CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

The Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs, Overs and Unders of Starting a Third Grade Weaving Club

Three years ago I started volunteering as a literacy coach in a third grade class taught by Ms. C.. I was asked to work one on one with students needing help practicing their reading. One day in Ms. C’s class I listened as she read a story to the students about African talking cloth. The cloth “talked” to the viewer through color and patterns. I starting thinking how great it would be for these third graders to weave their own talking cloth. When I asked Ms. C. if I could bring a rigid heddle loom to class and help the students weave a wall hanging for her classroom, she jumped at the opportunity for her students to learn, hands on, about weaving. I warped the loom with cotton warp, cut colorful calico fabric into strips, sewed them together, cut strips of white fabric for each student, wound four stick shuttles with weft then headed back to the third grade. I gave one strip of white fabric to each student with directions to write their name and a wish on the fabric. Each student wove two inches of the wall hanging with the calico weft and embedded their white strip of fabric within their two inches of weaving. When the wall hanging was completed thirteen wishes were woven within the colorful calico. We called the hanging “Our Wishing Cloth”. Ms. C. was thrilled when she saw it and said “You should start a weaving club “. I just smiled.

The next year, the story I listened to was about a girl who wove on her fingers. This story presented the perfect opportunity to bring the rigid heddle back into the classroom. The class wove another wall hanging which, when presented to Ms. C., was met with another “You should start a weaving club.” Again, I just smiled.

First thing this school year Ms. C. asked me to start a weaving club. This time I smiled and said, “Yes!” while in the back of my mind I kept thinking…this is going to be a lot of work, and time, a real lot of work.

I told Ms. C. that if I were going to do this it would be for every student in the class, which this year numbered eighteen. Ms. C. was a bit surprised that I was willing to take on the task of teaching eighteen eight year olds to weave. She asked if I was certain that I could handle all eighteen at once. I replied, “Sure, no problem”. Ms. C. just smiled.

The children had different obligations after school so including everyone meant the weaving club needed to meet during the school day. Since weaving incorporates measuring, adding, and subtracting Ms. C. decided weaving would be a hands on project within her math curriculum. It was decided the club would meet once weekly during the the hour right before lunch. I would have eighteen hungry eight year olds trying to focus on weaving.

To keep the attention of eighteen hungry third graders, I used projects that could be completed in two to three sessions. Each project was meant to build upon skills learned from the previous project. I began by explaining the meaning of warp, weft, over, under, and how to “hug” the end threads to create a selvedge. To help them understand selvedges I had the teacher “weave” six students, standing as warp threads, together with a length of cord. Once four shots of cord had been passed around the students I said, “OK warp threads return to your desk”. They were surprised to see that they could not separate, the selvedges held them together. This caused a great deal of laughter among the warp thread students and their classmates, but after that demonstration not one of them forgot about hugging that end thread to make a selvedge.

With the school’s open house fast approaching I thought a good first project would be a greeting card to invite parents to the function. I made paper looms out of colored card stock and measured and cut the weft threads for all of the students. The weft thread was 56 inches of red acrylic, three ply yarn, with a fourth ply of silver loosely wound around the red yarn. In my mind the cards, with that glint of silver, were going to be breathtaking. Getting to that part was another story. The silver kept separating from the red as it was threaded into a tapestry needle, and 56 inches of anything is way too long for an eight year old to handle. As challenging as it was, everyone did finish their paper loom weavings. When pasted onto colored construction paper the results were so stunning. Ms.C. saved them for Mother’s Day.

