In the spring of 2011 I was given the opportunity to work with K4 and K5 students at Clara Barton Elementary School through Artists Working in Education, a non-profit organization with whom I have worked for seven years. During my residency from January to April, students were taught weaving and explored other fiber art elements like sewing, beading, and fabric construction. In eight weekly classes, we explored five different projects and wove on looms. We read the story “Charlie needs a Cloak” by Tomie dePaola. In this story a shepherd has a flock of sheep and takes readers through the process of preparing the wool, spinning, dyeing, weaving, and sewing a cloak. This book covered a lot of the things we were going to approach in this weaving and fiber art residency. At the end of the project, a panel was constructed using student-generated elements, making a “woven tapestry” which illustrated the adage, “it takes a village to raise a child.”
The first project completed was a Danish woven heart basket out of paper. The paper was cut into the shapes, handles were cut, and slots were cut beforehand. Children learned the basics of the over/under concept and AB, AB, AB pattern. We worked through the project by using the descriptive words and easy labels like “the red leg goes over the white leg” or “the red leg goes inside of the white leg”. The end result was a checkerboard pattern which demonstrated the AB, AB pattern. Once completed and woven a handle was attached to the basket with a stapler. Students took the baskets home.
The second project we undertook was woven fabric people. The preparation for this project included ironing interfacing on to the back of the fabric and cutting figures from the cloth. Strips of fabric with interfacing were cut longer than the width of the figure and slots were cut into the figure. Again, students were encouraged to learn the concept of over/ under, and opposites, the weaving created a checkerboard pattern and again created an AB, AB pattern. The woven people were saved for use in the final project.
The third project created was a woven paper sculpture, attached to a cardboard base, which was thn painted. In preparation, strips of paper and cardboard squares and rectangles were cut. We used construction paper and to strengthen and make it more pliable, the paper needed to crumpled. First, two strips were stapled to the base. Secondly, three more strips were added by weaving them over and under the strips stapled to the cardboard. The children were encouraged to “decorate” their sculpture by painting with washable paints. The sculpture was allowed to dry and student took them home.
One of my favorite projects in this residency was making a fabric picture. We had an apeirilla for an example a South American way of creating a picture story. Molas also were used in an example-- cut fabric pictures from Guatemala. The students were first asked to think about what they might like to make a picture about, we wrote this on a strip of paper near them so both teachers knew how to help them and keep them on track. We encouraged them to draw, cut, or construct figures, objects from fabric scraps and yarn. Using the size of a felt rectangle approximately 8”x11” this was their “canvas”. We affixed the picture pieces with fabric glue and school glue. I allowed the pictures to dry and took them home to attach them to construction paper matting. The fabric pictures will be used in the closing ceremony and then sent home with the students.
The last project we did was the result of ongoing work throughout the residency, where each child’s time in the last half of each class was spent weaving on five pre-warped looms. With a great deal of preparation time, I measured strings and threaded those strings onto the looms. I allowed student who were understanding this process to step up to another level of weaving, successfully implementing differentiated instruction: some looms had only two harnesses, which made an easy AB, AB pattern, while others had four and eight harnesses in which I labeled the treadles with A,B,A,B stickers and students were able to follow complex pattern of weaving with success. All the A’s had to be down to weave “A” and all the B’s had to be up; the opposite was required when weaving the B’s. At the start of each day, the children got to choose the yarn color for weaving from a selection of pre-wrapped shuttles. It did not take the students long to understand the weaving concepts, and by the third time we saw the same group, most of the children could weave independently, with a few minor tangles and missed pattern changes. The weavings totaled fifteen warped yards and became the pieces we used to create houses in our woven tapestry’s village, along with the fabric people described previously. Remaining pieces were used for the final take home project.
Finally, the leftovers of the weaving were sewn by machine with a zigzag to make each child a fabric bookmark. This secured the small pieces of the weaving in order for the students to work on them. The same process was used to create the shapes for the tapestry panel. Considering the fabric picture project, students were encouraged to think about shapes or images they would use to embellish their bookmark with. After we glued the pictures or shapes to the bookmark, children were taught basic sewing with plastic needles and thick yarn. Once the children did a few whip stiches, we moved onto more embellishment with beads. We taught them a very simple way to attach the beads. Some students learned how to sew a button on their bookmark, and others used glitter glue to make more pictures or write their names. The creative process being completely handed over to the students, they truly enjoyed and grew tremendously through this culminating activity.
The final panel consists of quilt and woven pieces appliqued to fabric. At the request of the school, it was to illustrate a village, as in the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” A four by six foot fabric rectangle was quilted, the woven and sewn shapes appliqued creating houses, windows, and doors from student created rectangle, square and triangle pieces, and student-generated people figures were applied to breathe life into the village. I am happy to have shared my love for weaving, the importance of learning the basics of sewing, manipulating cloth, and making something wonderful to be appreciated by others.