Felt making with Anna Blackman from Mimosa Montessori
Thursday 22 April 2021 was Earth Day, a chance to talk about what we can all do to restore planet Earth and the nature that lives here. Alongside our conversations about composting, recycling and encouraging wildlife to our garden we wanted to provide the children with an opportunity to work together to create something for our outside classroom.
We set up a creative space every day for the week to make wet felt creations, which once assembled would create the image of planet Earth. Felt making is one of oldest ways of making fabric and felt objects have been found dating as far back as The Bronze Age. It is thought that felt may have been accidentally discovered when people filled their footwear with wool fibres to provide more comfort and the sweat and movement made the fibres mat together to create felt. What a wonderful ‘accidental’ discovery they made!
Working with wool fibres to make felt is a sensory rich activity for children and actively enables the child to employ their senses of touch, smell, sight and hearing to develop an understanding and appreciation of the materials and process. A child within the sensitive period of ‘refinement of the senses’ may be particularly open to this activity, repeat the steps again and again to fulfil their sensory needs.
The activity was set up in a tuff tray outside (a large deep tray at the child’s height) enabling the children to work on their own or together. Most children chose to work as a small group, building positive feelings of community and developing team working skills. By collaborating in this way children talk to each other about their observations, what it feels and smells like and they can help each other with the different tasks at hand. The adult can offer the rich language to support their knowledge of the tools, materials and process, providing a narrative about where the wool comes from and how it is gathered from the sheep each year.
Soap. I use 100% olive oil soap
A few clean dishcloths
One bamboo sushi mat for each child
A deep tray if working individually or a tuff tray if working collaboratively
A jug of warm water.
The process of felt making is in keeping with the structure of Montessori activities, which have a defined start and end and a number of distinct steps in between. It will speak to a child’s sense of order and structure, yet enable them freedom of choice in their selection of colours, how they chose to lay the wool and the shapes they make with the fibres.
Gather all your materials. Cut the wool tops into 30cm lengths and place in a bowl for the children to access. Invite the children to come and take a look, touch and smell the dry wool fibres and talk about where they come from. Explain what they are going to make with the fibres – turning them from fluffy fibres into a wool fabric.
Lay out the bamboo mat/s in the tray. If working on a large piece make sure they all lay the same way so they can be rolled up at a later stage.
Show the children how to tease apart the wool tops gently into smaller strips so they can see light through and lay horizontally in lots of lines. Then move on to laying them vertically making a grid on their bamboo mats. If working individually they can keep it on the mat, if not then work to make one large piece – the children will love filling in any holes they see. Aim for around 4 or 5 layers.
Ask the children to carefully lay on the clean dishcloths to cover the fibres.
Pour on warm water so all the cloths and fibres are damp. It wants to be nice and wet but not sloshy at this stage.
Ask the children to grate soap onto the cloths so you have a nice sprinkling of soap everywhere. For very young ones they can spoon over pre-grated soap.
Now the fun part – rub, rub, rub! The children’s massaging hands, soap and water is getting the fibres to hold together, quite a magic process to discover. The children can peek under the cloths to see what’s happening and check progress.
Keep on massaging the soapy cloths, adding more water if a bit dry or more soap if needed.
Now we need to shock the cloth with as warm water as is safe to shock the felt and strengthen it. Support the children to roll up the fabric in the bamboo mats and pour on the hot water, then squeezing out the excess water and repeating. Pour off the excess water as and when you need too.
Unroll the bamboo mats for the children to look at their work. Revel in its beauty with them, touch it and invite them to look closely at how the fibres have felted together. Hang it on a clothes line to dry – preferably outside so they can check it drying throughout the day.
For our Earth day project, we made a very large blue circular piece on day one for the sea and for the following days children made smaller green pieces for the land.
I then assembled it together by cutting land shapes and sewing it together for them to hang the following week. If you have older children then they can lead this process.
Other ideas for felt-making:
Hibernation dens (images on my Instagram page)
Felted eggs – great for Easter but tricky for very little hands
Spring time inspired piece
A sun for the Montessori Birthday Walk or for the Sun Game
Making a gift for others such as a bag, pencil case, purse
I hope you feel inspired to have a go at felt making with your children. Please do message me if you have any specific questions on firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my Facebook or Instagram page for more ideas.
Guest post by Anna Blackman of Mimosa Montessori. Anna is a trained Montessori Early Years Educator and Creative Practitioner with over 15 years experience in the Education sector from Early Years through to Secondary Schools. She is passionate about creative learning and its combination with Montessori to provide a unique approach to the education of children and young people.
Edited by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron
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