Next week I will be teaching several sessions during the fifth grade's Colonial Days.  Each session will be about 50 minutes long and will have 12-14 kids.  I have free range to talk about anything related to textiles.

I had originally planned just to demonstrate spinning on my great wheel; at that point I thought it would be a 15 minute demo.  Obviously the kids would be bored stiff watching me spin for an hour.  I am currently planning on taking in a wide variety of raw fiber, processed fiber, yarn & finished cloth.  I also have two two-shaft table looms that are very kid friendly (I've used them with preschoolers).  So I thought I could talk about fiber, pass around samples, and demonstrate spinning for 20 minutes, and let them take turns weaving for 20 minutes.

Or would it make more sense to start them weaving right away, and let them take turns weaving while I talk, demonstrate, etc.?  Hmmm.  I have no helper, so if they got stuck I would have to interrupt myself to help out.  Perhaps a 10 minute introduction to textiles in the colonies, then start them weaving, and let the non-weavers look at samples, try drafting, etc. while waiting their turn.  Comments?


I'd also appreciate any resources people can share on textiles in the original colonies.  From what I've read, I think home production might actually have been less common in the early years than during the 18th & 19th centuries on the frontiers and in remote areas.  Thoughts?




Barbara Keyser (not verified)

Through some relatives in WV, I learned that in earlier colonial times the weaving was done by itinerant Men weavers. The women in the house would prepare the fiber, spin and dye to have all in readiness for the weaver's arrival. He would stay with the family weaving up their yarns on their specifications until all was done.  Then move on to the next house or area. 

It might be easier to take the kids through the process - sheep to fleece to yarn to weaving then let each take a quick turn at the weaving to end the demo.  Kids that age have lots of questions and lots of energy and will have trouble sitting still for long periods.  Let them touch fleece, the spun yarn & then finished weaving.  Good luck

Barbara DesertRat (not verified)

Oh, what fun!  I agree with Barbara that taking the kids through the process and then letting them weave would give you a good structure for organizing each session.  Hands-on and multiple opportunities for student involvement will make for a lively session.  Even though my temptation would be to start them weaving immediately, it might be hard to refocus their attention to the rest of your presentation.  Fifty minutes will zip by quickly. (I co-teach weaving with a third grade teacher, and we meet once or twice a week, so we have more time to ease into the process.)

Let us know how your sessions go -- I suspect that even following the same framework, each one will emerge uniquely!


bolivian warmi

I attended a Farmer's Market/Craft Day in Poolesville MD with my friends, Claudia, Janet and David and was surprised to see how the little boys broke off from their running and kicking of soccer balls to come over unaccompanied by parents to watch Janet at the spinning wheel. They were really fascinated! Little girls came over to tell us how they had tried weaving and braiding but the spinning really drew in the boys.


First good for you doing the demos at the schools! How rewarding! When I was doing them I always made sure they had enough time time to weave. It goes by fast, some students requiring more help then others and you don't want someone not to get a turn. I think your order is just right saving the weaving until last. I'd shorten the spinning a little bit. Then I'd make sure that the looms are close enough that you can stand between the two of them so you can work with two students easily at a time, have a time limit for each student! If you're done early then take questions and answers. Good luck and have fun!


What I meant to say was I like the order that both Barbara's suggested! The kids are going to love this! What a treat!

Aunt Janet (not verified)

Yes, I have found that true often.  The girls are interested in the yarn, and the making, while the boys are interested in the "hows" of the making.  They want to know more about the tools.  I have taught several 8-12 y/o boys who came along to watch while I spun.  They are also interested in how a spindle works.  It is always fun to watch them catch the interest.

Love the photo of Janet with the boys.  I love their intense look of interest.

r1mein54 (not verified)

One of our guild members stated that while doing demonstrations at a recent "arts market" that she had several adult men watching as she was spinning at her wheel and that they also watched others weaving. One of these men said he was an engineer and was mentally trying to comprehend the mechanics of the processes. My dad was a machinist and a mechanic and spent a short time as a sign painter. I remember anytime he worked on anything when I was young - I wanted to be there and watch. Kudos for taking the time to instruct and share the craft.


