I loved weaving projects as a child, but yarn and other traditional weaving media can be difficult for very young children to manipulate. I found a kit online that uses chenille stems (we used to call them pipe cleaners) instead of yarn – which I thought was a brilliant idea! This is the kit I sent to Finn and ordered for myself as well:
The things I like about this kit are: it’s a very easy way for a child to produce a finished work that is hanging-ready, the warp threads (vertical ones) are relatively large and far apart, which is better for small children, and the chenille stems are extra large and fluffy, also making for easier handling.
The only thing I don’t like about it is that it’s only really intended for a single use. You will have lots of the stems left over that you could use for another project. I tried using chenille stems on a potholder loom or a simple standing loom, and both worked okay – although would not be quite as easy for a young child to handle. On those looms, you would use string or yarn to set up the warp threads and then use chenille stems for the weft threads (the horizontal ones – just remember “weft-to-right”).
One cool thing about weaving with these materials is that the wire in the chenille stems means the piece can can be molded to hold a shape. Here is a mask I made using them on a potholder loom with string for the warp threads. This mask is just decorative, not functional, since there are large gaps and you can’t launder it.
If you purchase a kit, it will probably contain everything you need except possibly masking tape to hold the frame down, scissors to trim the ends, and a fork to use as a beater or batten and pull the chenille stems close together.
If you choose to do your own thing without a kit, you will need:
- A simple loom of some kind such as this:
- String or yarn to use for the warp threads
- Chenille stems for the weft threads
- A fork to use as a beater or batten to tighten the chenille stems
- Your loom should have pegs or notches of some kind on the top and bottom. Tie the beginning of your string or yarn to the top or bottom rail and lace it back and forth vertically to establish your warp threads. Tie the end off securely to the top or bottom rail. For young children, don’t make the warp threads too close together since they will need to be able to get their fingers in between.
- Use chenille stems to weave left-to-right or right-to-left, taking the chenille stems over and under the warp threads. On the next row you alternate the pattern to under and over. You can do a simple checkered pattern of 1 over, 1 under, or create more elaborate patterns by taking a stem over or under multiple warp threads.
- You can trim each end to about 1/2″ long and bend it back over the weaving to secure it, or you can leave all the ends til the end and then trim and bend them back, or twist two stems at a time together to secure them. On my mask I left the ends long, twisted two at a time together and curled the long ends around a pencil.
I would like for the story we read and song we sing to be directly related to our project — when that’s possible. This week we read, Abuela’s Weave by Omar S. Castaneda, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez, Lee & Low Books, Inc., 1993. This book is a 1993 Parent’s Choice Award Honoree. I loved that the story is about the relationship between a child and her grandmother and that it gives us some insight into rural Guatemalan culture. The colorful illustrations are beautifully done and feature some lovely examples of patterning (repetition of a design or motif) – a good concept to introduce while working on a weaving project.
I really wanted a traditional work song specifically used by weavers to go along with our weaving project. This could be a good time to talk about the idea of work songs – what they are and why people wrote and sang them. Here’s a link that will provide more background about work songs: https://www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/musical-styles/traditional-and-ethnic/traditional-work-songs/. For our weaving project, I found Weave Room Blues, which I hadn’t heard before. Here’s a link:
Finn managed to see the box when the kit arrived and was SOOOOO excited about doing this project that he slept with the box in his bed like a teddy bear. Besides the weaving, we had a lot of fun making fuzzy mustaches and bug antennae with the chenille stems. Baby Leo wanted to get in on the fun, too, and played with some of the stems.
Here’s Finn’s work-in-progress:
For children as young as Finn (4-years-old), there’s no need to get too concerned about getting the stems over and under EVERY warp thread. If they have the chance to play with the materials and be introduced to the idea of weaving the material over and under, that’s enough for now.
This post seems to have legs and keep going on and on. A couple of weeks after Finn and I worked on this project, I found an old photograph of me with a loom my parents gave me for my eighth birthday. I had so much fun with it and it probably planted the seeds of all kinds of future fiber work. The gift of art supplies at the right time can change a child’s life forever.