Archive for the 'family learning program' Category

Simple Felt Stuffed Critters

This was a project that spanned the last two weeks of our session. Students started by wetfelting abstract patterned squares using merino batt from Opulent Fibers.

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As we are constrained by the limits of a 60 minute period with 15 minutes to clean up before the next class arrives to use the space, the students felted their batts inside a zippered plastic bag, a method I discovered here. This is a great way to contain the mess of wet felting, but still give students the experience of working with roving and seeing the transformation into a new fabric. The only thing I have changed from this tutorial is the addition of a square of bubble wrap inside the zippered bag. This gives the felt a little extra friction as the students rub through the bag.

After using this method many times with dfiferent ages in several classrooms, I have observed most students are tired of rubbing their felt through the bag long before it is done. Singing songs together will sometimes distract students long enough so they can achiever a firm felt, but not always.

The week we wet felted these pieces, most students asked me every two minutes to check on their felt to see if it was done. The only student who really felted her roving into something sturdy enough to use for our subsequent sewing project, worked without stopping and without asking me to check her work for a solid 15 minutes. When class ended, the rest of the pieces needed a little extra rubbing and some hot water to make them super sturdy, so I finished them up at my studio.

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The week before our class, I photocopied cartoon animal templates from the back of several craft books. My intern cut out the templates, traced them onto cardboard and cut them out again. Students traced two identical patterns onto their felt with a marker and then cut them out.

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They added features to their stuffies with buttons, needlefelting, and embroidery stitches. After pinning the two pieces together, they sewed almost all the way around the perimeter, using either a whip stitch of a blanket stitch. Leaving a small opening, they stuffed fluffy bits of washed wool into the cavity, then stitched their creature closed. Aren’t they sweet?

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Popsicle Stick Loom

In order to continue working those muscles necessary for fine motor control, my youngest class of fiber arts students embarked on a weaving project.

This fixed-warp loom was designed (and used with permission) by a student in my studio class. She glued together a frame of popsicle sticks and added three more sticks to create an immovable warp.

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Ever the innovator, this student decided he wanted to weave the middle of his loom last. I believe the eyelash yarn was intended to be the show-stopper holding court in the middle of the piece.20140202-121108.jpg

With little additional help, the students were able to fill their looms with colorful yarns. The beauty of this project is that it costs little in terms of materials and the prep can be done a few hours in advance. I assembled the looms the previous day. The downfall is that the weaving can not be easily removed from the popsicle sticks. This a single use loom.

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Drawing inspiration from a nest helper kit we hung in our cherry tree several years ago, I stuck some cast-off yarn cuttings between the weft. Birds and squirrels can pluck the fluffy bits out to pad their nest.

We read Three Billy Goats Fluff by Rachael Mortimer. This has to be the best reselling of this story I’ve read. I’m buying it for my story collection.

Teaching Beginning Crochet

This week my older fiber arts class began learning to crochet. We started with a simple chain stitch. For students familiar with finger-knitting* this was an easy transition.

Once students mastered working with the crochet hook to create chain stitches, I substituted some yarn I’d worked up the night before. Crocheting into chain stitches, which beginners invariably wrangle into impossibly tight bumps, is an exercise in needless frustration. I crocheted a string of 10 chain stitches and then a row of half-double crochet stitches with nice open spaces for students to begin their first row. Only four students out of twelve made it this far in our hour class.

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One student continued to work in the background during my subsequent class. She brought this great triangle to me after the second hour. Without any direction from me, she had figured out how to single crochet. I was so proud of her ingenuity and diligence.

If a triangle is what you are trying to create then voila! Stitching together a whole bunch of triangles would make a great pattern. If a rectangle is more to your liking, then at the end of each row, crochet a single chain stitch. This allows your hook to ‘climb the ladder’ to the next row.

Everything I know about crochet I learned from Debbie Stoller’s Happy Hooker. Another great title is Kids’ Crochet by Kelli Ronci.

One of the things that makes me most fired up is the intersection between art, math, science and community. In 1997, Daina Taimina was the first mathemetician to model hyperbolic geometry; the method was crochet. Coral are one of the lifeforms that exhibit hyperbolic geometry with their expanding planes which maximize the surface area through which nutrients can be absorbed.

Margaret Wertheim presents the intersections between the theory, the art and activisim in her 2009 TED talk “The Beautiful math of coral“. I had downloaded it to play for the class, but we didn’t have enough time. Margaret and her sister Christine have created a brilliant community art project to raise awareness about the environmental damage being sustained Great Barrier Reef due to global warming using crochet. You can read more here: http://crochetcoralreef.org/

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The day before I class, I taught my intern, Zelda, how to crochet. Without any direction from me, she created a coral form by crocheting two stitches into each stitch in the previous row. As the form grows, it naturally curls over on itself. Should she continue this nubbin, it will create an enormous whorl, the likes of which you might see if you dive down to the Great Barrier Reef.

*I bristle whenever I hear people refer to a string of chain stitches as finger-knitting. It grates on that nerve dedicated to nomenclature and precise language. For the love of dog, let’s call this process what it is: finger-crochet.

Stitching Burlap Rafts

To start off our class, I read The Raft by Jim LaMarche. This is a story of a boy who spends a summer with his grandma, exploring the river next to her home from a raft he finds drifting in the reeds on the day after his arrival. He experiences the animals that live in woods and play in the river from the vantage point of the raft, which helps him to gain an appreciation for this special environment.

