Over a period of ten weeks, every Thursday after school, a group of children came to the studio to experiment, learn and explore. They had all woven on the looms before, and they were excited to be able to learn and experiment some more. The children already knew these classes were more about them learning and exploring in their own way and at their own pace, rather than with me dictating what we would do.
We had lots of textile work happening as they all came full of ideas for things to make. For some, it is the finished product that they think about – a pillow for their teddy, a rug to put by their bed – and they work on their piece with that finished product in mind, checking length, suitability of yarn, colour combinations etc. For others, the finished piece is immaterial, for them it is the action of the weaving, that rhythm of gentle movement and seeing their choice of colours and textures as they grow, row by row, into something new. Sometimes they come along asking if I bought more of their favourite yarn, and others are excited to see what new textures they can find. After a few weeks they often discover how they can make new colours and textures by combining several together.
The looms were there for the children each week, often with their previous week’s work waiting for them to continue with. But we also set up the drum carder, chose some raw fleece and learnt how to lay it out before turning the handle and feeding it gently through the combs of the carder. Like a brush through their hair, the fleece went in messy, full of burrs and dirt, it came out tidy, sleeker and, well, still full of a few burrs!
Next came the spinning wheel. Spinning is not easy to master, but over several weeks, all the children spun their own skein of alpaca yarn, they mastered that fine balance of teasing out just enough of the staple to create a thread, without breaking the delicate roving.
After that came an impromptu science lesson as we dyed our yarn, first with powdered vegetable dyes (totally non toxic and safe for children) and then, as we were having so much fun, we experimented with red cabbage, adding different mordants and watching to see how the colour magically changed.
These activities were all interspersed with the weaving and also with visits to the alpacas in the paddock. The children went away with a new understanding of the connection between an animal on a farm, whether a sheep or alpaca, to the jumper they wear to keep warm in winter. And they can look at the rug on their lounge room floor and understand the work that went in to creating it, they may even look at the pattern and be able to work out how they managed some of those complexities.
Next term (July 2018) we will open up these classes again and we will learn all this and more. We will see where the children’s interests lie and work from there. We will also extend it to learning how to make their woven pieces into something special by sewing some simple seams and adding a carefully chosen button. Who knows, maybe they will even choose to weave some cloth to make into a piece of clothing. Children are so capable, so creative they are fully capable of amazing things. We just need to provide the environment for them to thrive.