Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Creating Fish using Yarn - A Children's Project

As promised, I am sharing another piece of the under sea world made of fibre that we created in the Fiber Art Camp at Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation during their fall vacation break.

Children can create more than just fish with this simple technique. All they need is a bit of encouragement! I used the Huichol people from western cental Mexico and their sacred artifacts called nieli'ka as inspiration. I was first introduced to this lovely art form from long time art teacher and fiber artist friend, Janet Conner.

Traditionally, Nieli'ka are either round or square tablets which are covered with colorful pieces of yarn pressed into beeswax and pine resin to create incredibly detailed and colorful images like the one pictured here.

 For more information about these people and their beautiful work click here. 

To study the undersea world through fiber with 5 - 12 year olds, I needed to use my friend Janet's method of gluing yarn to the background. For classrooms and working with children at home, I like simple methods that use safe, and easy to get materials.

I chose to use cookie cutters as templates for my shapes. If you want children to use the most of their creativity, they can draw their own shapes. Lightweight cardboard like cereal boxes work well. Any worsted weight yarn will do, though anything that is shiny or of poor quality will not give the best result. They often don't stick as well and the plies often separate. I happened to have some wool, rug hooking bundles that worked great. I have found my favorite glue for fiber projects is Tacky Glue. It is just what it says it is - tacky! It is easier and less frustrating for children when they don't have to hold the yarn in place for but one second to have it stay in place. Since you have to use less, it is less messy. Amazing stuff!  I tell my students "a drop is a  lot" and "A fine bead is all you need". Elmer's is a great paper glue but not so much for fabric and  yarns. Compare the two and you will see what I  mean.

 The goal is to completely cover the cardboard with yarn. You should not be able to see any of the cardboard between the yarns. Having said that, I will tell you right now from my experience that children under 8 have a hard time with the concept of covering all of the cardboard, so be prepared that their pieces will not look like my sample and will have gaps in coverage. The other idea that they have trouble with is cutting the yarns so that they don't over hang their templates. That is easy to fix by cutting the stray ends after they are done.
Having said all of that, I'm going to stand on the soap box for a moment :-)

It's only been in more recent years that I began to understand the notion of 'age appropriate' and 'experience appropriate' art. In my classroom it is always apparent who has done creative artwork before, and I don't mean coloring in the lines in a coloring book. Coloring in the lines only makes them neat, it doesn't foster creativity. As with any discipline, it takes practice for people to become adept at any skill they attempt to master. Be kind and and don't be so quick to judge the results of a child's project. Everyone needs practice to be better at something. Understand where they are starting from. At the same time, when you know a child's capabilities and experience, that's not to say that you should accept work from them that you know to be inferior to their capabilities. Then again, we all have bad days :-) Find the balance.

So, when your child or student has never done a project or technique before, accept where each is in their learning and repeat the technique at another time and you will see how quickly they learn and improve over their last efforts.

Encourage the children with this project to create the details using color and cut pieces of yarn accordingly. One way you might achieve this is to have them do a drawing and ask them to color in the details. They then can use their drawing as a pattern that they can repeat on the cardboard.

TIP: only apply glue where the next piece of yarn will go. This helps keep their hands and their workspaces cleaner along the way. Allow them to wash hands as necessary to avoid them getting frustrated because yarn is sticking to their fingers. They are using glue after all :-)

Until next time.........

Monday, December 6, 2010

Batik Dyeing with Children Using a Flour Paste Resist Method

During this year's Bermuda schools fall vacation brought with it a terific Fiber vacation camp! Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation offered an exploration of the Sea through fiber! It was fantastic! The children worked hard and created some  amazing results considering their age range and time restraints.

Our program began as children created the foundation for their piece. The backing for a wall hanging diorama  was a piece of batik that the children painted to depict the water. I wanted the children to be able to do the batik work themselves. Some of the children were as young as 5, so using hot melted wax seemed inappropriate. Hot wax can be dangerous to work with and is also a messy process. I always enjoy looking for an alternative way for children to achieve the same results that they would get using a more traditional or labor intensive method. In this case, the hot wax method was not an  option. After doing a bit of research I found references on line to using a flour paste resist. Brilliant! I experimented with this completely safe option and it worked beautifully.
 Teaching at a non-profit with lots of "stuff" hanging around is a good fit for my resourcefulness. I needed a frame for each child's fabric to be stretched on for painting. I found a variety of old picture frames that had been used in the gallery at one time as well as some wooden weaving frames we had made for a class project a few years ago. Perfect!
We also had some yardage of cotton muslin for fabric. After deciding on a dimension, I tore the fabric to size. Tearing works better than cutting cotton. You get a straight line and it's very fast. I mounted the fabric to the frames using masking tape. This worked well but I recommend you not do this too far in advance. In a damp environment the tape won't hold for too many days and might have to be done over.
Once the fabric is stretched on the frame, it is Batik ready!

I made a flour and water paste the consistency of thick pancake batter; thick enough to create a dam that the dye could not pass over and not so thick that it was hard to paint onto the fabric. Brush choice for putting the paste on might affect the results depending on how wide or stiff it is. I liked using a 1/2" - 3/4" flat brush. This is what the flour paste looked like after painting it on my sample. I chose to make a design that made me think of waves or movement in the water. After the flour paste was dry, it is ready to be dyed. Drying time can vary from a few hours to overnight depending on the weather and temperature.

There are several dyes that will work well with cotton. Dylon dyes can be purchased at Joanne Fabrics so is very convenient. Procion dyes are also a good choice and can be purchased on line at Dahrma Trading Company. It may also be available at other shops that sell fiber related supplies. We happened to have some Dylon dyes in our stash so we used that. The mixing directions are easy to follow. Since you should be careful about inhaling dye powders, I prepared them in advance of our class.
I used two colors and randomly painted them on my piece with a sponge brush. I kept it flat to dry so there was no chance of dyes running and this is what I got.
The hard part of this project was washing out the resist. Once the dye was completely dry, the best results came from using a scrubby sponge after soaking the piece for a 15 -30 minutes in room temp water. Although it took a bit of time, you don't have to scrub much and this serves to rince any excess dye from your piece at the same time.

I was very pleased with my result. I knew the children would find success! See my next post for the next piece of this project!

Until next time........................................