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.
INTRODUCING NEW FIBER-ARTS PROJECTS
by Heidi O’Hanley
Fiber arts are some of my favorite projects to teach at the elementary level. Depending on how you implement the steps, students soak in your excitement and create some memorable pieces to share with their families.
“Fiber Arts” is a style of art that uses textiles, such as fabric, yarn and natural/synthetic fibers. Materials and manual labor are part of the importance of this art media. Fiber art includes multiple techniques, such as quilting, collage, embroidery, weaving, spinning, knitting, felting, crocheting, knotting, recycling fabrics, and paper.
1. FELT COLLAGE. One of the most common fiber projects I currently work with in my curriculum is felt based. Last year, I shared an article about creating an abstract felt collage that my fourth grade students enjoy creating. We revisit the idea of abstract art, then apply our designs using flat felt shapes and yarn. Students learn to work with felt (opposed to cutting paper), which can be a trick to cut.
2. WET FELTING. Another popular felt technique is wet felting, which can be done at any age level. To create a wet-felted piece, hot water is applied to layers of felt, while repeated agitation and compression causes the fibers to hook together or weave together into a single piece of fabric. If you’re brave and don’t mind water and towels, students can learn how to compress felt to create multiple artworks, such as felt bowls, flat landscape backgrounds, and wall hangings!
3. NEEDLE-FELTING. This school year, I’m braving needle felting with my fifth-graders. I purchased enough foam blocks for an entire class, as well as multiple felt needles and home-spun wool. If you plan to do this with your classes, do not forget the Band-aids! As much as you explain not to poke your finger, you may have one or two students accidentally poke theirs during the needle felting! Depending on the age level, you can have them create flat pins, or simple small sculptures.
Are you big into STEAM in your projects? Felting is a great tie-in with science! If your school has a set of microscopes, have a day where your students can observe the fibers under a microscope! This would be a great way to see how hooks in the fibers connect together through the process of felting!
4. SEWING AND QUILTING. Do you talk about quilting with your students? Better yet, do you show your students how to make those cute plush monster dolls that have become quite popular with all ages? Sewing with fabrics of all types has been an American tradition since colonization. From Victorian Crazy Quilts (see this month’s Art Print on page 20) to patterns of the Underground Railroad, quilting has been a huge part of our history.
Depending on the grade levels you work with, you can begin with simple whip stitches, or using yarn to sew a simple line into burlap. Sewing machines have also started becoming popular within education maker spaces, which is a great tool to use to learn multiple ways to create fabric-based projects, clothing/fashion design, or other product.
5. BATIK is a method of creating colorful designs on textiles by dyeing them after applying a resistant onto the fabric. Wax is the most common item to use to create an un-dyed section of fabric, but toothpaste has also been used to teach the technique at the elementary level. You can have your students create their own pattern, then apply toothpaste (or wax) to the areas they wish to keep undyed. After applying the resist material to the fabric, students can apply dyes to different parts of the fabric to create colorful patterns.
6. YARN PAINTING was a technique I learned more about while attending a recent art education conference. Yarn paintings are made by the Huichol people and created by applying tree resin or beeswax to a board, and pressing yarn on top. When teaching yarn painting to your students, you can create them just by using glue, or if you find a sheet of paper with a sticky surface. This technique is a good one to introduce history and traditional methods from different cultures. This process can be taught at the elementary level, but can be advanced throughout higher grade levels.
7. WEAVING, a form of interlacing threads together, is a popular fiber arts technique seen in multiple articles and blogs. There are multiple ways of creating weaving projects with paper strips, recycled plastic bags, and other materials. When I introduce weaving to my students, they learn the vocabulary of the threads (warp and weft), prior to creating their pieces. The students are always excited when they figure out how to weave in and out of the warp thread to create their pieces!
When planning a fiber arts–based lesson, be sure to create your example first. This will help in finding the little challenges you may come across when introducing your projects!
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Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.