Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

homemade gifts November 2020

Sanae Ishida makes sewing accessible in her new book ‘Animal Friends to Sew.’ Photo by Joshua Huston

Soft and cuddly … and homemade

Little ones can help make gifts from Sanae Ishida’s ‘Animal Friends.’

Rather stay home than go out to shop this season? We understand. The answer could be homemade gifts.

And with a little guidance, you and your child can make simple gifts at home. Sanae Ishida’s new book, Animal Friends to Sew: Simple Handmade Decor, Toys, and Gifts for Kids, can teach a beginner to make a houseful of tiny buddies as homemade gifts in very little time. The 15 tested patterns create handmade animals, decor and toys, so you can surprise a child with a squishy gift – or have them make something right alongside you.

“There’s something about a handmade gift,” Ishida says. She’s self-taught at sewing and got her start making her then-toddler’s Halloween costume back in 2007. She bought a “ton of red felt” to make her daughter into an adorable ladybug. “I hand-stitched everything,” she says with a laugh.

Since then, Ishida has written five books, including a children’s book series, starting with Little Kunoichi: The Ninja Girl, and the crafting guide Sewing Happiness: A Year of Simple Projects for Living Well. Many of the patterns in her fifth book, Animal Friends to Sew, offer multiple variations in soothing, warm tones suitable for a nursery or playroom, or just for a friend for a child to hold in a car seat.

She draws inspiration from Japanese and Scandinavian design, with wabi-sabi – an aesthetic of accepting transience and imperfection – and French influences too. Her work balances the magical with a minimalist take on only keeping things that you feel are useful or beautiful.

It makes for a well-balanced life. “Functionality is really important to me,” Ishida says. And she wanted to make things that were fun and valuable.

Each pattern in Animal Friends to Sew is designed for beginners and was tested by seasoned stitchers and newbies, including several kids. Beginners can make any of these themselves, and you can ask kids if they want to help, too.

Ishida believes that sewing is one of the most underrated but powerful skills. The basics are fairly easy to master, and from there, especially with a pattern, sewing things – like adorable animal friends for your child or homemade gifts for others – is as simple as following a recipe.

Ishida has a hard time choosing a favorite from the book, which includes soft blocks and a plush sheep backpack. Her favorite? The polar bear pillow.

The book is available now and comes with a lookbook at the front, a sewing and embroidery primer, beginner-friendly instructions for each project (with photos and step-by-step illustrations), and templates at the back.

Aspiring stitchers can check out the gorgeous patterns – and start sewing.

Even ninjas practice: An interview with children’s author Sanae Ishida

Review: In ‘Sewing Happiness,’ Seattle writer Sanae Ishida Finds Mindfulness in Simple Sewing Projects