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The boy’s raft is covered in illustrations of the woodland animals. Together we worked on illustrating rafts of our own.  The day before class, I glued four popsicle stitcks together to form a frame, then glued the four corners to a 6″ square of burlap. Working with blunt large-eyed needles I had pre-threaded with a bulky single-ply wool yarn, the students stitched the burlap to create a design on their raft.

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This student stitched his name, while another student created a trio of balloon/flowers for her brother, writing her birthday wishes around the perimeter of the popsicle stick frame.

Because the needles were already threaded, and the wool was bulky enough that it didn’t slip out of the needles (much), the students were able to work more independently than they have on previous projects. The glue didn’t hold on some of the rafts, but I deliberately used a common white glue so the burlap could be easily removed and another piece attached to the frame. The popsicle sticks made super inexpensive frames, much easier and more affordable than a class set of embroidery hoops.

Should you decide to this project, here’s a great tip for cutting burlap from The Felt Store. You should follow them on Twitter too. They’re full of great ideas and eye candy culled from the Interwebs.

Embroidered Cards

One of the stated aims of this class is to practice handsewing in its varied forms. In an effort to keep my students interested and engaged, I endeavor to find variations on the theme so they can see the many possibilities available. In this project, we stitched cards with a phrase or design.

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For the first sample card, “hello”, I poked small holes in the card using an awl after lightly penciling the letters. The dotted pattern is created with a simple running or basting stitch.

The second  card, “leap”, is embroidered with a backstitch to fill in the space between the holes. This creates a continuous line. The holes were created with a screw hole punch. As the holes were large, I used wool yarn to embroider the letters, expecting they would expand to fill the space.

The third card, “LOVE”, was created by my studio intern. Zelda poked the holes with an embroidery needle. Her advice is to be careful spacing the holes, as her card tore in two spots when she decided to redo a stitch.

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This project can be as elaborate or speedy as the student chooses to make it. We worked for a little less than an hour on these cards. One student who embroidered ‘friend’ on her card was inspired to write a note immediately.

Compact Disc Weaving

Recently my daughter and I spent the afternoon at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Among the many things we enjoyed was The Weaving Project a collaborative art project created by artist and teacher Stephanie Allgood. Two walls of a sunny room were covered by cds woven by students at various schools and visitors to the museum. We spent an hour weaving our own cds and helping a gaggle of young Girl Scouts who weren’t sure when they sat down if we were sewing or knitting. I had to make sure they knew this was neither, but something just as wonderful.

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This project embodies everything I love about teaching and art. By recycling materials that would otherwise become garbage and turning them into something beautiful, we are teaching ourselves to look at the world through a different lens.

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I introduced the project to two classes in the same week: the Handsewing and Fiber Arts 8-18 year old class at the Family Learning Program, and a new series of fiber arts classes running out of Spark Studio. Before class, my able assistant and I wrapped 11 warp strands through the center of cd. The students tied their first weft strand to the center of a warp strand and then started weaving. The pre-warped cds at the Bellevue Arts Museum had 19 warp strands. The key factor is to use an odd number of strands so that each row alternates the over/under pattern. Should there be an even number of warp strands, the warp will appear as a vertical stripe in the finished weaving.

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When the first color reaches the end, tie another piece of yarn to the first then keep weaving. Leave enough slack as you weave to that it doesn’t mound in the center (unless of course you like the volcano look).

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To finish the project, some students attached a finger-crocheted strand to the edge of the warp, thus creating a loop for hanging. As thematic enrichment, I read Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski, the story of a non-conformist sheep who weaves his forelock into the loom. Ultimately, he decides to teach the rest of the flock how to be like him rather than being like everyone else.

Braiding Tails

Friday marked the beginning of the Family Learning Program’s winter session. We have a bustling class of 12 students this semester. To start, I read Henry The Dog With No Tail by Kate and Jules Feiffer. My daughter noticed that Jules is also the illustrator of the Phantom Tollbooth, and that Henry is based on a real Australian Shepherd, a breed without tails. This was the jumping off point for our project.

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Rug braiding has a venerable tradition dating back to a time when fabric was costly and time consuming to weave. Worn out clothes were torn into strips and braided into rugs. Our project introduced the basic elements of this process. My husband’s grandmother braided the hearth rug in this photo. When we moved from New Hampshire in 2003, I was fortunate to bring with us a tub of wool fabric torn into strips, ready to braid. It has been sitting in storage, waiting for a project like this. I imagine that Cecile would be thrilled to see so many eager hands learning with her fabric.

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The students sewed three pairs of strips, overlapping the ends, using heavy upholstery thread. We were fortunate to have several helpful parents in class to assist with threading needles, stitching and tying off knots. Once they had three long strips, students learned how to braid them together. Working in pairs, they took turns holding or braiding their strips. At the end of the first class, most students had finished sewing the strips of fabric, braiding and tying a ribbon around each end.

We meet for one hour, once a week. Considering our class size and the age of our students, one hour is a very long time and a very short time. It is hard to work on a project for an entire hour, and it is also difficult to help everyone get to the same point within that hour. There were six parents assisting in our class to give an idea of our student/teacher ratio.

When we met the following week, the students sewed several buttons  to a length of ribbon. Parents cut button holes in the ribbon and then helped the students sew their braided tails to the back of the ribbon. Sewing buttons was very challenging for the students. Many were frustrated by the complexity of holding the ribbon and locating the correct hole in the button. We will practice this skill again later in our session.

 

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Despite the frustrations in the moment, the students were thrilled with their new tails. They were swishing and swaying all over the classroom.

To reinforce the idea of re-purposing worn fabric, one of the parents read Something From Nothing by Phoebe Gilman while we stitched. Another version of this story is Joseph Had A Little Overcoat by Simms Taback.


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