Felt LED Superhero Cuff

As a bonus project, I created a kit for my fiber arts students to take home after our last class together. This activity takes a little more focus and attention than I can offer in a classroom setting, but it is the perfect activity for an adult and student to tackle together.

photo 3

The basic instructions for sewing together the components LED cuff were written by Fay of Bitwise E-Textiles.

photo 4

The primary difference between my cuff and Fay’s is the placement of the LED. After sewing the cuff exactly as she specified in her instructions, I cut a small slit in the felt and popped the LED through to the decorated side of the cuff. In the photo, you can see the round legs of the LED, but the bulb is behind the strip of red felt with the two black squares at the top.

photo 1

This cuff is a little snug for my wrist. I would recommend sewing the snaps a little closer to the edge if you want it to fit around a muscular arm. The circuit is only connected when the snaps are buttoned. Only one snap is sewn to the LED, so it is possible to wear the cuff without activating the battery and light.

photo 2

Power on! Summer’s almost here!

 

Pompom Creatures

Making pompoms can be a project unto itself. Wrapping yarn around your hand over and over again, then tying it in the middle and snipping the loops can provide an hour of simple entertainment for young children. Considering how easy it is to come by inexpensive yarn, this is cheap fun. Raid Aunt Sarah’s closet, ask the lady in the next cubicle who’s always knitting through meetings for her project leftovers, pillage the sale bin at your local yarn store or sign up for the 40% coupon offered by the suburban craft superstore.

20140330-121340.jpg

A bowl full of buttons and some cotton yarn took this little pompom project to another level. For my class sample, I glued ears cut from scrap bits of felt and then glued a small piece of yarn into the shape of a mouth. My pompoms are dense little nuggets after a whole lot of snipping and trimming. If you like the loose and floppy look, don’t trim so much.

20140330-121351.jpg

The students in this class range from 5-7 years old. For most students, this project required the assistance of an older sibling (we have several who come in to help on a regular basis) or an adult. Tying the yarn around the middle of the pompom is almost impossible to do on your own hand, though it would be manageable if you had a nifty plastic pompom maker

20140330-121317.jpg

We braided a tail and tied it to the “belt” around the middle of one pompom. This same belt was used to tie to the two pompoms to each other. Button eyes were sewn through the middle of the smaller pompom. Someone (who shall not be named) sewed eyes to the bigger pompom, but failed to convince her student that this was a creature that could see through its bottom, or a creature that walked upside down. The eyes were moved to the correct position and all was well in the world.

20140330-121324.jpg

Some students love sewing buttons, but others are reduced to a puddle of frustrated tears at the mention of the idea. A hot glue gun would make short work of the creature assembly, but since this is a hand sewing class, I left my hot glue at home and helped the students thread their needles. They were giddy with excitement over the adorable creatures they had made. One student opted to make a cat toy by tying a long piece of yarn to his pompom and pulling it around the classroom, happily sweeping up the yarn confetti as he went. Whatever floats your boat, as they say.

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.

20140330-123059.jpg

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.

20140330-121611.jpg

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.

20140330-121639.jpg20140401-203917.jpg20140330-121702.jpg

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?

Felt a Monster, Sew a Puppet

20140310-194130.jpg

Our studio fiber class continued the puppet madness. Students needlefelted faces on pieces of felt cut from a fulled blanket I thrifted two weeks ago.

20140310-183650.jpg

After the details are put in place, the front and back are whipstitched together. This puppet has tiny black button eyes and contrasting patterned arms.

20140310-183708.jpg

This octopus puppet with felt dread tentacles is just about ready to be sewn.

20140310-183719.jpg

A reverse black cheetah gets his last yellow spots.

20140310-183731.jpg

Button eyes and embroidered features bring this puppet to life.

 

Do You Like My Hat?

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

20140226-111411.jpg

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.

20140226-111423.jpg

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″.

20140226-111451.jpg

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.

20140226-111435.jpg

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?

20140226-111441.jpg

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.

20140226-111459.jpg

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.

20140221-120953.jpg

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.

20140221-113815.jpg

20140221-121031.jpg

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

20140221-113624.jpg

 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. 

20140221-113804.jpg

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.

20140221-113738.jpg

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. 

20140221-114025.jpg

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.

Screenshot from 2014-02-14 10_55_29

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

20140212-170648.jpg

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.

Screenshot from 2014-02-14 10_52_43

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

20140212-170716.jpg

20140212-170737.jpg

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

20140212-170755.jpg

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

20140212-170813.jpg

This student blanket stitched a pouch with stacked hearts.

20140212-170835.jpg

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

Screenshot from 2014-02-14 10_56_13

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

20140212-170901.jpg

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.

20140212-170909.jpg

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.

20140209-170906.jpg

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.

20140209-170853.jpg

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.

20140209-170834.jpg

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.

20140209-170843.jpg

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.

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.

20140202-121318.jpg

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/

20140202-121326.jpg

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.

20140129-104705.jpg

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.

20140129-104720.jpg

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.