My HERO Project Applique Art Lesson Planby Anne Rosenthal, Art Teacher
Subject 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.
This can seem like a complicated project to get started if you work with a large class of students. By introducing the project to the whole class and then helping them get started with the fabric and sewing in smaller groups it becomes more manageable. Once they get going, most students work more independently and enjoy the process, helping each other. Sewing is a soothing task and I have always found that children of all ages really enjoy it and often don’t want to stop. It is a very satisfying skill for them.
By organizing the fabrics beforehand, it makes it more appealing to the students when they are making their choices. Possible categories are boxes with warm and cool patterns, warm and cool solids. Or get more specific: reds, blues, yellows, greens, browns, grays etc. Separating stripes and plaids….
Making a sampler of different embroidery stitches is a good way for students to make decisions. I taught myself stitches using a book and found referring to my sampler helped me remember how to do the basic stitches when I was showing students.
THE MAIN IDEA
Once students have written their stories, the challenge is to come up with an image that illustrates its main point in the most direct, clear, and visually interesting way. Sometimes it is hard for children to simplify. One way of helping them is to show examples of illustrations in picture books and discuss what makes them effective and how the artist achieved that. Then the students make a pencil drawing of their final idea. This may undergo changes in the process but provides them with a basis to start with.
All collage works from back to front. The student’s first decision is to choose the fabric for their background based on the place, time of day, and mood they want to express. This can be effective with patterned fabric as well as solid. The background fabric should be 2” bigger all around than the stretcher frame. Staple fabric to frame, stretching edges around to the back. Staple sides first, and then corners.
Again thinking back to front, the students start composing their images, choosing fabric they think is best suited. What is the next furthest back? If they are doing a person in a landscape, it will be the ground or mountains etc. and then the person. When doing collage, overlapping always has to be discussed. An effective way to help them understand this is to show them one of Esther Krinitz’s appliqué panels and have them analyze it. Which pieces did she sew down first? Which could have come next? If a student seems overwhelmed by which fabric to choose or takes the first thing available, I have them choose 3 possibilities and then looking at them next to their work, pick the one they think is best suited.
CUTTING, PINNING, SEWING
When it comes to cutting---the bigger the better. The temptation is there for children to want to draw the shape they want to cut onto the fabric first. When they do this, the tendency is to make things too small and the shapes too detailed. So I encourage them to cut directly into the fabric, thinking in basic shapes--- and always at a corner or an edge, never into the middle of a piece of fabric. If they do need to draw a shape first, have them do it with chalk, not pencil. Chalk encourages larger shapes and can be easily wiped off with a damp paper towel.
All of the pieces don’t have to be in place before they begin sewing, but it helps if the major ones are. Discuss which details are easier and more effective in fabric and which work best in stitching. Some students will really get into the embroidery and want to try different kinds of stitches. The stitching is always part of the picture, like a drawn line, so the size of the stitches and color of the thread matters. They may want the stitches to be very obvious in some places and choose bright or contrasting thread colors.
When working with students who cannot use needle and thread, I have had them do fabric collage using iron on bonding material. I iron the material onto the back of a selection of fabrics in ¼ yard pieces. It stiffens the fabric and makes it easier to cut. The pieces are arranged on a background fabric and ironed in place. The results are very effective. It goes much more quickly than sewing.
Unsatisfactory: Students do not have a finished applique.