Needlework for Children in France


Text and images by Gabrielle.

Something interesting about our French school (and from what I understand, all French schools), is that needlework is part of the curriculum.

Embroidery and France

I realized this during our first year here, when (then 9-year-old) Olive’s school class completed two separate cross-stitch projects — both the boys and the girls. I asked around, and apparently, this wasn’t unusual at all.

Embroidery and France

Then, just a few months ago, Maude was introduced to embroidery for children in France, when her friend and peer gave her a beautifully embroidered wallet. The whole thing, including the binding on the edges, had been hand-stitched by her friend years earlier. Isn’t it lovely?

The embroidery introduction continued when Maude’s French tutor, an 80-year old French woman named Marie, who is very refined, started to teach Maude different embroidery stitches as part of their tutoring sessions.

I should note, when I mention French tutoring, what I mean is, the oldest 3 kids meet with Marie weekly, one-on-one at the public library. And they just chat. About all sorts of topics — zombie movies, images of our town during WWII, scenes from plays, or even embroidery. The hour-long chats introduce new vocabulary and strengthen our children’s French skills, but don’t involve formally practicing conjugations or rote memorization. It’s a way to practice French, and learn about French culture, without feeling like they’re doing more homework.

Embroidery and FranceEmbroidery and France

Anyway, Marie introduced embroidery to Maude as a topic of conversation for their tutoring sessions, and Mimi, who is so good with her hands, has been loving it.

Marie brought a needle, a thimble, and a small piece of fabric. Maude already had a stockpile of embroidery thread (she uses it for friendship bracelets). And now Maude is practicing the different stitches.

Embroidery and France

And pictured here, Olive’s charming, cross-stitched, recipe notebook mentioned above. It sits happily in our kitchen and records the French recipes we try.

Being able to correctly use a needle and thread seems to be considered a basic life skill here. The understanding is that everyone needs to know how to sew on a button, or make basic repairs to clothing.

No doubt it relates to the clothing culture here, which, from what I’ve observed, is not as “disposable” as it is in the U.S. — especially for adults. People tend to own less clothing overall, but invest more on individual items, then care for them properly, and wear them for a long time.

Embroidery and France

I’d love your thoughts on all of this. What would you think if needlework was introduced as part of the curriculum in your school? Waste of time? Kids should be taking keyboarding instead? Or, referencing Amy’s excellent post from yesterday, would you group needlework with The Arts? And just out of curiosity, how are your own needle skills? Did you ever learn how to properly sew on a button or patch your clothes? I’d love to hear!

80 thoughts on “Needlework for Children in France”

  1. I did needlework at school here in Chile. Actually one of the projects was to embroider a sheet set (which I also made), which my three-year-old son wears now. I think it is a beautiful skill and I admire that both girls and boys learn it.

  2. I learned sewing in Home Economics class at school but also enjoyed doing it outside of school. My mom encouraged my interest in crafts and taught me how to crochet. She also helped me look for sewing lessons in college when I became interested in making my own clothes. She grew up in a time when a lot of their clothes were made to order and so even though she doesn’t sew much herself she understands tailoring and has been able to pass some of that knowledge down to. I’m not very skilled at sewing but I consider the tailoring knowledge invaluable.

  3. I agree, I think its great to teach needlework to young children! Such a great skill to have, improves hand-eye coordination and is a fun creative outlet. We homeschool our little ones and I taight our 5 and 6 yr old embroidery last year and and we’re working on sewing and knitting!

  4. I think this is a wonderful idea! I think that it is important for people of all ages to have “quiet” skills. My children attended a Montessori school through the 8th grade and as first graders they hand stitched napkins. as they got older, they knitted and then even designed and made quilts during each of their 4th 5th and 6th grade years as gifts for the 8th grade graduates. I can go on and on about the life skills they learned, along with the idea that giving someting handmade is meaningful. When they graduated and were presented with a quilt from their younger peers, they really appreciated all of the hard work that went into them. Recently, when I was frustrated with one of my quilting projects, my 19 year old son offered to seam rip for me, he had so much experience!

  5. I loved reading the embroidery article and how it is included in the french school curriculum. We lived in Australia for many years while our 5 children were growing up. They too teach needlework for boys and girls, starting in kindergarten. It is a wonderful small motor skill as well as a gentle sense of accomplishment. I loved when my 5 year old, Sebastian, would surprise me in a conversation by saying, “Mum, come look at my long stitch!” The quiet, slow, practical skill lessons are important too.

  6. What a useful skill! I plan to teach my own children how to use a needle and thread, as I’m doubtful they will be learning it in school.
    You mentioned that people learn to mend their clothing in France and keep things longer and this is something that is so important to me- I love being able to quickly stitch up a little hole in a seam and get lots more life out of an item. I just finished a blog tutorial about how I “mend” our bedsheets when the edges get frayed in order to get more use out of them, while still having pretty sheets:

  7. I love this! I wouldn’t be incredibly bothered if it were taught in US schools, but I think there’s a lot more that needs to be worked on before teaching needlework. It seems like it could be worked easily into a greater art or home ec curriculum, but with both of those curriculums already axed or on the chopping block it doesn’t seem likely.

