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.

Braiding Wool Trivets

On Friday, our winter session of the Family Learning Program began. I was excited to see so many familiar faces from the fall. This week, the students began a project that will spill over into our second session. In a time when clothing was costly and often handmade, families were very frugal with this precious commodity. When clothes could no longer be mended or refashinoned, the fabric was repurposed into braided rugs. My husband’s grandmother was skilled in this craft and I was fortunate enough to inherit a bin of woven wool, already torn into strips, ready to be braided into a warm floor covering.

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The students selected several strips of fabric, sewed the overlapping ends together to make longer strips, then braided three sets together. When their braid was long enough to suit, they coiled them into a spiral. This was the stopping place for most students. Next week they will pick up their projects where they left off and finish sewing the braid to itself. The finished product can be used a trivet for the dinner table, a coaster for the coffee table or a small carpet for imaginative play.

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I brought a small braided rug from home as a sample. While working on their own pieces, they quickly understood just how long it would take to create something as small as my hearth rug, let alone a large piece to fill a living room.