Welcome Ms Martinez!

As most of you know, Ms Erika Martinez began assisting me with Handwork in grades 1-5 once Mrs. Hatami expanded her work in the Main Office back in January. We are fortunate to have an experienced sewing teacher who is committed to learning all about our curriculum and the children. She dove right in and began creating many of the projects for herself in order to practice!

Please join me in a delayed welcome!

Erika.photoErika Martinez

Handwork Assistant Grades 1-5

Ms Martinez is a Durham based sewist and potter. She is the owner and maker for her company, Happy Unicorn Studio. She specializes in making fabric handbags, purses and accessories. She has been part of the Sew Crafty team as an assistant sewing teacher since 2016 and she works in their after school and summer camp program. Prior to opening her business, she was a Director of Human Resources for over 16 years. Erika has a passion for the arts and it has been part of her life in some form since she picked up her first camera in the 6th grade.


8th Grade Stitched Resist – Fall Plant Dyeing 2018, part 2 (finally!)

The focus for most of Eighth Grade Handwork is machine sewing, commercial pattern reading, and garment construction. Building upon the doll clothes they hand sewed in Seventh Grade, the students have been further preparing for the ability to sew clothing later in life. This year, they are working towards completing a pair of pajama pants as their first large individual sewing project. They were guided through charting their own body measurements and matching those measurements to commercial patterns. They also learned how to trace a commercial pattern onto paper, so that each student can keep a personal pattern in their current size.

After a brief study of adire alabare from Nigeria as well as nui shibori from Japan, types of hand stitched resists for indigo dyeing, the students created sample pieces. (see below)

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After reviewing their samples to discuss what did and didn’t work, the students hand stitched and indigo dyed the fabric pieces for their pajama pants. Then following the pattern instructions, they began pinning and sewing.

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Pretty soon, we should have photos of the finished pajama pants to share. Stay tuned!


Fall Plant Dyeing 2018, part 1

As I have posted before, plant dyeing and plant dyed yarns and fabrics are experienced in a variety of grades. The colors are quite harmonious regardless of the combinations, and they often seem to create an unexplainable healing calm while working with them. The earliest direct experience with plant dyeing usually happens in Second Grade when the students dip wool felt into a pot of onion skin dye in preparation for sewing shooting stars for the Michaelmas play. The color changes right before their eyes, and there is a magical process experienced through anticipation and wonder.

2nd Grade’s Onion Skin Dyed Felt

In Fifth Grade, the first plant dyes of the year are usually solar dyes created in large jars. The jars are heated by the sun’s warmth over the period of a week before emerging transformed and ready to be used for sock knitting. The first jar was made with yellow cosmos flowers grown in Ms Kubik’s personal garden. The second jar was only a small amount of poke berries that Mr. Trueblood gathered at a local skateboard park. We neglected to stir the poke berry dye during the week, and thus resulted an amazing variegated skein. Since we received such a large donation of onion skins from the Durham Co-Op Market this year, we were also able to dye a large skein by reheating the previous onion skin dye pot (see felt above) and adding more onion skins.

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This year, Hurricane Florence put a damper on our yarn dyeing progress, and I ended up spending the long weekend plant dyeing in my garage so we would not be behind. Fifth Grade needs sock yarn without delay! I used a different dye each day for three days; cochineal, madder root, and osage orange. Some of the results were surprising, as I experimented with dipping into the pots for various lengths of time and by adding modifiers, such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar).

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After the storm, Fifth Grade was able to experience the further transformation of some of the osage orange dyed yarns. We dipped several skeins that the students had wound into indigo. The variations in greens elicited many “oohs and aahs”.

osage orange, osage orange overdyed with indigo, and plain indigo

To be continued…

Three Weeks Down… lots to go.

With about three weeks of school already finished, I thought I’d post a peek at what we’ve been up to in Handwork. First Grade has been practicing slip knots and finger knitting and will begin sanding dowels to make their knitting needles in our next lesson. Second Grade is continuing their projects from first grade (knitted balls and lions) and our new friends are knitting flute cases. Third Grade also continued with their sewn felt marble maze projects from last year, which many of them had waited so very patiently to create. As each student finishes their marble maze, they jump right into crochet by learning about the hook, how to hold tension on the yarn, and how to crochet chains (see below).


Fourth Grade just had their second double-period lesson today, and they have been working on embroidered felt needle savers (see below) and finely sewn linen Handwork bags.

Messages Image(4th)

Before I forget, students in grades four-eight usually have lessons in the Handwork Room. This year in the Handwork Room, I am trying out an idea that I got from a Handwork colleague. It’s called the “Do Now” board. This gives the students guidance and initiative when they enter the room so that they know what to do in case I am otherwise engaged in some way before our greeting and verse, such as gathering materials or skimming my lesson plan book. Some days it simply lets them know where to sit (see above), but other times it might have instructions on it about which materials to gather, what to bring to the table, or what to prepare.

