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Examining Our Textiles

Dr Montessori believed that if a child had a general understanding of the elements of the natural world, they could feel at home anywhere on the planet, as they would always know something about their surroundings. For example, Montessori educated children can look at a plants foliage and know the shape and size of its root system; they can look at the mountains around them and know whether they were formed by tectonic plate movement or volcanic activity – these understandings help them feel grounded in the Earth. It gives them a sense of connection and love for our planet.

Not only can we offer the child a connection to the natural world, we can also build their connection to the human aspect of the Earth - the culture of people - what Dr. Montessori called ‘supranatura’.

We can show children how to understand something about their surroundings just by looking at their textiles. They can then understand how the clothes they wear, and all of the textiles around them were made. Not only does this knowledge give them a connection to their textiles but also a natural sense of gratitude as they realise how many people have had a hand in the work of creating their clothing. Their clothes will no longer be something that just appear in the shops – they will have a history and the children will have a new level of connection.

The lesson below is my way of starting children off examining their textiles. It helps if you have told them The Story Of The History Of Wool, as well as made some explorations in to the processes wool goes through to become a garment. (I will cover this in a future post.)

As always:

Text in standard font = what I do

Text in italics = what I say

Examining Textiles Lesson

If you have explored the process of wool, begin with a recap of how yarn is made. If not, show the children a ball of yarn and discuss how it could be used as a blanket or garment. Agree that there is something further that needs to be done to the yarn before it can be worn. Guide children to suggest knitting/crochet/weaving. Have some examples of fabrics made using each of these techniques to look at with the children..

Tell them:

We can knit or weave fabric for ourselves at home or in the classroom but most of the clothes we buy are knitted or woven by machines in factories. If we didn’t make them ourselves we might not know if they were knitted or woven.

Knit fabric is made from a single strand of yarn that is made into rows of interlocking loops. When we look closely we can see little ‘v’ shapes made by the bottom part of the loop on the front of the fabric and curved bumps made by the top part of the loop on the back of the fabric.

Indicate the two parts of the loop on the hand knit sample.

The loops are worked in rows, this is one row, and this is the next row.

Indicate the progression of rows.

Woven fabric is made of many different strands of thread that are worked under and over each other. We can see here that half of the threads are running in one direction and the other half are running perpendicular to them. There is something else we can see, too. The threads don’t just lie on top or underneath each other, they seem to take it in turns to be the top thread, or the bottom thread, it seems like they want to be fair to each other. This turn taking is what gives them their strength and holds to them together.

Indicate the threads going over and under each other in the hand woven sample.

These fabrics were made by hand and it is easy for us to see how they were made, but the machines in factories are able to work with very fine threads so we have to look closely to see if they are knit or woven.

Let’s use these magnifying glasses to help us and see if we can tell how some of these fabrics were made.

Give children magnifying glasses and encourage them to look at a range of fabric, including their own and their friends’ clothes.

From here there is a range of investigations the children can engage in, examples include:

  • Conduct class clothes surveys.

  • Survey their own wardrobe at home, compare woven/knit/other, natural/synthetic.

  • Research/ consider why some fabrics are knitted and some woven - what are the properties of each – consider pros and cons of each method. (Knit is cheaper to produce and has more stretch, woven is more expensive but more durable and takes print better.)

  • Go out to a fabric factory.

  • Imagine they had to make all their own clothing from raw materials – what would their clothing collection look like? How many items would they have? How would they feel it they lost/damaged an article of clothing? How would they manage this as well as meeting all the rest of their Fundamental Human Needs?

At some stage children should find fabrics made using different methods entirely - great! Get them to explore these!

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