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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Needlefelting Puppet Faces

This week, students in both of my Family Learning Program clases began a project that will span two weeks.

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Using recycled or upcycled wool fabric harvested from fulled sweaters as their base, these students needlefelted Harrisville wool to create features for puppets. Harrisville is an ideal wool for needlefelting because it has lots of crimp and the fibers are not aligned, as in many rovings sold as a sliver. It also comes in a wide array of colors and can be quickly blended with your fingertips to create even more combinations.

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The students traced a cardboard outline onto two pieces of fulled wool, then cut along the contour lines. Next, they worked on adding faces to one piece of felt. This student is making a cyclops with a red mouth and fangs.

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This student preferred to be the set decorator, creating backgrounds for the puppets he overhead various students describing. The mixed blues were going to be an ocean for another’s mermaid. He offered to make a tree for my sample owl puppet and a cave for the cyclops.

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Adding surface embellishment to fulled fabric is an easy introduction to felting for young children. Working on a foam pad, they can keep track of where their fingers are, reducing the chance of accidental puncture or snapped needles. The best part for many children is the ultimate flexibility of the method. Don’t like that eye placement? Rip it off and put it somewhere else. Don’t like that color? Rip it off and choose another. Can you think of another medium better suited for those paralyzed by commitment anxiety? This is also a perfect way to allow children to experiment with color and texture.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Popsicle Stick Loom

In order to continue working those muscles necessary for fine motor control, my youngest class of fiber arts students embarked on a weaving project.

This fixed-warp loom was designed (and used with permission) by a student in my studio class. She glued together a frame of popsicle sticks and added three more sticks to create an immovable warp.

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Ever the innovator, this student decided he wanted to weave the middle of his loom last. I believe the eyelash yarn was intended to be the show-stopper holding court in the middle of the piece.20140202-121108.jpg

With little additional help, the students were able to fill their looms with colorful yarns. The beauty of this project is that it costs little in terms of materials and the prep can be done a few hours in advance. I assembled the looms the previous day. The downfall is that the weaving can not be easily removed from the popsicle sticks. This a single use loom.

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Drawing inspiration from a nest helper kit we hung in our cherry tree several years ago, I stuck some cast-off yarn cuttings between the weft. Birds and squirrels can pluck the fluffy bits out to pad their nest.

We read Three Billy Goats Fluff by Rachael Mortimer. This has to be the best reselling of this story I’ve read. I’m buying it for my story collection.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

Handsewing and Fiber Arts 5-7 yrs

This post is intended as an archive of the projects created in the fiber arts class I designed for the Family Learning Program. Taught weekly at the Southwest Teen Life Center in West Seattle, the Family Learning Program was established to provide curriculum enrichment to homeschool families.

Week 1: Sewing

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We started our class with the most basic skills needed in a hand sewing class. Students practiced threading needles with yarn and embroidery floss, tying knots at the end of their thread and sewing buttons onto recycled wool felt.

Week 2: Sewing

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In week 2, students created pouches with buttons and handles.

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They worked with manufactured wool felt, sewing side seams, handles and buttons with wool tapestry yarn.

Week 3: Needlepoint

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In the third week, we worked on needlepoint using rigid plastic grids. Students were shown how to do the simplest over-under-over stitch, which leaves some of the plastic grid visible.

To further explore this idea, plastic grids are sold in 10″ x 13″ sheets at craft stores. Cut a grid into six pieces, fill each grid with needlepoint and then stitch them together to create a box or a tote.

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We used wool yarn for this project as it will expand to fill the gaps between the grid lines nicely, but needlepoint is typically done with either wool tapestry yarn, cotton or silk floss. Separate the strands for fine color work.

For students ready for a further challenge, try stitching on gingham fabric, using the colored grid as a guide or move on to traditional needlepoint fabric which has a fine grid built into the weave. Draw a pattern on the fabric with colored markers, then follow the color changes with the floss. Some people find it is easier to handle fabric when held taught by an embroidery hoop, but this can be cumbersome and more difficult for some hands to manage. We started with plastic grids so students could focus on their stitching instead of worrying about keeping the fabric stable.

Recommend reading: Kids’ Embroidery by Kristin Nicolas

Week 4: Weaving

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Students wove strips of recycled maps through scored cards. Some students created an alternating basketweave pattern, while another wove the same over-under pattern for each strip. The basketweave creates a tight construction, while placing all strips in the same slots creates a pattern with more movement.

Recommended reading: Kids Weaving by Sarah Swett

Week 5: Kumihimo (Japanese Braiding)

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Working on a smaller scale, students replicated an ancient process used to create heavy cord and rope. Students plied a seven strand braid using a cardboard octagon disc. The finished braid can be used as a friendship bracelet, a strap or an ornament.

