think if I'd had my first sewing experiences on the ones marketed to kids now, I'd have given up long ago.

  45. I learned to sew at a very early age, maybe around four. I am 65 now, and I still have my two toy sewing machines, and they still work beautifully. They are both hand crank, chain stitching Singers. I display them proudly. My grandmother sold Singer machines in the late 40's until the late 60's, mostly at Dayton's in Minneapolis. I went to work with her often as a small child, partly to demonstrate that "even a child" can sew on the marvelous Singer machines... and there was a Mrs. Peale there to teach dressmaking and tailoring to anyone who purchased a new machine. She took a lot of time with me right there, with the other women taking classes, and of course my grandmother was an excellent seamstress also. I was what I call "born lucky" in this department! They were very fussy, and I learned so many good sewing habits. I love to sew to this day, and have seven or eight vintage Singers. I have a few newer ones too, but I find no particular joy in the newer ones. Like art, music and reading, I think starting at the youngest reasonable age is great! It can give a lifetime of satisfaction and enjoyment.I agree that the new toy machines are probably not very useful, and might actually turn a young learner away from sewing completely. In that case take the time to give a child some supervised time on a real machine. I don't recall ever putting a needle through my little fingers...I think if you follow safety precautions that sort of thing is very rare. Probably the worst thing would be a few broken needles. Hopefully a young learner wouldn't get too curious with the tension adjustments! I think it's all good to start young.

  46. I have a lovely metal toy neechi from the 50's, it is a very nice decoration on a shelf in my sewing room. I didn't even think about using it when my DD wanted to learn to sew a year ago at age 9. I bought her a Janome 3128 - it is the same machine as that pink 3/4 size Kenmore you showed yesterday. It's passable, but not a workhorse like my Bernina.

  47. I started sewing on a machine when I was nine, but I think I was doing hand stitches long before that. My ten and seven year old nephews have been using my sister's machine for a couple of years ago. I don't think the four year old has shown an interest yet; he's too busy acting.

  48. I had a couple of toy sewing machines. Back in the olden days (let’s not discuss how far back), they were made of metal and worked pretty well for a “toy.” One was a metal hand-crank (though not as old as that wonderful Singer you showed from the early 1900’s). The other was an electric Singer with a foot petal that was made to look a lot like my mom’s machine.

    Once my mother was confident that I knew how to work it and understood that it could be dangerous and I wouldn’t sew my fingers or eat the needle, I spent many hours making Barbie clothes from scraps of material. Actually, I guess those were my first self-drafted garments. They were awful, but I was very proud and the chain stitch held up well. I wasn’t exactly delicate with my things.

    It wasn’t too long before I was taught how to use the real thing, but the toy models were great for the interim. I wish I still had them just for the nostalgia.

    In contrast, today’s junky plastic, pink, fairy princess, tinker bell, bubble gum machines are awful. They don’t work at all. Save your money. And what kind of message about gender is being sent with all these pink plastic powder puffs?

    In summary:
    Yea to the vintage, metal machines that look like sewing machines and actually… ya know … sew.
    Nay to the current crop of plastic junk from overseas.

  49. When I was a little girl, my mother taught me to sew on her Singer Featherweight. All the advantages of a toy but none of the frustration. My mother is as sturdy as that little sewing machine, so I'll be a grandmother before I inherit it, but it will stay in the family and we'll never need to buy plastic junk.

  50. I had a toy machine when I was about six, and it was the most frustrating thing I can remember from my childhood. It would have been all it took to make sewing a hateful chore for any child unfortunate enough to be stuck with one of these horrors.

    Fortunately, my Mom had a Singer treadle that she soon allowed me to learn on, and I have been happily sewing for over fifty years on a variety of machines, almost all of them vintage, heavy metal treasures.

    Some years ago, the International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society ( had a competition requiring the participants to sew a quilt block on a toy sewing machine. Not a single one of the competitors was able to complete the block on their chain-stitch machines. I believe glue and staples were employed by those determined to finish the project.

