We’ve been collaborating with Trixi Symonds of Sew of a Softie for a several years now. Her passion and her enthusiasm for mindful sewing education is unmatched, and we are constantly inspired by her work with children worldwide. Creative encouragement from a young age is so very important — it’s catching creativity at it’s finest and most unbridled.
Today we are thrilled to have Trixi here at Auribuzz to share all about her new book The Zenki Way: A Guide To Designing And Enjoying Your Own Creative Softies!
Take it away Trixi.
For our readers who may be meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a bit about how you got started in this industry?
I’ve always loved teaching kids. I actually trained as a primary school teacher and about thirty years ago I switched to teaching craft workshops. When I created sewing projects for my classes and holiday workshops I saw how much kids loved sewing. That surprised me and I kept creating more and more sewing projects. That’s how the craft classes became sewing classes. The kids (mostly girls but I’d always get a few boys coming in) loved sewing so much that I used to get mums asking if I could teach them to sew so they could sew with their kids in the holidays.
I never got around to adult classes. It probably wasn’t my thing, but I did start thinking how I could help those mums. That led me to write my first book Sew Together Grow Together. The projects in that book were favourites with the kids from my workshops and the book encouraged me to think big: how can I teach the whole world to sew? I could see that there was a whole generation of mums and kids who had little or no idea of how to sew and of how wonderful it was as a creative activity for kids. And that led to launching Sew a Softie in 2016 as a global movement to inspire people to inspire others to sew by sewing simple softies.
Sew a Softie really really resonated. I think I’ve always liked following where things go and Sew a Softie’s success inspired me to try to design the simplest softies ever. The result was my zenki-style softies. Zenkis are made from only two pieces of felt and a running stitch but they are endlessly adaptable. Most of my time now is shared between just running Sew a Softie and its two yearly global events, Sew a Softie in July and The Global Kids Sewing Party, designing new zenkis, and this year, organising two Sew a Softie books, Sewing Simple Softies With 17 Amazing Designers which showcases the work of Sew a Softie participants and The Zenki Way: A Guide to Designing & Enjoying Your Own Creative Softies which shares my design ideas and how to use them to create your own original zenki-style softies.
Who or what has been your greatest creative inspiration?
That’s simple: the kids I teach!
I don’t think you can beat kids for creative ideas, unusual but really interesting colour combinations, and their work always overflows with a wonderful energy and vitality.
And they have so much fun just doing what they’re doing.
What inspired your book “The Zenki Way”?
My desire to create the simplest softies in the universe so that anybody anywhere could enjoy sewing with their kids and their kids would enjoy it too.
Can you tell us a bit more about the book and what might be found within?
With The Zenki Way I was really trying to do something different.
I wanted to share my own design secrets with others. I show readers what the zenki design is and then, I show them how this simple design allows them to sew whatever softie they can dream up.
The book is divided into three chapters: Zenki Beginnings, Evolving Your Zenkis and The Sky’s The Limit. These chapters are a progressive guide that takes readers by the hand and shows them how, by using the same simple design idea, they can create everything from Square Zenki, who was the very first and simplest zenki of all, to Little Fox and Bella the Lioness who are still incredibly simple to make.
In addition to giving fourteen fun creative projects to sew with your kids, there are sections that talk about tools and materials, that describe your basic sewing kit, and that talk about really basic stitches that readers might want to play with.
There are also some special sections. For teachers and parents wanting to sew with a group of kids, I have included a section on Running a Zenki Workshop in which I talk about how to set up for a group and also share how I personally set up for and run my sewing workshops. Trixi’s 7 Golden Rules of Sewing offers seven helpful pieces of advice for anyone sewing with kids. And perhaps my favourite special section is the 64 Zenki Pattern Testers made up of kids from around the world who sewed Long Tall Zenki. Their photos and creations are displayed at the end of the book.
Finally, readers will find that zenkis are more than softies. They have their own ways and (sometimes quirky) personalities. And the book is full of their stories and quotes and input. You’ll find that this is their book as much as it is mine.
What Aurifil threads would you recommend for this type of stitching?
Mostly I use Mako 12 but I also love Mako 28. I also use the embroidery floss when I sew on features like eyes or mouths or for any decorative stitching.
I like the Mako 28 (1) because it’s easy for kids to thread (2) because it can be doubled over and knotted which is great for kids as it prevents the thread slipping out and (3) because it’s a fairly thin thread which means kids can use a smaller needle which makes pulling the thread in and out the fabric easier for them.
When did you first discover Aurifil Thread and why is it your go-to?
I kept hearing about Aurifil thread on Instagram. That was about six or seven years ago. Next time I went to buy sewing supplies I bought a couple of Aurifil reels and fell in love with it. I’ve been using it ever since.
Do you have a favorite weight or color?
I tend to get the brighter colours as the kids I teach love them. The zenkis seem to love bright colours too! I rarely argue with a zenki. They can be very stubborn. But, I would have to say, my favourite thread is Aurifil’s mako 12 multi-coloured thread 3817. It’s a fun thread to use to embroider softies and kids love the changing colours of the thread as they sew.
What is your biggest piece of advice for someone ready to teach children to sew?
I think the universal law of sewing with kids is: Sewing Must Be Fun.
What’s coming up for you this year? Where will we find you?
Right now, I’m preparing for Sew a Softie in July and I’m looking for people who might want to join in its tutorial hop (two simple to sew softie tutorials are posted every day of July and usually a bit longer to fit everyone in). I’m also looking for Kid Ambassadors who want to teach a friend or family member (a lot of kids like teaching dad) to sew a simple softie. Everyone is welcome.
What is your absolute favorite thing that you’ve ever made?
I’d have to say the zenkis! All of them!
The zenkis have added this whole new dimension to my life.
And if I didn’t say this they would be hurt and unhappy with me. But it’s true, they are truly my absolute favorites!
Trixi Symonds is a sewing teacher, softie designer, founder of the global Sew a Softie initiative and the author of three books on sewing with kids.