Archive for the 'Handsewing & Fiber Arts – 8-18 yrs' 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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Upcycled Felt Wearables

Today I brought a mixed tub of fulled wool fabric and a tub of wool roving for students to transform into accessories: hats, arm warmers and headbands.

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Before I get any further, I need to pull out my soap box to make a clarification. The handknit wool sweater thrown in the washing machine that emerges half the size it was before washing has been fulled, not felted.

When wool is spun into yarn, then knit (or woven or crocheted) into a new fabric and subsequently shrunk through vigorous agitation in hot soap and water, this is fulling. When unspun wool, also known as roving, is transformed into a solid fabric through vigorous agitation with hot soap and water, this process is called felting. As there is water involved, it is called wetfelting. Poking roving into a base fabric with a felting needle is a third technique called needlefelting, or sometimes dry felting.

When a friend brought in a whole bunch of sweaters she was no longer wearing, I cut them apart at the seams, tossed them in a couple lingerie bags and washed them in my top-loading washing machine in hot water with the dial turned to ‘heavy agitation’. Cutting a garment into pieces allows the fabrics to shrink more evenly. Sweaters fulled as an intact garment often have sections near armpits and neckline where they have not shrunk as much as the broad expanse of front and back.

Once a sweater has been fulled, and the fabric is ready to be put to another use, it is called recycled felt or upcycled felt. This distinguishes the fabric from industrial craft felt, or felt created through wetfelting wool roving.

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Recycled felt is a perfect base for embellishing by needlefelting roving into the surface. The bond made with felting needles is not permanent, as it is when fibers intermingle during wetfelting. In order for the roving to stay firmly attached to the fabric, it must be poked repeatedly. This can be time consuming and tedious, but it is important if students want their designs to last. I recommend using a Clover multi-needle tool to finish a design once all the elements are in place.

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These two students spent the entire class needlefelting their designs. They were working with larger pieces of fabric. It will be interesting to see what they do with them next week.

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There’s a sheep with a rainbow tail hiding on the inside of this hat. Whipstitching seams can take a little time, but it will prevent the seams from coming undone over time.

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This student selected some upcycled felt with a colorful motif embroidered in the wool before it was fulled. Her two pieces of fabric once needlefelted and seamed made a fantastic bird hat.

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This student needlefelted cat eyes, nose and whiskers on two rectangles of fabric before sewing it into a hat for her little sister. By sewing two rectangles of fabric together, the peaks naturally form pointed ears. How lucky they are to have each other.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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