    If you love a child, DON'T get him or her a toy sewing machine. Most knowledgeable people will provide a small vintage machine, such as a Singer 99, with a handcrank, so the young 'un can have a really positive sewing experience.

  51. On the UK tv panel show QI (Quite Interesting) they mentioned that until about 1930 it used to be pink for boys and blue for girls, and then for some reason switched. I have noticed in recent years this pink/blue colour scheme has come back with a vengeance. Yuk! Surely kids need more than two colour choices.

  52. I had a chain-stitch machine at about the age of 6 or so. I made doll clothes on it while my mom made clothes for me on her "big" machine.

    WARNING: I have no children of my own of either gender so the next statements are purely speculative. I would supervise a child of 6 or so who had good small motor skills (fingers) with a smallish real machine. The main issue with a child using an "adult" machine is that their little fingers are very easily sewn right through if they are not very careful. My own fingers do not fit in there, but when I showed my cousin's 7 year old how to use my machine, it was glaringly obvious that her little fingers would easily fit between the presser foot and the needle, thus becoming one with the garment. I am sure neither my cousin nor his wife would have been too happy about that scenario.

    And on the pink thing: I live near an elementary school and I can tell you that little girls go through a pink phase. Some wear every shade of pink imaginable at the same time. I think I went through a pink phase, too, but that is of course ancient history by now, pre-dating written records LOL. I do not believe that my first sewing machine was pink, though.

  53. When I was about 10, Santa delivered a brown plastic Holly Hobby foot/pedal controlled toy sewing machine. I was SO excited. What a disappointment that piece of crap was. I couldn't make anything :(

    I would recommend toy sewing machines for a littlie who wants to mimic mum on the sewing machine but not for an older child who wants to learn to sew or create dolls clothes etc

  54. My daughter (around age 10) and my son (around age 7) expressed some interest in learning to sew. I did some research online, started with paper and a non-threaded needle, and moved the speed on my Kenmore all the way down from rabbit to turtle.
    They each made one successful project, then decided that they would rather have Mommy make things for them.
    I'm still hoping that one or the other (or both!) will learn to sew. I don't want another machine in the house, so they will learn on my sewing machine if/when they are interested.
    I learned to sew on an old Singer machine that only did a straight stitch. At the time I thought it was a terrible old antique, and now I wish my parents had kept it! I'm fairly sure it was a now-desirable Singer Featherweight.

  55. My sister and I learned to sew on an old Singer treadle. I can't believe either of us stuck to it as the tension was awful and the thread broke every 3 inches. I used to sneak in and sew on my mother's electric (that was verboten)when I knew she wasn't around. I would never give one of those pink plastic things to a child who expressed an interest in sewing. They might never want to do it again.

  56. Wow! So many great stories! I was busy wrecking my mother's sewing machine, so when I was 6 she taught me to sew on it. I never looked back. Didn't sew through my finger until I was 14! (and again at 66!). I think the least expensive Janome is a good starter for a child of 6 or so. Wouldn't bother with any of those yucky pink plastic pieces of junk. I teach kids' sewing camps in the summer and they start at 8 years old. Most of them do great, but there is certainly a wide range in their developmental readiness! But it's such fun, and they get so inspired.

  57. I bought a toy machine for my son's 5th birthday. He was so excited when he got it but was pretty bummed it was pink with flowers on it. That was all they had. It doesn't really work so now I just help him use mine.

  58. I actually learnt how to sew on a very small sewing machine. It wasn't sold as a toy, though, but as a travel sewing machine. It did have a pedal, but it could only do straight stitches. Once I knew the basics of sewing, I started sewing on my grandma's Bernina. Mind you, I was 19 when all of this happened. Not really a kid anymore.

    About a year ago I discovered the little machine again and decided to give it to my ten year old niece who has a serious interest in clothes and fashion.

