Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
LEAP INTO THE FIBER ARTS WORLD
by Heidi O’Hanley
In November’s Stepping Stones, I shared my thoughts on how printmaking was one of my most challenging sets of projects, but I had found ways to work with the materials in the environments I taught in. For this month, I would like to share how I work with some of my most favorite materials, textiles!
When it comes to fiber arts, I enjoy introducing the concepts and techniques and helping students learn the crafts! Prior to becoming an art educator, I worked in textile restoration. I loved working with historic fabrics and artifacts, while restoring and conserving textiles of history. I loved the pre-Columbian tunics, African headdresses, shibori clothes, Navajo rugs, and old America flags. It was through training interns that I discovered my love for teaching!
1. Fiber arts can be defined as a style of art that uses textiles such as fabric, yarn, and natural or synthetic fibers. This unique style of art focuses on the materials and manual labor involved as part of its importance. Fiber art involves the use of fiber and/or textiles and includes countless techniques ranging from quilting, collage, embroidery, weaving, spinning, knitting, felting, crocheting, recycling fabrics, and even paper.
I’ve noticed a recent uphill trend in fiber arts materials used in art classes, as if our historic crafts and processes are making a comeback! Thanks to needle-felting, weaving, and embroidery, students are appreciating many of the old techniques mixed in with new ideas! Here’s a bit of advice I’d like to share when incorporating fiber art projects into your curriculum.
2. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques. Too often I hear from teachers that they do not teach the technique because they’ve never learned them or have forgotten the methods. There are plenty of classes and workshops offered at the state and national conferences that fill up quick! It also would not hurt to take a class at a local quilt shop to pick up on a few sewing, quilting, and weaving techniques. You may even know a friend that can teach you how to knit for free! The more techniques you learn, the more you can spruce up your lessons in your classes.
3. There is always a way to catch the students’ interests. Have you ever had a group of students that frowned when they heard they were weaving? In many cases, I hear from boys that they think the weaving technique is “for their Grandmas.” I enjoy changing their minds. My trick is reminding them about the “Survivorman” shows and how people use weaving to create bedding, roofing, and other survival materials when out in nature. It’s fun to see their eyes light up as if a light bulb went off in their head! Explaining how certain techniques are life skills changes the game. Many times after a project is completed, students bring back paracord bracelets, pot holders, and woven bags they made on their own after taking an interest in a project created in class!
4. There are plenty of opportunities to invite local artists. You know whom I invited into my classes to show off her quilts? My mom! In watching her making so many beautiful quilts throughout the years, I picked up on a love for the craft. Students love to meet local artists and view handmade items in their classroom, plus I show off my Victorian crazy quilt! If you know anyone who lives local to the school and created fiber projects as a hobby, consider inviting them for a day to share their works of art! Another wonderful resource is using Google Hangouts to meet artists around the country! You can easily set up a hangout with your class to ask questions and share works of art over the webcam.
5. You’re passing the craft to the next generation. We may not rely so much on quilting, embroidery, or weaving techniques as much as our ancestors had in the past, but it is important to keep these skills alive and to pass them on. Fiber arts have a very rich history and importance not only in our country, but worldwide. From the brightly colored Kimonos of Japan to the tapestries of Europe, students can appreciate the techniques used in preserving history.
6. Experiment with what’s appropriate with each grade level. You would not want to start introducing quilting to kindergarten students, but you can introduce lace boards to help with fine motor development! If you are unsure of what type of fiber arts projects to introduce to your grade levels, consider researching your options. Explore blogs, ideas pinned on Pinterest, and social-media PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) to find lessons appropriate for different grade levels and try them out in your own classes!
Take the leap into the fiber arts world! You will not be disappointed with your results from your students!
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT) teaches elementary art for Indian Springs School District #109, in the Greater Chicago Area. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.