The kumihimo discs were made with matte board. The slots will bend and wear out over time. To recreate your own disc, cut a square of stiff cardboard. On each side, measure and mark 1/4, and 3/4 of the width. Cut the corners between the 1/4 and 3/4 mark. This will create an octagon. Cut a slit halfway through each side, and poke a hole through the center with an awl. Cut seven lengths of yarn or cotton cord; pull the seven strands through the hole and knot together. Slip one piece of yarn through seven of the slots. From the empty slot, count 1…2…3. Pull the 3rd strand out of the slot and place it in the empty slot. Rotate the disc so the empty slot is now in front of you and count again 1…2…3. Make sure you are always working in the same direction (it doesn’t matter which) or you will undo the braid.

I read Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep by Teri Sloat in which a farmer shears his sheep, then takes the wool to be washed, carded, dyed and spun into yarn so he can knit colorful sweaters for the sheep. The students love the whimsical illustrations.

Week 6: Wetfelting

We jumped into my favorite subject this week: making felt from wool. I showed the students raw wool in the grease, and the same locks once washed. Then I demonstrated how the locks are turned into batt using hand carders.

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Next we laid out small pieces of merino batt on 10″ squares of batt I had previously cut. Dyed locks, yarn and small pieces of pre-felt were also available as additional embellishments. I chose to use batt to minimize the difficulties young students have with drafting fine layers of roving.

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Once the design was complete, we placed them on a 12″ square of bubble wrap, then slipped the batts into a ziploc bag, squirted in some warm soapy water, then sealed. We pounded the bags with our hands, rubbed the wool around on the bubble wrap and stomped on the floor. After ten minutes of vigorous agitation, we opened the bags to see how the felt was progressing. We poured a little more hot water on the felt, then rubbed some more. Once I determined the felt was finished, we rinsed and squeezed out the excess water.

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With a few minutes left in the class, I read Noah’s Mittens by Lise Lunge-Larsen. It is the only picture book about felting I know. It is a clever story that describes the effect of heat and friction on sheep in close quarters and the felt that results. Caveat: as the author relies on the story of Noah’s ark as the springboard to describe the discovery of felt, there are several God references, which I didn’t have the forethought to edit as I was reading aloud.

Recommended reading: The Art of Feltmaking by Anne Einset-Vickrey

Week 7: Sewing and Spinning

We started the class reading Feeding the Sheep by Leda Schubert, a sweet sheep-to-sweater story where a child learns why her mother cares for her sheep.

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As an introduction to spinning, we twisted and then plied a short piece of yarn. While one student held the end of the roving, the other student twisted until it the wool started to twist back on itself. The process was repeated with a second piece of roving. Holding the two pieces of roving together in one hand, I released the potential energy coiled within and the two bits twisted around each other.

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The students worked on sewing lavender sachets, which can double as small pillows for their stuffies and dolls. Using small pieces of cotton fabric, I pinned two pieces together wrong sides out, then the students whip stitched them together with wool tapestry yarn.

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Once they were finished stitching on three sides, we flipped them so the right sides were facing out then filled them with a mixture of rice, lentils and lavender. One more seam along the open side finished them off.

Week 8: Wetfelting Jellyroll Beads

We worked on another felting project this week: jellyroll  beads. This project demonstrates just how firm and dense felt can become, despite starting with light and fluffy wool. Students selected three sections of merino roving in different colors, then drafted small sheets into an aluminum pan, creating a striated stack. Just like preparing sushi, students rolled their stack of wool tightly into a cylinder. With a drizzle of soapy water in their pan, they rolled the cylinder of fluffy wool gently, being careful not to saturate the wool all at once. Over time, they increased the pressure on the cylinder until it was time to put all their strength into compressing the last bit of wool into felt.

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As we were working on plastic folding tables, it was difficult to get any traction on the surface. The cylinders did a lot of slipping and not much rolling. Working on a non-slip, textured surface will help in the final stages of felting. As I neglected to bring them in, I took the students’ felt logs back to the studio to finish. We will cut the beads next week.

At my studio, I work on a corrugated vinyl mat from the flooring department of your local home improvement store. I place the mat on a square of shelf/drawer liner also sold in home improvement stores to keep your dishes or silverware trays from sliding around. When the cylinders were firm and dense, I rinse out all the soap, then squeeze out the excess water.

Karen read Sophie’s Masterpiece by Eileen Spinelli while we worked on the jellyroll beads.

Week 9: Sewing Gnomes

In our last week together, we cut our felt jellyroll beads from last week and sewed tiny felt gnomes using industrial wool felt, carded wool batting, wool tapestry yarn and tiny bells. The pattern is from Freya Jaffke’s classic Waldorf book: Toymaking with Children.

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These gnomes would make sweet little ornaments for a doorknob or tree. The pattern calls for a single row of whip stitch along the hoodline and a slip stitch around the collar. The finished gnomes are stuffed with wool batting.

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One student brought her felt purse from Week 2. It was the perfect way to take home her felt gnome and jellyroll beads. I sense a color theme working through this student’s work.

There was just enough time at the end of class to read Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski.