Studio: Fibers – Insider Tips for Success with Weaving, Felting, and Embroidery in the Art Room with Cassie Stephens

Video Transcript

Hey. It’s Cassie Stephens for the Art of Education. I am a kindergarten through a fourth grade art teacher, and I’ve been teaching art in the Nashville area for close to 20 years. One of my favorite things to share in my art room is fiber arts. I love teaching my students how to weave, needle felt, sew, and embroider, but I know that it can be a little bit scary because this is a new art supply. How do you go about organizing all of this stuff and managing it? My classes are stacked, back to back to back, 30 minute classes, one on top of the other. Even though I’m not the most organized person on the planet, when it comes to this, I try really hard to have a system that I put in place and that I introduce to my students so they do the same.

Now when it comes to organizing fiber arts, all fiber arts is a little bit different, so I’m going to share with you how I organize felting supplies, weaving, and sewing, and how I keep everything in place so that my students know how to get their supplies out and put them back in case a class that’s coming in afterward isn’t using the same supplies.

Let’s talk about felting first, because it’s probably the easiest. When it comes to wet felting, I like to have my roving in a bin. If you’re doing wet felting, it needs to be separate from the water. You definitely don’t want water dripping in this bin for the slight possibility that it could cause some of the fibers to felt. It’s good that once the kids are finished using the roving, if they’re doing wet felting, remove the roving from the table so they are just focused on using the water and soap that’s on the table. Having it in a bin like this where it can be removed is a great thing to have.

If you’re doing needle felting, it’s fine to leave the roving on the table, because the kids are going to need to have constant access to it. The biggest concern when you are doing needle felting is cleanup with the needle felting tools. If your students are using these small tools, you don’t want these left behind on tables for other classes to come in and get their hands on. I have found that for my students, for some reason, picking up needles is like this huge monumental task, so I had to think of a way to make it fun and easy for them.

That’s when I discovered the magical magnetic wand. I have a lot of these. We use them for anything metal in my room, because how fun is it to be the magical wand getter where all you have to do is that to grab those needle felting tools? The other thing I like about this is I have 4 students sit at a table. All I have to do is have them bring the wand to me. I count that there’s 4, and I know that all of my needle felting tools have been collected. That’s how I organize my felting supplies, both wet felting and needle felting.

Now when it comes to weaving, and I’m weaving with yarn, yarn can be a bit of a headache, because it can get everywhere. When I first started introducing weaving to my students, I had this grand idea that they were going to be able to go and get their own yarn, and measure it, and cut it, and there was going to be math, and it was going to be amazing. 30 minutes, y’all, that’s not much time for students to get up and get yarn. By the time they’re settled back in, then we’ve lost some time.

If you have a longer art class, and you do want your students to be able to go and cut and gather their own yarn, there are several different options for you. There is a brand named [Trailtex 00:03:45]. They sell a box of yarn with holes already in it, and the yarn comes out of the hole. My solution for that, which is a lot less expensive, is buying a nice big bottle of soda that you can either enjoy or not, and then once this is rinsed out and empty, go ahead and use an X-Acto knife to cut almost all the way around the bottom, so that it’s wide enough to open. Then you can take your yarn, and you’re going to feed the yarn inside.

Now the thing about yarn, let’s chat about it for just a moment. There’s 2 places for you to get yarn when you get a skein of yarn. You can either unwrap it, which you should never do, or you could pull it from the center, which you should always do. This will prevent tangling. It comes out a lot easier this way. When I buy yarn, I make sure it’s got that little tiny tail sticking out. If it doesn’t, you can kind of reach inside the yarn and pull it out, but I find that it’s a little easier if you find one where the tail is already sticking out. Okay, yarn getting 101 is over.

You’re going to take your yarn and you’re going to put it inside of this 2 liter bottle. You’re going to need to have that little end of the yarn go out the drinking spout. I’m just going to feed this in just like that. There we go. This guy goes inside of here. I like to put a couple pieces of tape on there so it’s not flopping open. When you have several of these, all these 2 liter bottles can be set inside of a box like that, so students can just go up and measure their own yarn. I like to have them get an arm’s length just like this, pull it away from your body, making sure they don’t have their scissors close to their body when they cut, and snip. That’s one way to gather yarn.

Now, like I said, this was a process I used to use in my art room, but because of time, I don’t any longer. What I do is I create what’s called yarn monsters. The yarn monsters stay on the table in my room. To create a yarn monster, I have an old sewing or knitting basket that I use. I have all of my yarn that the kids are going to use for the day in this basket. Notice that I’ve already got all the tails sticking out and pulled all of them from the center. Set that basket down. Take all of the ends of yarn into your hand. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. The ends don’t have to be matched up.