    The best thing about that particular machine was: it was white with one big blue button (the on/off button :P). No pink. No cartoons. No anime.

    So maybe parents who want to buy their kids a somewhat decent sewing machine should look more into the travel machine section? You know: kids size, but realistic without the cartoons and the pink.

  59. When I was *really* small (toddler, pre-school) Mum used to let me glue scraps together into rather abstract 'clothes'. I think I was allowed to use PVA glue.

    When I was school-aged, I used Mum's regular electric sewing machine - with supervision when I was young, on my own when I was a little older (8+).

    Every kid is different, but I think it makes sense to learn on a 'real' machine, just with the appropriate level of help and supervision.

  60. Based on my own experience as Iwas ready to say "Nay!", but after reading some of the comments, perhaps a toy machine can be good to learn on. I would under no cicumstances buy any of the moderns ones you showed, though.

    Personally I was lucky: mom and grandmother did a machine-upgrade when I was little and gran saved her machine for me. Seven years old I was sewing on my own vintage no-nonsense run forever 50s Bernina (It's a Bernina Record 530-2).
    I still use it, I see no point in trading it in for a newer model, and I def don't regret learning to sew on it instead of on a pink toy!
    Of course, I was seven. I wouldn't put a 4 year old in front of my Bernina...

  61. I never owned a toy sewing machine growing up but my mother sewed for me often on her Singer (70s model) and I hand-sewed a small shirt at age 7. I made a number of clothes for my Barbies all by hand. I wasn't taught to sew in school but started sewing for myself seriously at age 17 on mom's Singer. I even purchased a Singer 20U for myself when I was a student at FIT but donated it to my aunt's charity a few years later. I made several garments for my daughter when she was a tot and she picked out a pink toy Barbie sewing machine for herself at age 4. She was so desperate to get that machine I was afraid not to buy it for her. She played on it every day once I figured it out. When she gave up on it, she would sew on my Viking #1 but I had to keep an eye on her and guide her. She still has an interest in having clothes made for her but none in sewing (she's 12 1/2 now and not interested in doing anything that is going to take any amount of time) but I believe she'll come back to it when she is older. My son on the other hand has never shown any interest in sewing and was unsure when I just asked him if he wants to learn. Oh well!

  62. Toy machines aren't worth the trouble. They just don't work and are enough to put anyone off sewing. I learned on a 1939 Singer 99 handcrank. Loved that handcrank! Perfect for someone like me who loves mechanical things as you can go really slow and see how all the parts move to make a stitch.

  63. My mom taught me how to hand-sew when I was about 5, then I learned machine sewing by watching her use her Singer Golden Touch and Sew (the kind with the cams that would explode suddenly off the top if everything wasn't set perfectly.) I was allowed to use that machine but always felt more confident after I got my own first machine, an all-metal Necchi that did the basics and did them well. If I were choosing a machine to start a child sewing, I'd want something that was fairly straightforward and worked well...whether it had Hello Kitty or Racing Stripes or whatever.

  64. When the DS was 6-7(?), he sat down and ran my then new Viking through all it's stitches, and pieced a quilt top. He hasn't touched it since for some reason. I learned to sew on real machines (my Mom's and at school).

    I say teach them needles are pointy and hurt like he...I mean crazy when they go into your finger by handing them a needle and letting them feel it. Then, as long as the kid can reach the pedal and see where they are stitching at the same time, I say let'em have at it on a real machine, especially if it can be set to go slower. It doesn't matter if it's black with flames, pink with sparkles, electric, treadle, handcrank, full size, 3/4 size, toy, new, vintage, or antique as long as it sews well. Which pretty much leaves out those pink toys.

  65. Vintage hand crank definitely. Thats what I learnt on. Goes as slow as you want and teaches all the important stuff...