Cards

Cards

The second project introduced the color wheel. We discussed Issac Newton and his use of a prism to “bend” light rays which allowed him to see the separated colors of light. These colors were demonstrated in a color wheel which helped the club learn about warm, cool, complementary and adjacent colors. The club’s assignment was to weave two bracelets using a cardboard loom, a tapestry needle as the shuttle, and a plastic fork as the beater. The students, with volunteer help, were expected to cut their own warp and weft. They could choose to use two complementary colors for their first bracelet, and either two warm or two cool colors for their second bracelet. After instructions and a demonstration were finished, seventeen hands went up and seventeen voices softly said, “Can you help me”? I, along with my two volunteers moved as quickly as we could among all of the students needing help. After ten minutes a short, stocky boy, the eighteenth student, came up to me and said, “Like this?” He showed me a completed, perfectly woven bracelet. He had woven it without any help or any prior experience with weaving. This was a student who, Ms. C. explained later, struggled with all of his classes. Weaving made sense to him, and he ended up being the best weaver in the club.

Working on a bracelet

Working on a bracelet

Bracelets

Bracelets

Weaving two bracelets prepared the students for their third project, a flat woven figure called a weaving buddy. I explained that weavers plan out their projects prior to beginning them. I gave each student an 8×10 piece of white card stock and asked them to write out their plan for the colors of their weaving buddy’s hair, face, shirt, and pants. They also had to think of a place in which to place their weaving buddy, and draw that place on the card stock. I thought the students would choose the mountains, the beach, or a park but these kids thought big. Their places were Paris, New York, San Francisco, Mexico, and the one that intrigued me the most, the Past.

Paris

Paris

New York

New York

The Past

The Past

I made and warped foam board looms. With adult supervision, the students measured and cut their own weft threads following their planned color list. They followed weaving instructions that I had written on the black board. Once the weaving buddy was completed, yarn hair and goggly eyes were added and the buddies were glued to the card stock drawing. The completed weaving buddies within the drawings were the cutest things I have ever seen. Some of the weaving buddies were even included in a public school art exhibit displayed in a local shopping mall.

Since the club met during Math class, I thought the Fibonacci sequence would be a good next project. I explained some weavers use Fibonacci to plan stripes within their weaving. I wrote out the sequence 0-1-1-2-3-5 and asked if anyone could tell me the next two numbers in the sequence. Several could, and were also able to explain how to get the next two numbers. Pretty impressive for third graders!

Fibonacci

Fibonacci

For their Fibonacci loom the students chose either a yellow paper plate, to make a sun catcher, or blue paper plate, to make a moon catcher. I had cut ten spokes into each plate. They were to choose among three colors of yarn: either two warm plus one complement, two cool plus one complement, or two adjacent plus one complement. They measured and cut their own weft thread and wove around the plate, alternating spokes, using Fibonacci sequencing of 1-2-3-5-3-2-1. To make the plate a moon or a sun catcher a mirror was glued into the center.

Our final project was a collaboration. I dressed a four harness table loom with a twill gamp pattern and had each student throw six shots. As I was helping one girl she told me she thought she had a woven shirt and she would wear it to the next weaving club. The next week she wore her California Baja shirt woven with a easily identifiable tabby weave structure. She was so pleased that she had been able to identify a woven piece of clothing.

The completed gamp measured eighteen inches in length and demonstrated five different twill patterns. When Ms. C. was presented with the finished gamp she said, ” You should do the club again next year”. I replied, “Absolutely! ”

The Weaving Club

The Weaving Club

In planning for next year I am going to take into account that each project took about one week longer than I had planned. I will try to have more volunteers during each session. I think that a mix of one adult per five-six students would work the best. I will repeat the same projects with the addition of a couple of paper weaving projects before starting the greeting card. Most importantly, I will never use that red and silver yarn again!

Was the weaving club a lot of work? Yes. Did it take up a lot of time? Yes. Was it a worthwhile activity? Yes. Seeing a young boy’s self esteem and confidence increase as he became the best weaver in the club; seeing the pride in a young girl as she discovered that she could recognize woven fabric in her own closet; watching the students learn that patience and perseverance through a difficult task can pay off were all worth my time, effort, and blisters.

One girl summed up the experience best when she said “Weaving is kind of hard but it is fun!” It was fun for me too!

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