Take the yarn and just start wrapping it around your arm until your arm just can’t hold any more yarn. Then all you’re going to do is stop, I stopped at the top right where I started, and cut, and cut. Now you have yarn that’s all about the same length. I don’t just lay it on the table like this. If I did, then we would have tangling. What I then do is I take an extra piece of yarn, and I tie one on this end, nice and tight with a double knot, and one on the other end. This makes it so we have a bundle of yarn that can easily be just thrown on to the tables for students to use and then picked up at the end of art class.

Now I will tell you, at the end of the year, the yarn monster usually morphs into a box of yarn that looks like this, but it’s not tangled and it’s all contained. For me, this is what organization for weaving looks like. I don’t know. You might have different plans in your room. You might have a different idea of how you want your students to measure it off and cut. I have found that when you have something in your room that works for you, you just got to stick with it. I know that you’ll find a way to make weaving organization work perfectly for you and your students.

Now let’s talk about sewing. When you’re sewing, if your students are sewing with yarn, like my students often do, then I just put that yarn monster out back on the tables just like we have for weaving. Sewing oftentimes involves other things. For those other things, we have what’s called a sewing tackle box. When I first started teaching, and I noticed that fiber arts was in my curriculum, I got a little nervous because I wasn’t sure how the dudes were going to react to the fact that we were doing sewing and weaving in the art room. I quickly learned that boys really love weaving because of the tactile-ness of it, so I didn’t have much to worry about, but I still do like to have a sewing tackle box that also looks like it doubles as a briefcase. It’s pretty awesome-looking, and the guys really seem to like being in charge of it. This goes one on each table.

Inside the tackle box, there are your supplies that you would need for sewing. If you’re going to be sewing, and you are going to be sewing on fabric, not burlap, then you’re going to need the following supplies. You’re going to need some string, not yarn. I don’t use embroidery floss with my students which we’ll be chatting about soon when we talk embroidery. I like to use this crochet thread, mostly because it doesn’t split. Because I do this kind of sewing with my more advanced students, then I trust them to cut their own. I don’t have to make yarn monsters for them. This kind of thread in a couple of different colors is often placed inside of their tackle box.

Another thing that’s inside their tackle box are scissors that are specific to sewing. If you’re a sewer, then you know that you have your fabric cutting and fiber scissors, and then you have your paper scissors, but you never want to let your fiber scissors go to the dark side and start cutting on paper. Now these are just regular scissors, but I do want to instill in my students that there are certain scissors for certain jobs. Notice I put a little piece of tape on there. That way they know, “Ah, these are our tackle box scissors. They go back in the box.” There’s usually 4 of these, one for each student on the table.

That handy-dandy wand I mentioned with needle felting also works great with the tapestry needles that we use. I like to use tapestry needles because they are not sharp. This is also a great way for me to say, “Please hold up your wands so I can count and make sure that all needles have been collected.” That way, there’s no needles left behind on the floor or on tables. If my students are working with fabric, and they’re going to need pins, y’all know now that I do love me some magnets, so here’s another way to keep track of all of those pins, and it’s a fun way for them to pick up the pins just by moving that little magnet around to pick up the pins.

Last but not least are some needle threading tools. I like to keep these in a smaller bin because they are of a smaller scale. For needle threading tools is just small pieces of paper that have been folded. This will act as a needle threader when my students start sewing. To make a needle threader, because for some reason these little pieces of paper tend to disappear pretty quickly, I also throw in these tiny little post-it notes so they can make their own needle threader. All they have to do is peel off a piece of paper, cut off the sticky or adhesive side of that, and fold it in half. Then they have a needle threader for threading their needle.

Also inside of here is chalk. A lot of times when my students are drawing their designs, they’ll use chalk to draw, either on the burlap or the felt, whatever they happen to be creating on. I like to have all of these things on hand, along with the yarn if they happen to be using it, simply because with a short art class, I like to keep it so everything is within arm’s reach for my students.

Like I said, you have a different situation in your room. Finding what works best for you might look different than works well for me. You need to find out what works perfectly for you and your students when it comes to organizing your supplies. The most important thing to remember is to have a system and to stick with the system, and tell your students why you have the system in your room so they will follow those procedures that you’ve established. I think that that will help you have a really organized and great way to share fiber arts in your art room with your students.