Woven House Project Made from T-Shirts Wows Kids

If you went to Maker Faire in Dearborn last summer – or the Detroit Urban Craft Fair in December – you might remember Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood of CraftSanity and her amazing collection of weaving looms. After just a few minutes with Jennifer, crafters of all ages can become weavers and see just how much fun this time-old hobby really is.

A few weeks back, Jennifer sought the help of more than 500 students at her daughters’ elementary school in Grand Rapids to help weave what they thought would be a giant rug. The students jumped in to help – but they weren’t making a rug! Jennifer surprised the school by using the woven blocks to create a playhouse worthy of the craftiest kids. She debuted the house earlier this month to the excitement of lots and LOTS of students.

Here’s Jennifer to tell you more about the process – and why weaving is great for small hands.

A woven house – how did you come up with that idea?

Well, I always wanted a playhouse when I was a kid and never got one, so my fascination with small houses and forts has continued into adulthood. I got the idea to weave a house using recycled T-shirts a couple years ago and finally made time to try the idea as part of a series of Earth Day workshops I led at my daughters’ elementary school.

Tell us a little about the house (how big is it, what does it look like, etc.).

The house was woven flat by more than 500 students representing 28 countries at Endeavor Elementary School in Kentwood, Mich. Then, I connected the looms to form a roughly 4-foot square structure that stands about 7 1/2 feet tall. I created a house structure that can be rewoven many times. When the fabric is removed from the looms, the finished pieces can be used as rugs or sewn together to create a large wall installation.

How long did it take to put the house together?

The whole project – from cutting the T-shirts into loops, teaching the kids to weave and building the house – was completed during the last two weeks of April. I worked with my husband and my longtime loom-frame maker to build new looms specifically for this project, so there were a lot of late nights involved. But seeing the kids’ reaction to the house during the unveiling made it all worth it. Now that I have the looms completed, I’m looking forward to doing more collaborative weaving projects with kids.

Now that the house is done, what’s next for it?

I’m removing the fabric from the looms to create a permanent installation for the school library. And I’m using the looms to weave a new house to bring to art markets and events this summer. This time, I will be doing most of the weaving myself with help from my very crafty 6- and 8-year-old daughters. They want to sell lemonade from a woven house this summer, and I’m going to do my best to make that happen.

How did the children do weaving on their own?

They did great. Kids in grades K-5 participated, and all of them could do this. In many cases we had older students help their reading buddies in the lower grades. It was wonderful to see a diverse group of kids helping each other learn to weave.

What’s the beginning age a child can start to learn how to weave?

I started my kids as soon as they showed interest in my projects, which was about age 3. However, it really seemed to click for them around age 5, when their motor skills caught up with their desire to weave. I recommend involving your children as soon as they show interest. Don’t overwhelm them with too much information, but let them help as soon as they ask to be involved.

What kind of skills do you think children learn from weaving?

Weaving teaches children about pattern, color, problem solving (in the event of a goof) and teamwork. Weaving is also a great way to develop motor skills and learn about collaboration if the individual pieces are connected and displayed. And completing a simple weaving project can do wonders to boost a child’s self-esteem.

If a family wanted to start weaving with their children, how do they get started?

You can start weaving right away using colored construction paper. Make vertical slits spaced about an inch apart in one piece of paper, starting and stopping the slits about and inch from the top and bottom edge of the paper. Then, cut a second sheet of paper (in a contrasting color) into 1-inch strips, and show your child how to weave a simple over-under pattern. You can use tape or a glue stick to secure the woven strips in place.

If you want to invest in a loom, you can pick up an inexpensive plastic or metal potholder loom at your local craft store. If you’re looking for higher-quality, Michigan-made options, check out my loom shop at CraftSanity.etsy.com. I recommend the nine-peg CraftSanity Coaster Loom ($18) for young children and the 17-peg potholder loom ($25) for older children and adults looking to get into weaving. CraftSanity Looms come with instructions for making loopers out of recycled T-shirts and instructions for weaving with yarn and fabric strips.

What’s your favorite part about weaving?

I love the repetitiveness of it. I find the repetition very relaxing. I also enjoy experimenting with a variety of color combinations. Every time I swap in new colors, the weaving process becomes exciting and new again.

Any words of wisdom you’d like to share?

If you’re planning to teach young kids to weave, it’s important to present the project with a positive, you-can-do-it attitude. If you tell the kids they can do it, they will believe you and they will be empowered to succeed as beginning weavers. If you doubt their abilities, you must not tell them. Keep it to yourself and prepare to be blown away by what budding artists can do. Little weavers are so inspiring. You can read more about the Earth Day Weaving Project I did at my daughters’ school at CraftSanity.com.

Jennifer will be on the road next fall visiting more schools with her looms. If you’re interested in having Jennifer visit your family’s school, email her.


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