My HERO Project Applique Art Lesson Plan

by Anne Rosenthal, Art Teacher
Written By
Anne Rosenthal, Art Teacher

Grade Level

Arts - Visual

This lesson plan is really a how-to for teaching appliqué techniques to 4th and 5th graders. Anything in it can be adapted up for older students and at the end I will suggest alternate ways for much younger children and anyone who cannot use a needle and thread to work with fabric picture making.

The students I work with are deeply moved by Esther Krinitz’s story [Visit www.artandremembrance.org for more information]. They have many questions and want to know more about her life and experiences. Esther’s appliquéd and embroidered panels allow them to follow the narrative of her experiences visually. Her use of fabric and embroidery stitches creates vivid, detailed imagery for them to “read”. The way Esther used fabrics---matching texture, pattern and color to create specific things and moods is a language that children understand immediately. A stripe can suggest the horizontal boards of a wooden house or the rows of a plowed field. The jagged edges of a dark cloud are ominous and frightening. They are charmed and inspired by the embroidery stitches that create the texture of a wheat field or braided hair and notice the use of a bit of lace for a tablecloth and wool fringe that looks just like thatched roof. Many cultures use fabric appliqué and embroidery techniques in their folk arts. There is an intrinsic sense of the heirloom when scraps leftover from more pragmatic uses like making clothing are used to make descriptive imagery. It is a natural and exciting medium for students to tell their own family stories.


1. Fabric
 A selection of lightweight cotton and poly/cotton fabrics with small overall prints, stripes, plaids, solids. You want to avoid novelty designs with large images like teddy bears, stars, rainbows, etc. Children won’t be able to see beyond the premade imagery to make their own choices and connections. It’s a huge distraction. Pieces of trim, lace, rickrack, buttons, and ribbon can be incorporated into the work too.
2. Chenille needles sizes 18-20
Chenille needles have the advantage of having large enough eyes and being sharp. Tapestry needles are too blunt to sew fabric with. Children 7 and up can thread their own needles if shown how and if the needle eye is large enough and the thread sturdy enough. 
3. Thread
I recommend two strand craft thread (rather than embroidery thread) because it doesn’t need to be divided and come in bright colors. A less expensive alternative is to use rolls of colored crochet cotton ----- it is about the same weight and works fine. 
4. Scissors
Good scissors are essential. There is nothing more frustrating than scissors that won’t cut fabric. Fiskars® for kids are great but don’t let them be used for paper-- --it will dull the blades quickly. 
5. Light weight stretcher bars.
These are the wooden bars used by painters to stretch their canvas over. They come in various lengths and fit together without nails and work like an embroidery hoop, keeping the fabric taut while sewing. This makes it much much easier to work with. Unlike an embroidery hoop they can be permanent, working as a frame and making display much easier too. They can be bought in bulk inexpensively from art supply dealers like Dick Blick or Nasco who often have their own house brand. 14’x16”, 16”x18” are good sizes for children to work with. 
6. Light weight staple gun. 
This is to staple the background fabric to the stretcher bars. 
7. Straight pins.
These are to hold fabric pieces in place while the image is being composed and until it is stitched. Children find it easier to work with pins that have the colored balls at the end. 
8. Chalk.
Used for marking fabric if necessary. 
9. Iron and ironing board.
Needed for pressing fabric pieces. Its difficult for children to cut and sew wrinkled fabric---and it doesn’t look good.