Archive for February, 2014

Needlefelting Puppet Faces

This week, students in both of my Family Learning Program clases began a project that will span two weeks.

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Using recycled or upcycled wool fabric harvested from fulled sweaters as their base, these students needlefelted Harrisville wool to create features for puppets. Harrisville is an ideal wool for needlefelting because it has lots of crimp and the fibers are not aligned, as in many rovings sold as a sliver. It also comes in a wide array of colors and can be quickly blended with your fingertips to create even more combinations.

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The students traced a cardboard outline onto two pieces of fulled wool, then cut along the contour lines. Next, they worked on adding faces to one piece of felt. This student is making a cyclops with a red mouth and fangs.

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This student preferred to be the set decorator, creating backgrounds for the puppets he overhead various students describing. The mixed blues were going to be an ocean for another’s mermaid. He offered to make a tree for my sample owl puppet and a cave for the cyclops.

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Adding surface embellishment to fulled fabric is an easy introduction to felting for young children. Working on a foam pad, they can keep track of where their fingers are, reducing the chance of accidental puncture or snapped needles. The best part for many children is the ultimate flexibility of the method. Don’t like that eye placement? Rip it off and put it somewhere else. Don’t like that color? Rip it off and choose another. Can you think of another medium better suited for those paralyzed by commitment anxiety? This is also a perfect way to allow children to experiment with color and texture.

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Do You Like My Hat?

This week our class sewed hats out of fleece fabric, some embellished with ears, others with pompoms.

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Before starting to sew, everyone made a bunch of pompoms, winding yarn around their fingers, then tying a strand of strong cotton yarn around the middle. The process was thoroughly engrossing, filling the studio with colorful yarn confetti. Two of the students decided to focus on pompoms for the whole class. It was so fun to see the different shapes made by small and big hands, with lots of trimming or not so much.

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After the measuring the circumference of everyone’s head, we marked and cut the fleece. The circumference ranged from 20.5-22″, with students between the ages of 3-12 years, though for grins I measured my own head and it fit right in the range at 22″.

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Students who wanted a slouchy hat with lots of room cut two pieces 10.5″ x 10.5″; those who wanted a more snug fit cut two rectangles: 10.5″ x 6″. Some students rounded the corners before sewing while others whip-stitched around three straight sides.

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We had one request for a tall, pointed hat. Drawing frommy experience trying to knit a stocking cap, if the decrease starts at the bottom, it will pop right off the head. So, we measured 5″ from the bottom before drawing the point; this was roughly the distance from the bottom of his ears to the crown of his head. How cute is this little gnome in his peaked hat and denim bib overalls?

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To keep the corners from sticking out, Cindy, my able teaching partner, had this student sew a tab of fabric on the inside from corner to corner. With this modification, the ears became more pronounced and the hat indented on the sides in just the right spot.

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Hugs all around at the end of class warm everyone’s heart.

Child-Friendly String Art

Inspired by this project, I decided to introduce a simplified version of nail art to my class. Rather than working with wooden boards, I cut 7″ squares out of corrugated cardboard, then taped two pieces together. Rather than nails, I used small straight pins. The second piece of cardboard prevented the pins from poking out the back, and gave them a little extra stability.

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Before class, I wound 3 yards of crochet thread around cardboard bobbins so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time unwinding thread. The bobbins also made it easier to work around the pins as it was already in a tidy, palm sized bundle.

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Hearts were a popular shape as our class coincided with St. Valentine’s Day.

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 A few of the students in the 5-7 yr old class found the project compelling, working layers and layers of thread around their pins. Most of the class was happy to create a single design. If boxes of valentines weren’t sitting outside the classroom waiting to be examined, the students might have stayed with the project a little longer. 

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The students in the 8-13 yr old class pulled the pins out after finishing their first attempt and rearranged them for a second or third design.20140221-113749.jpg

My sample was a square, but it didn’t take long before students branched out to create letters and more complicated shapes.

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This student spent a long time watching the process before deciding on a design. After observing for most of the class, she placed her pins and started stringing. She stayed after class for a bit, unable to leave it once she was underway. 

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In a moment of synergy, I visited a cousin in her home this week. Look at what she had propped up on the kitchen counter: string art made by her nanny, in the shape of a bird. Fans of the ‘Put a Bird On It’ episode of Portlandia will appreciate the irony as my cousin is a life-long Portland resident.

Free Sew

With this group of super creative kids, I decided the best project was no project. Rather than teach a new skill or introduce new materials, I pulled out a bunch of felt, thread, yarn, needles and let the students do whatever they wanted.

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Things that were sewn today: a pair of butter yellow pants for a rabbit.

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We drew the outline of pants on a piece of paper, cut out two and then taped the edges together. We tried the paper pants on the rabbit to see if they fit. Then we traced the paper pattern onto felt, cut out two, pinned them together and started sewing. The waist was finished with a drawstring.

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One of the mothers helped her young son blanket stitch two felt rectangles together to make a pouch.

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There was a smaller felt pouch with a heart applique sewn together by another student.

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Boo has a new flannel coat with a felt heart applique and a purple button closure.

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This student blanket stitched a pouch with stacked hearts.

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There were sweet little drawings and notes composed for fortune cookies.

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Projects not photographed: some small stuffed round pillows, a doll dress and a super child-sized cape.

