Framing the experience: Cloth and other fibers are excellent materials. Cloth can be woven, stamped on, ripped into strips and braided, and used for collage. It can substitute for wallpaper for making beads. The more complicated the process, the older the children need to be to be able to manipulate the materials. Fiber activities are good for recruiting members of the congregation who sew but are not currently involved in the RE program.
Sample fiber arts activities
Simple sewing for younger children:
You can use plastic foam meat trays as bases for younger children to sew with brightly colored yarns or string using large-eyed plastic sewing needles from the craft store. Children can draw a design or a shape on the tray and fill it in by sewing yarn.
Tape a piece of bleached or unbleached muslin to a piece of cardboard with masking tape. Have the children draw a design for their prayer (peace, happiness, joy, etc.) on the fabric with fabric markers or permanent markers. Iron each piece to set the marker ink, then string the flags together with yarn, string, or twine. Adults should make sure the muslin is prewashed to avoid further shrinkage. If possible, sew on small strips of cloth to attach fabric pieces together.
Prepare heavy tagboard or corrugated cardboard pieces 8" by 8" or 12" by 12" squares are good sizes for small potholders or mats. Make notches every ½" or 3/4" at the top and bottom to hold the string or heavy yarn for the weft. Tie off one end of the weft in a hole punched in the bottom left of the cardboard. Wind the yarn up to the first notch, around the notch, then down to the first notch on the bottom, keeping the fiber on the front of the cardboard. Do not wind the yarn too tightly as the weaving will tighten the fibers and can buckle the cardboard. Wind the fiber up and down and around each notch until you have filled the cardboard and have a grid of long lines down the front. Tie off the end. You may wish to prepare the wefts in advance of time so that the children can concentrate on the actual weaving.
Have children choose colors of yarn, string, feathers, strips of cloth, or other materials such as twigs or flexible straws to weave through the weft as the warp. Starting at the base of the cardboard they will take one end and go back and forth, over and under each long string. At the end of the row they can start on the next row by bringing the fiber above the last row and beginning again. Always alternate over and under for each row, and try to keep the rows tight together. You can use a wide-toothed comb to pull the rows tightly down if you are using yarn. When the weaving is finished, the children can remove their work by bending the cardboard piece and popping it off. If the weaving is too loose, tighten it by tying the weft ends in knots along the top and bottom.
Group weaving project
A large weaving project that can be left out week to week or started and left in a social hall for the whole congregation to add to. Use two small tree limbs connected with loops of yarn or string, with a weft similar to the base for cardboard weaving. Suspend the weaving by tying string to the top branch and hanging from a plant hanger or other sturdy hook. Have a basket of yarns, ripped strips of fabric, and other materials for children and adults to add to the piece. Make sure that you start the weaving at the bottom to anchor it and give a model for weaving.
Strips of cloth can be ripped and braided with yarns and beads to add to talking sticks, sculptures, altars, pendants, or as decorations for prayer flags. Have three strands of the material you wish to braid. Tie strands together at the top, then tie the bundle onto a chair or doorknob to hold the strands while you work. Take the right strand and bring it over the middle one, then bring the left strand over the middle. Pass each strand over the middle one in turn until you reach the bottom and tie off all three strands. You can add beads as you go, or add them to one strand ahead of time.
This project works well for a theme such as peace, community, thanksgiving, etc. Each child chooses a large square of material, then sews or glues other materials onto the square such as beads and buttons. These designs are then sewn or glued onto a larger piece of material, with the children deciding where to place their own pieces.
You can also put out a large piece of fabric on a table and have children sew directly onto it. Older children can move around the circle to work on different pieces; it helps to them to mix it up a little and to let go of their particular designs.
Any type of fabric, yarn, ribbon, or other fiber can be used in these projects. Bleached or unbleached muslin is a good base fabric but any cotton material can be used. If you buy fabric by the yard, be sure to pre-shrink it by washing and drying it before using it. If you ask your congregation for fabric donations, you will probably get more than you can use. You can also ask for old buttons and left-over yarns and ribbons for more variety.
These activities require sharp scissors to cut the material. Fiskars sharp children's scissors work very well but it's good to borrow a couple of sewing shears as well.