Last year, several intermediate teachers planted a native garden on the west side of our school, after much planning, grant-writing, research, design, digging and prepping by students, staff and parents. The teachers integrated the work into the curriculum on many levels. The children took ownership and intense pride in the project.
To further extend the learning the following year, my daughter’s teacher suggested the students transform sketches in their science journals into a felted illustration. One of our school’s strengths lies in seeing how students learn through multiple media. Illustrating a plant on paper and then working it in felt allows a student to see a plant again and again through different lenses.
Each spring, our school holds a large auction to augment insufficient school district funds, paying for half our librarian, PE teacher and art teacher salaries. Each class contributes a collaborative creation for the live auction; these works of art are usually the most popular items. In the past, artists have worked with the students to create mosaic planters, a fused glass tile installation, watercolor paintings and photo collages. This year, I volunteered to turn the needlefelt illustrations of the native garden into two afghans.
Starting with a box of recycled felt culled from fulled sweaters, the students designed their pieces paying attention to the shape of the leaves, flowers and the gesture of the plant. They worked on blending the corriedale fibers to create a broad color palette. A team of four parents worked with our class of twenty-eight nine and ten year old students for six periods to needle their designs. The students were asked to complete three pieces: two panels for our blankets and one to keep. Several students finished six designs, then volunteered to tamp down the work completed by their classmates. After thoroughly needling each piece, the completed designs were fulled one more time in the washing machine.
Next, I worked with another parent to arrange the pieces, paying close attention to color and style. We separated those pieces worked on heavier wool felt from those worked on finer merino and cashmere; there were enough to make a large blanket with the heavy pieces and a smaller throw with the lighter pieces. We basted the heavy pieces to three yards of wool suiting bought at the fabric store.
With one week left before the auction, it was apparent just how much work remained to finish the two afghans. In swooped my mother to save the day. She took the largest blanket back to Vancouver, where she worked on it with her heavy-duty sewing machine. She stitched each piece to the wool backing, using a decorative quilting stitch, then drove it back to Seattle the day before I had to hand it in, giving the kids a chance to see their handiwork assembled in its final form.
Meanwhile, I pieced and patched the smaller throw, sewing the cashmere pieces to each other using a zigzag stitch. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Heidi of Haute Goat for her expertise and helpful consultation, not to mention her walking foot.
In the end, the pieces sold for $1250 and $650 at the auction, purchased by two parents in our classroom. Thanks to to the parents who generously donated their sweaters to the cause and to Mary Jo Dawe, Renee Derby, Edith Fuchs, and Sarah Kopf-Patterson for their blood, sweat and tears.