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This fleece cow is a bit of show-n-tell. I love it when students bring in work they’ve created at home to share. The cow is wearing overalls. Both the animal and his outfit were imagined and completed with fabric scraps.

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This is not a hat, though it appears to be on someone’s head. This was intended to be a container with a strap; it’s life as a hat is temporary. The exciting part is this student taught himself how to cast on, knit and cast-off by watching videos. The only thing he asked me to show him was how to decrease. I’m so impressed by the genius of these kids.

 

Stitching Heart Pockets

With St. Valentine’s Day approaching, I planned to tie The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn to sitched heart pockets, inspired by Molly’s Sketchbook -Sweetheart Charms. Having a physical way to hold onto a parent who is absent can be a great comfort. In the Kissing Hand, a mother raccoon reassures her little one that she will always be there, with a kiss placed in her paw.

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Unfortunately, when it came time to hunt down my copy, it was nowhere to be found. Instead I read Little Red: A Fizzingly Good Yarn by Lynn Roberts, which has nothing to do with hearts, but features a clever boy who negotiates peace in the forest by promising the wolf a jug of ginger ale every week.

My project samples were done with a blanket stitch around the perimeter because I like the tidy look, but I also had my intern make a whip stitch sample for my young students. While many of my students are capable of learning a blanket stitch, it would require a 1:1 student/helper ratio. Should anyone be interested in trying it at home, I think it would be entirely manageable.

Before class, I cut the shapes (two hearts and a triangle for the pocket), and threaded a bunch of needles with cotton floss so we could get right down to sewing.

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These students love to sew. Some were so eager to begin, they grabbed a needle and started sewing running stitches before I could explain the project. Others worked with one of my parent or student helpers and carefully worked delicate whip stitches around the perimeter. Some decided they didn’t want a triangle pocket; they preferred to leave a few stitches missing at the top so the entire heart was the pocket.

One boy was so thrilled with his heart that he decided to make a long loop for his heart so he could wear it as a necklace.

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Expecting this project would take the entire class, I only had enough pieces pre-cut to allow one project per student. But once the sewing bug bites, there is no stopping the fever. I had some felt circles cut out of a fulled blanket in my project box. They were intended for a future class, but the students were voracious. They snatched up the circles and started to whip stitch them together.

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I will be sure to keep a stash of extra felt pieces for cutting and sewing in my project box as a go-to activity for the sprinters in my class.

Planting The Seeds

Teaching crochet to a group is hard. Not enough of me, too little time, and unrealistic expectations mean that some projects as I envision them can’t be completed. For our second crochet class, I had planned to teach my 12 students how to crochet circles. We would sew two stitches in the circles to transform them into perfect little fortune cookies.

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By the end of class, I had not managed to work individually with each student, and my attempts to demonstrate the basics for the group had left most students mystified. One student who already knew how to crochet helped with fellow students’ questions, but our four hands weren’t enough for such a complex task. A few students doggedly improvised their way into circles, but some left the class with little more than they had before we started.

After class I lamented to a parent that I have difficulty differentiating from my students’ outcomes. This is the most difficult part of teaching. I forget how many countless hours I have spent working on process before creating a successful project.

She reminded me that I’m planting seeds. Some projects will resonate with some students and they will seek further instruction in a method. This class is an introduction to fiber materials and methods of manipulating them. My young grasshoppers have many years to learn, as do I.

Felt Heart Pockets and Vessels

Today’s project was a lesson in creativity, ingenuity and humility. As a teacher, I’m sure I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.  Before class, I had a project in mind and I had worked out how it was going to proceed, but I had not created a sample for the students to see. Some would say this is the best way to teach because the students don’t have a preconception of how a piece ‘should’ look to skew their innate creativity.

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We started out by drafting two layers of roving over a heart-shaped bubblewrap resist. After wetting the roving, we flipped the bundle, folded the roving over edge of the resist and then laid out two more layers of roving. The bundle was flipped again, the edges were folded over again to create a sealed package. If you want more detailed photos of the process, there is a felt vessel tutorial I wrote here.

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The students folded their bubble wrap on top of the heart bundle and rubbed, gently at first and then more vigorously. When the roving started to hold together, they dunked it in warm water and then rubbed a whole lot more.

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This student project end up exactly as I had conceived it. After rinsing out the soap and giving it a dunk in a vinegar bath, the students cut a small slit near the top. They pulled out the bubblewrap to reveal a pocket. When dry, I imagined they would write a little valentine and slip it inside.

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The loop of single ply yarn (placed between the layers of roving when the batt was still dry) can be used to hang the ornament.

For one student, the bubblewrap resist shifted early in the felting process; her end result had three lobes and looked more like an anatomical heart than a typical valentine. She sliced it open, removed the plastic. Without skipping a beat she said ‘I wonder what it would look like if I turned it inside out’ and then did so. She pushed and pulled a little and suddenly it was a little vessel, perfectly sized for the turquoise felt ball she’d brought from home.

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It wasn’t long before the entire class had slit their hearts wide open and flipped them inside out. I didn’t grab a picture of the whole class set, but I have to admit they are much sweeter as little petal vessels than the hearts I had imagined.

Lesson learned: put down your expectations and step away from the table. You have no idea what power these children wield in their imaginations.


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