We did alot of demonstrations for home school kids at Greenbank Mill in Delaware.  Usually groups of 20 - 30.  Have them "pick" the wool for you for spinning.  A little fluff in their hands and pulling the roving in order to see how the wool drafts is a good thing for them to translate to your wheel.  I always broke the kids up into weaving teams.  Shaft kid, shuttle kid, 2 on each side of the beater.  Teamwork to weave and took the pressure off the ones who just don't get it.  You can demo by yourself but the kids are usually used to working in teams.  Although not historically correct we used cd drop spindles with the kids also.  Some succeeded, some did not, depends on their hand/eye/patience coordination.

Good luck, secure your equipment and all sharp objects.  There is always a hyper kid in the group that can break or cut something.  Hopefully you'll have an adult (teacher) in the room in the background with clear instructions to maintain order so that you can focus on conveying information.  


Many years ago I visited the Faroe Islands where they have more sheep than people. The used to have a home industry producing knitted sweaters etc. and in that place, I was told, it was a man's job to spin. Both men and women would knit during the winter. A shool teacher told me a story of what happened, when he was 14 and wanted to go to sea, as the tradtion was for young men in the thirties. His mother protested, as she had lost several male relatives at sea, and she refused to knit the necessary woollen underwear for him.

The young man was decided to go, and he went into the mountains and  collected bits and pieces of wool that the sheep had lost. The faroese sheep have a wonderful double fur with an inner very soft wool and an outer coat of coarser wool. When it gets warm in the summer they will loose part of their wool, and anybody is free to go and get it.

He then collected the wool he needed, he carded it and spun enough yarn for his underwear, and when he started to knit his mother gave in and knitted his longlegged and longarmed woollen underwear.

The faroese claim that this traditional underwear made of the soft inner wool with some of its oil left in it has saved the life of many faroese fishermen, who fell into the sea.


Gemma (not verified)

Thanks a million for the "teamwork" suggestion.  I'm getting ready to visit some 3rd graders with my loom and have struggled with how to give 20 kids a chance to handle the loom in the alotted time of 30 minutes!


Another way to stretch the "team" weave experience is to have them rotate thru the loom responsibilities as outlined above. They start critiquing each others technique to made the cloth better. The tough part for the kids I've observed that needs extra watching & explanation is how to pass the shuttle thru the shed properly. Unsupervised you won't believe how many wrong ways one can wrap the shuttle feed around and beyond the proper shed.

mrdubyah (not verified)

I agree that running through the whole process is a good idea.  I demonstrate at schools and fairs a lot and here's what I do.  I teach kids to spin using CD drop spindles ( and weave with structo push-button looms. They love it.  Choose a volunteer and show everyone how to spin yarn.  First have them spin a few feet of single strand yarn clockwise, then have them hold it in outstretched arms (like an airplane).  You hang the spindle in the middle, turn it counterclockwise and have them ply it by bringing their hands together SLOWLY.  You'll get about 3 feet of 2 ply.  Tie it around their wrists like a "surfer bracelet" and they'll be your friends forever.  Everyone will want one.  Put them in teams of two and have them help each other spin more yarn.  One drafts and the other spins the spindle.  I have 6 CD spindles for this purpose.

Next, choose a few kids to take some of the 2-ply (or your own scrap yarn) and weave with it on the loom.  One opens & closes the shed, one throws the shuttle, and one beats the weft.  Everybody gets a turn at each job - draft, spin, shed, shuttle, beat.  You wander around and supervise.  It'll be hectic, but at the end of the hour you should have two very interesting squares of cloth to cut off the looms and hang on the wall. Use multicolored roving or use many scraps of multicolored wool for best effect. Good Luck! DRW


So far it has been going very well (three sessions down, I'm on my lunch break).  I have NO teacher or helper or aid.  Fortunately I know a lot of these kids (my son is in this grade) so can call on the noisy ones by name, which seems to shame them into silence.

The teamwork suggestion was priceless.  I have been using teams of two but see them sort themselves into teams of three which I might try with the next group.  I wish I had four looms, so that all the kids could weave at once, but they're still getting a taste of it.


P.S.  They are weaving so enthusiastically that I may have to rewarp tonight!


So, if you rewarp tonight you can assign some of them fringing/finishing duties!


As it turned out, rewarping was not necessary.  But all six groups had a wonderful time and I think learned a lot as well.  I may have volunteered to do this again next year.....

sarahnopp (not verified)

I helped a 4th grade class with a tapestry project. It took more time than I imagined it would. It helped to have the little cardboard looms prewarped, but just getting the concept of packing in the weft was a bit deal, as well as what kinds of shapes could be made and how.