I don’t think you can be an art teacher without experience some sort of weaving project. Weaving yarn, weaving paper, weaving objects, weaving…just about anything. This may not be the case for upper levels but I know, that if you teach in a school that has K-5th, sometimes 6th – at least one year at one point you attempted a weaving project. And all I can tell you about it in one word? FUN.
Weaving is fun. Tedious at times but in general, fun – because there is SO much you can do with it. When I first arrived at the school district I’m in right now, I spent some time observing the students with the old teacher. I knew right away that I couldn’t do away with her 5th grade weaving unit. There was no way the students would enjoy missing out on it – even the boys love weaving.
So I started off grandfathering in some of her ideas. I used the same, larger than one would think for 5th grade, weaving looms and took into consideration her old tricks and tips. Students originally wove a long and wide piece that was color coordinated and in the end, was decorated with some team logo or other branded item. Anyone that knows me knows I stray far away from copyrighted images. So using copyrighted images and logos was vetoed.
I spent my first go around pretty much continuing on the tradition that these 5th graders looked so forward to but I will admit – it was BORING. For me, for the paras but most importantly, for the students. The would get about half way done and want to quit – because the larger than life weaving loom seemed to make the project drag on for…ev…er. And I couldn’t have that. Of course, I finished the project this go around because so many students had put some very hard work into it. They didn’t turn out poorly, by any means but once we had them finished and hanging – students kept asking me and saying “that’s all they do?”.
As you can see, they are beautiful pieces but hold only asthetic value. They make a great gift for mom but I’ve always hoped my students can take more than that from a project. And at this point, when 50% of the class ends the unit with “well that was not as exciting as we thought it would be”, I know it’s time.
Time for a new approach – sorry previous teacher, but these students need something fresh.
So I spent some time thinking and looking at what other teachers had success with. I loved the paper weaving but I wanted it to go beyond that. Again, I wanted to be able to have discussions about textiles and why weaving has such a strong hold in the art and textile work. I had to think about what students were exposed to today and the answer was simple:
1. Technology (Kindles, Phones, iDevices, Handheld Gaming, etc)
2. Money (What kid isn’t obsessed with money…even just quarters?)
3. Personal Items (Kids are just getting exposed to trinkets, pictures, wallets, etc at this age).
So there you have it – I decided we would upgrade the unit to hold a better purpose; students would be making Gadget Bags.
What is a gadget bag you ask? Well, it’s main purpose of course, it to give a little protection to the gadgets in your life. Your phone and iDevices, for example. Unfortunately it is not over-sized because we want to make sure it gets finished before the end of the year, but if you wanted it to, it could act as a sleeve for some of your smaller e-Reading devices. But what if I don’t have any gadgets? Good question – if students are like me, their parents didn’t give them technology of their own until HS (and I am thankful for that even though I am a huge techie), then they may not have need for a gadget bag…so how about a money bag, a trinket bag, a gaming bag, a nik-nak bag? The point of this bag is not to limit but introduce an endless way we can use them.
Which basically introduces a world of textiles to the students. We talk about what weaving can make, can’t make and what we could add to weaving to make it even more work-able. As you can see in the photography, the bag had to be sewn; well of course! It’s an easy (and quick) way to introduce another form of textile art to the students.
I know, I know, this seems a little FCS for the art room – but since when did educators limit themselves – it’s completely cross curricular. Basically, students were shown the task and end goal, asked to come up with a color scheme (with reasoning included) that works for them – not all of these made sense but if the student held sound reasoning and had no intention of budging, we worked on compromising so that understanding of color schemes was known. Talking about color schemes was fun because we had worked on Color Theory in the last two units by this time.
Students get their first color. They measure an arm’s span (width) each time.
Then we began the process of weaving:
1. Over, under, over, under…
2. Switch [and make a U-turn].
3. Switch [and do the opposite; i.e. if the last warp yarn is over, then do under].
4. Under, over, under, over…
And of course, this continue until they run out of string. When they need new string, they get more out of my yarn pull (basic system to keep it untangled) and tie it on the end of the last string and continue on.
The key for these gadget bags to work is to make sure you are not pulling the yarn in too tightly – this creates the dreaded hour glass effect. To make sure this is avoided, I instruct and show students how to hold the leading yarn while you pull it through to make sure you leave just a big of room for our warp yarn to breathe. You can see this in the picture (video coming sommmmmme day). You can also see a bunch of “whiskers” in the weaving shown; I call them whiskers because a students came up with it and it stuck.
We trim those throughout weaving but since we sew the bag up, any knots are thankfully hidden (more on that soon).
It’s also a good idea to encourage students to push the yarn close together for the ending. Once you are done weaving (all the way to the end) you can simply slide the weaving off the loom notches. There may be a couple loose ends, get creative and tie them into something. It’s much easier to slide the weaving off. Once you slide it off the loom, even out the weaving – if they managed to pack the yarn in there, there wont be much reshaping but if they have a loose weaving you will see quickly how spread out the yarn can get. Depending on the color of the warp yarn, your top opening may have a little color contrast going on (see first picture).
Trim any “whiskers” and fold the weaving in half (hamburger style) with the knots facing outwards, yes, outwards. Show students how to knot and sew up the sides – through and round)- once you get the top, tie off and do the other side. Flip the bag inside out and wah-lah, you have a Gadget bag. Students who are done early can braid or even weave handles and if you have enough time you could even get creative with some decorating.
We are just finishing this unit up now and students are always thrilled at the end result – it’s like a transformation and because it can hold a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g, they aren’t asking “what next”. They are wondering what they can put in it and what others’ will have in theirs. It is a great conversation piece and once they get the routine down, it really provides a great environment in which you can sit and talk with your students, getting to know them and their creative ideas. It has easily gone from a unit I don’t fully appreciate to one that I look forward to with little to know stress involved. I know, after many conversations with students, that they leave not only know how to to a weaving but they also know how weaving has played a roll in textiles and how a color scheme can make all the difference in the world.
PS. I am aware of some of the more involved projects similar to this that are more measured per students’ phone and gadgets with a flap or button too…due to time and age, I simplified it for my students.