    I will definitely consider teaching DD about needlework (or having my much more accomplished mother teach her)! It seems like a great way to learn a life skill (sewing on buttons, etc), express oneself more creatively, teach confidence and teach hand-eye coordination. I think I’ll have to pick up the plastic needles and canvas and some yarn for my little one!

  8. How fantastic! I really would love that schools in the US teach kids some of these life essential skills.
    I have learned knitting from my grandmother and I have tried needlework when I was a little girl, but I really never had too much patience for it. These are wonderful skills to have. How lucky you are.

  9. Are the comments on this post disappearing? I’ve commented three times; one of my own plus two in response to different people. All of my comments are gone, plus I do not see the ones posted by others where I posted a reply.

  10. My eight year old recently learned embroidery in art class at school. She loved it so much that she has started embroidering at home too. I had an old Klutz embroidery kit stashed away for when she might show an interest. My Mom taught me the basics when I was little and I am pleased that my daughter is following suit!

  11. My grandmother taught me how to crochet, and my mother taught me all the basic sewing skills along with how to smock. It seems all my dresses as a little girl had smocking on them, lovely little pictures and details.

  12. Teaching embroidery should be included in school. Not only does it teach life skills it improves fine motor and eye hand coordination. If your doing cross- stitch there are math skills included in counting and reading a graph. It also teaches patience ,as too many things today are instant. I was taught embroidery from my Grandma, who had me sit on a footstool near her while she taught me to embroider tea towels. She told me that I neede to learn because “this is what ladies do” I was 4 and this was in the 1050’s. I can’t see well enough to embroider much,but I LOVE to sew and my sewing room is my favorite room. ALso I have 4 sons and I taught them basics. They sewed patches on their boyscout uniforms and later their USAF and Army uniforms.

  13. I was brought up in England and Germany and in my childhood in Germany needlework was compulsory in Junior School for boys and girls (i learnt needlework, crocheting and embroidery) and compulsory for girls in high school (grammar school) up to about year 9, where I also learnt knitting, sewing basic clothes on a sewing machine, macramee, making rugs etc. etc. My friend, who was in the first coed year in an all boys school learnt knitting from my mother – in a totally different way – yes there are different ways to knit in Germany and in England! Unfortunately needlework etc. has now been abolished in many schools around the country.. My children’s school only offers it in a sort of after school club. My daughter was so keen to learn sewing on the machine – so I was happy to find a course run for Kids and/Or teens in our local Shop catering for sewers/knitters…

  14. Not just France, Belgian kids get an elementary course in stitching and knitting too. Both boys and girls. I always wondered why they thought us knitting and stitching but not how to paint a wall, drill a hole in wall or how to repair a faucet.

  15. I am French and live in France. Sorry to make you disappointed but sewing is NOT part of the French scholarship. Well yes it used to be… in the 19th and 20th centuries !

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  17. Charlotte Snyder

    I teach in a Waldorf school, where handwork, woodwork, and art are integrated parts of the curriculum. Knitting, crocheting, and sewing reinforce counting skills, concentration, manual dexterity, and rhythm. Moving on to embroidery and cross stitch introduces the need to design and plan a project. Sewing your own clothes in middle school makes you learn to follow instructions and work on a semester-long project. These are all skills needed in life, as well as the practical skills of sewing on a button and ironing your own clothes. The result? A young adult who has confidence in his or her own skills and an open mind to ideas.

  18. Yes i embroidering often my cloths or i use those stiches for my art work , to made of it a totally differend material of it. By painting it and gluing it to become a other kind of surface on my objects.
    I oftenly made embroiderings as well on my felted objects, they are often tiny shapes but i like the oposite of the both fabric bolt felting and the tiny delicated stiches of the embroidery yarn.
    And yeaaah i have learned on the economical classes i had to took many years ago to uses a patch which are often embroidered as well on my cloths.LOL
    I hated those lessons, but later on the art academy i was glad that i had learned it because i could try it out on a differend level and much higher.
    so i still be glad that i had learned all those stiches, i have many embroidery books, not for the stiches any more but for the inspiration.
    Thank you for the sharing, i love it that your children are learning this old technick as well;-D Have a fun weekend:XD;

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  21. I have been volunteering to teach embroidery in elementary school. With ten years of this experience I KNOW students grow so much when they astonish themselves by mastering a skill and making something beautiful. I have taught hundreds of third graders to embroider their own sampler. I currently have 75 third graders at work on a sampler. The principal wishes I was on the far side of the moon. She thinks it is a waste of student time and will not contribute to the raising of test scores. The teachers defiantly embrace the classes I teach because they know that embroidery the way I teach it is art, math, social studies, it teaches responsibility, focus, patience, perseverance, understanding of the rules of design. …I could go on. I live in California.

  22. My daughter was taught beginning embroidery and crochet in her Montessori preschool. I wish she could continue. I don’t know it well and her new school doesn’t have it as a part of the curriculum. It’s a wonderful skill to have.

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