  66. I received a red coloured "Sew Master" as a child (1950's). I used it quite a bit. The battery powered motor finally burnt out in the 70's. I actually used it for sewing small items when I first moved out on my own. It can still be used as a hand crank and works perfectly for small repairs. I now have two of Mom's sewing machines, a Singer 99K circa 1956 and a Sears Kenmore circa 1971.I refuse to get a new machine. My two old clunkers have worked perfectly for a very long time.I have sewn everything from gauze costumes to heavy tarpaulins on the old Singer. How many new machines can do that without complaining? Oops, I digress a bit from your question.
    My parents had a strict rule: no one used Mom's sewing machine until we could reach both the foot peddle and the sewing machine safely while sitting down so they bought me the Sew Master.
    To make a long winded story short. Carefully supervised sewing at an early age, on an appropriate machine (i.e hand crank)can lead to a lifetime of fun and potential income if the person is so inclined.

  67. Aww, I have fond memories of playing around with the old hand-crank, chain-stitch toy machine at my Grandma's (dating from the fifties when my mom and her sister were small). It was cute. Although I don't think it was instrumental in my taking up sewing later...

    I don't think I would ever buy a modern toy machine, though. Too much crap that would barely work.

  68. I first tried sewing at school, (early nineties) on a full-size modern machine that could be set to half-speed. We started at eight or nine years old, but I think one could start earlier at home, with personal supervision. I agree with those who say that a toy machine is fine for a little kid who want to pretend to sew, but not for a bigger one who actually wants to learn.

  69. I didnt have a toy sewing machine growing up my mum gave me an old singer to use. The black kind with gold inlay with a knee peddle. I made all my stuffed toys and barbie clothes on it. I still have it.

  70. My grandmother gave me a toy sewing machine when I was 7, but I had begged her for it. It didn't work well and I tried hard to make something with it. I didn't sew again until I was 26.

    Now I teach kids to sew and I recommend a real machine. I think if you teach them to respect the tool, then there is no need to worry. In fact, most youngsters sew as well or better than the adults I work with. The youngest I have taught is 7 and my preference is 9 and older.

    Last year at Christmas I spied a toy machine at my grandfathers house. When I asked him about it, he told me I could have it. Turns out it belonged to my mother and when I carried it out of the house she almost cried. Maybe she had a better experience than I had with my toy machine.

  71. I would have loved a toy sewing machine! I learned on my mother's old Singer.

    I have three boys ages 6, 4, and 2. I started them all out with sewing/lacing cards. Then, this summer while my 6yo watched me sew and helped me organize my quilt blocks, I set him up with an embroidery hoop and we drew a truck for him to trace with the thread. He got frustrated because he really wanted to use my machine (a simple Kenmore, but works like a champ).
    I think that it is important for kiddos to learn how to sew a seam by hand before using a machine. That way they understand the basics of what goes into making a solid stitch.
    To answer your question, I think that it depends on their level of interest, their patience, and focus. I think 6+ is a good age to start.

    Love your blog by the way!!


  72. Because I learned on a very similar anime princess inspired children's sewing maching of my own, I say yay. I have lots of happy memories tied to that thing.

  73. I remember my first sewing machine had a cartridge that had glue in it, It would snap into place over the "presser foot". Does anyone remember that? It's from the early to mid 70's.

  74. My mother & my grandmothers taught me to sew by hand when I was around seven,I made my first dress when I was ten or eleven on my mother's Elna machine- I remember making a dress at age twelve at my grandparent's house on my grandmother's machine all her friends were surprised that I knew how to sew
    Sarah C

  75. This post has really inspired me to think about sewing and children. After recently acquiring a Singer Featherweight 221, i have decided that when/if i am graced with grandchildren i'll be teaching them to sew on it. The child that shows the most interest will get the Featherweight left to them. I'm on the lookout for a 222 so maybe more than one grandchild (if i have them) will get a small sewing machine.

  76. I think that's an excellent choice!

  77. I had a toy machine in the late 70s/early 80s. It was WAY more sturdy than it's 21st Century counterpart. Sadly, I'd already spent the money on said modern version for my oldest.

