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Introducing weaving

Once you have told The Story of the History of Wool, children will be keen to experiment with this beautiful fibre for themselves. I usually go on to tell them The Story of the Process of Wool, which I will share in a future post, and then we have a go at spinning our own yarn. However, if you don't feel ready to tackle spinning, you can jump straight to weaving - it is very simple and satisfying.

I like to begin any new craft with an examination of the process and the tools. The lesson below is an introduction to the concept of weaving and opens up the children's own investigations into weaving looms.

Before giving this lesson, try contacting your local Spinners and Weavers Guild to see if they have looms you can borrow to show the children. It is likely that they will be happy to bring them in to demonstrate how they work, and answer the children’s questions. Ask them to bring in samples of work they have done that show different styles and techniques.

Also keep an eye out in thrift stores for tapestries, woven wall hangings, blankets and scarfs. Adapt the story below to incorporate any examples you have. This is much more authentic that showing the children pictures of looms and woven work

Introduction to Weaving Lesson

Text in standard font = what I do

Text in italics = what I say

Step 1.

Bring out a ball of home spun yarn and examine it together.

If you have been exploring the process of wool and spinning your own yarn:

Now we have learned to spin on a drop spindle we have made this beautiful yarn.

(If you have not been exploring the process of wool and spinning your own yarns:

We know that early humans found ways of turning the loose animal fibres into clothing, and maybe you would like to explore that process. Here we have some fibres that have been spun together to produce a long thread - we can it yarn.)

But we can’t really wear it as clothes or use it as a blanket like this can we? Each piece is so very long and thin it probably wouldn’t keep us warm by itself.

We really need lots of pieces of yarn to lie beside each other if it is going to be a blanket. Let’s try doing that.

Cut several strands of yarn and lay them out side by side.

Strands of yarn laid side by side

It looks a little more like a blanket now, but do you think it will stay together if we pick it up? (no!)

How about if we lay some more strands of yarn in the other direction, maybe that will help…..

Lay several stands of yarn across your first strands.

Will it hold together now?

Try picking it up, using it as a cloth etc.

Hmm….it still doesn’t seem to want to stay together, what can we do to make the strands hold on to each other?

Step 2

The children may well suggest weaving the strands together, if not say:

You see how these strands are always on the top (point to top strands) and these ones are always on the bottom? What if we mixed them up so they took turns at being on the top and bottom? That would seem fairer wouldn’t it? Perhaps they would be happier to work together if we did that.

Start to alternate the strands so they are going under and over each other – it’s easiest if you start one corner.

Wow, this is kind of tricky; I think I’m going to need some more hands. Sarah, could you hold these strands down please, and Faiqa, lift that one up.

Keep working with the children to weave a small square as best you can.

Hey, this looks a lot more like a blanket now, do you think it will hold together if we pick it up?

Gently lift the square to show the children.

It does! We have made a little piece of fabric with our yarn!

Step 3.

What we did with the strands of yarn is called weaving and human beings have been doing this since Palaeolithic times. We think they probably did it with grasses and sticks at first rather than softer fibres like wool. What might they have used woven sticks for?

Elicit answers (baskets, mats, shelters, fences, fishing pots etc.)

At some stage people figured out that they could weave with softer fibres from plants and animal fur and this would produce a fabric. Archeologists have found fragments of woven fabric from as long ago as 7000BCE – that means humans have been weaving for a very long time!

When people began to weave softer materials, they would have found it tricky to make the strands stay in place whilst they wove them, just as you did. They would have tried to think of a way to keep the strands from moving around. Let’s see if we can think of ways they might have done that.

Elicit suggestions. (get a friend to hold them, tied them to something)

It seems like all our ideas involve finding a way to keep one set of threads still so that the other set can weave in and out of them. The early humans had these ideas too and they made special tools to help them with this. The tool that holds the threads for weaving is called a loom, from the Old English ‘geloma’ which just meant tool. It was not till the 1400s that the word became used for the specific tool that weaves thread into cloth. Imagine that – the tool used to weave all the fabric for clothes, sacks, curtains, sails and sheets didn’t even have its own English name for thousands of years!

Even now, ‘loom’ seems to be a very humble name for something that does so much for humans.

There are many different kinds of loom, the first ones would have been very simple – and some still are, but humans love to refine and perfect their inventions so there are also some very complicated ones.

Let’s have a look at some looms from different cultures and see if we can understand how they work.

From here, I show the children several different kinds of looms, actual ones and pictures, and we try to figure out what the different components are and how the loom works. Children will notice that all the looms have certain elements in common - humans have found many different ways to meet the same need.

(In my next post I will share the pictures I use, some of the things I say to get the conversations going, and some weaving nomenclature.)

Children can choose to research weaving and looms further themselves. If you have a weaver that is able to demonstrate in class, so much the better, if not children can plan a Going Out to see a loom in action or make their own mini looms out of cardboard.

Please share any explorations your children do on the Montessori Handwork Facebook page.

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