    She has NEVER used it in the 4 years she's had it. She tried, but it was too much of a pain. I own A Singer Athena 2000, a New Home console from the 30s, a Willcox & Gibbs treadle machine from the turn of the century, a Brother from WalMart ($99) when my Singer died on me and a Bernina Aurora 430E. Even my 1901 treadle machine works better than the toy machines they are putting out today.

    My oldest uses the Brother machine since I have no real use for it. She takes classes with her sister at the local fabric mega mart. I think when the girls are older they may receive Bernettes for presents.

  78. Totally late to the party, but...

    I had the little Fisher Price toy machine when I was a kid. I loved it! My mom had a nice Singer that was one of the first electronic machines made in the early 70s. I was NEVER allowed to use hers. She was a struggling single mom of two and sewing in our house wasn't a luxury as it is for me now. It was necessity to clothe us, make gifts, and most importantly, run her own business from home. She took in alterations and make home decor stuff for people. She had little college education and couldn't afford day care. She got to stay at home with us and work too! So, if my brother or I broke her machine, it was disastrous. Now that she's remarried, and my step-dad does really well, sewing is again a luxury. She's trying to teach me how to use her super-fancy Bernina computerized machine.

    After a little while on the toy machine, I was given an older Singer that used to be my grandma's. I could use it with little supervision. So, toy machine? Yay or nay, depending on the circumstances.

  79. I remember having a small machine, but not much about it-I think it didn't work well, which is why I do not remember it well. My mom let me use her Kenmore machine when I was 5 or 6. I sewed straight stitches on scraps of fabrics she had. I "helped" her repair pillow cases, ripped seams, etc. I took more sewing in Jr. High and High School and loved it. I bought my first machine from a family friend and it was a Kenmore, almost exactly like my mothers.
    Now my 2 1/2 year old grandaughter loves to watch me sew and I want her to learn. I think she is too young for something with a needle, but want her to have something to pretend with. There just isn't anything out there in the US for our toddlers for pretend play. Maybe I will just wait a little bit longer and let her use my machine while sitting on my lap and I will control the pedal.

    1. Perhaps you could pick up a vintage chain stitch machine on eBay.

  80. I picked up an old Singer Touch & Sew from St V's for my daughter (she's 4 now). I learned to sew in simular machines (my grammas had Singers that were from the 60’s & 70’s). I'm on the lookout for a finger guard before she gets started - I haven't sewn a finger, but my mom has, & I can see little miss impatient getting skewered.

  81. Never, never, never buy a toy sewing machine!
    My daughter was gifted one when she was 7. The packaging promised that one could use the machine to "design your own fashions!!"
    The problem is, the toy machines do not have a bobbin. They only do a chain stitch, which, due to no bobbin, completely unravels as soon as you pick up the stitched fabric. The instructions deal with this by telling you, if you want the stitching to actually stay in place, to hand sew a few stitches at the beginning and at the end of every seam. Right, I think it would be faster to simply hand-sew the entire thing! On top of that, this particular machine would not even produce the chain stitch that it was supposed to. It jammed about once every inch of sewing.
    To make matters worse, when I tried to return it to Toys R Us, it had gone one day past their 90-day period for being able to get the money back, because the gifter had bought it well ahead of the holidays. They offered store credit, which I declined because I didn't want to spend any money at their crappy store where they sell useless crap like that machine. I shoved the piece of junk in the trash can outside the store and went and bought my daughter a basic Kenmore machine which worked out very well; she was making fleece stuffed animals within a week.
    I swore I would never buy another Singer product since they had put their name on that crappy machine, and I swore I would never shop at Toys R Us again. So far, so good, and it's been ten years.
    I remember having a Holly Hobbie toy machine in the seventies and while it did a decent chain stitch without jamming, I never really made anything with it, due to the lack of a bobbin/unraveling issue.

    TL;DR - Toy machines are worse than useless and kids can use a basic real machine at a young age.


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