Fifth Grade began the year sanding and waxing double pointed knitting needles. Some students are getting a refresher on knitting and our newest friends are just learning how to knit. Their stitch sampler project, a small knitted owl, allows them to work their way through many of the stitches and techniques we will use when we make socks later on. They have also taken turns learning how to skein yarn using an umbrella swift, skeining boards, and knitty noddies. They even worked on sorting through an amazing donation of onion skins from Cam Schumacher, the Produce Manager at the Durham Co-Op Market. (see below) The skins will not only be used to plant dye yarn for their socks, but also felt for Second Grade’s Michaelmas project and Third Grade’s crochet. Hooray!

Messages Image(onionskins)

The first group of Sixth Graders* worked through some trial and error in order to felt name tags for their Handwork boxes (see below). It was definitely an exercise in fully following directions and a tactile experience. They have since moved on to studying elephants; their shape, their movement, their family herds, and more! Before they began drawing their elephant patterns for soft sculptures, we first worked our way through drawing and clay activities (see below).

IMG_1265  IMG_1319AA52F3A1-B872-4210-B59A-856C14134B98

 Seventh Grade group* has been working steadily to begin their dolls, forming them from the inside outward. They created an inner core for the head using paper, yarn, wool, and tubular gauze. The eye line, chin, and nape of the neck were tied off and sewn. We then sat the heads aside and began drawing out the doll pattern proportions based on each student’s individual doll head measurements. Yes, “actual real math in Handwork”! The Eighth Grade group* had a little history lesson on the sewing machine and how they came about during the Industrial Revolution. We had an interesting discussion about modern conveniences (tools, electronics, machinery, etc.) and how life has changed because of them. After each student tried out the treadle sewing machine, we moved on to electric sewing machines. We have covered the basics, including parts of the machine, it’s simple usage, and a little about fabric characteristics. After practice sewing, they began working on a special project for First Grade. Shhh… don’t tell. It’s a surprise.


*Middle school classes are divided into two groups so that they share those Practical Arts periods in their schedule with Woodworking. Each student in the grade school still receives the equivalent of two 45-minute periods per week. It just doesn’t always spread throughout the entire school year.

Welcome to Handwork 2018-19… and Thank You Spoonflower!

The new school year begins next week, and there are a couple of Handwork faculty changes worth noting. Carol Kubik retired in June after serving as Handwork Teacher at EWS for 30 years! I was very fortunate to assist her for five of those years and have her mentor as I began leading classes myself. She will be greatly missed, but I am sure we will see her around campus from time to time. This year will be my first year leading all eight grades through the Handwork curriculum, and my Handwork Assistant for grades 1-5 will be Sarah Hatami. Many of you may know Sarah as a grades parent, receptionist in the administrative office, or even Bookbinding Teacher in the High School.

Without further ado, let’s begin the blog for this school year with special thanks to Spoonflower

Spoonflower is an on-demand fabric printing and design company that was co-founded by a former EWS parent and board member, and it’s located in Durham, not too far from the school. Their digital printing process is eco-friendly and uses water-based pigment inks and dyes that produce very little waste. On top of being earth-conscious, they like to give back to the community with their Remnant Donation Program, even with the largest collection of independent designers in the world, a community of over 3.5 million using those designs, and being one of the fastest growing companies in America.

I discovered their program through local textile artist and instructor River Takada-Capel, who piloted it while working at Spoonflower. With each roll of digitally printed fabric they produce, there is an unprinted remnant leftover. Those remnants are offered to local educational and arts-based organizations just like EWS. We have benefited from the program several times over the past few years, and this year we received an exceptionally generous amount of fabric remnants. I can not wait until we can put them to use.

Once again, BIG thanks to Spoonflower’s Remnant Donation Program… and to Gina Johnson, Product and Procurement Associate, who gathered the fabric before I arrived, boxed it all up, and helped carry it to my car!


Fantastic Fiber Arts Camp – July 2018

Last week, I led an EWS camp with assistant Miss Samantha, my culinary-student niece. We had seventeen children aged 7-12, and only five of them were EWS students! The goal was to use a variety of fibers to create artistic and practical items while exploring color and texture.

We read books and discussed fibers from animals such as sheep and rabbits, plants and trees such as cotton, bamboo, and rattan, and we even touched on beeswax and synthetics. We played group games like “Honey, If You Love Me”, “Making Connections”, “Musical Chairs”, and “Doggie Doggie”. On the final day, we even danced the “Cha Cha Slide” and the “Cupid Shuffle” and enjoyed fruit popsicles after final cleanup. We created…

  • sewn felt treasure pouches w/twisty twirly straps
  • plastic canvas & yarn bookmarks
  • woven reed baskets with round bases
  • woven cotton potholders
  • finger knitted snakes (w/heads & forked tongues!)
  • finger knitted jewelry/accessories
  • paper mâché bowls
  • wax sticks creations

It was very creative, quite easy going overall, and surprisingly super exhausting. Whew. See photos below.

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Second Grade’s “Gnome Party”

“How nice it is to be a gnome and see the wonders of the world!”- from Little Gnome Tenderroot by Jakob Streit

Second Grade has been diligently knitting little gnomes using a variety of plant dyed color choices which were offered as a way to support their inner feeling and developing individual artistic sensibilities. The gnome project also enhanced their basic knitting with more complex skills such as purling. The backwards gesture of purling meets the children at a time in which they are becoming more aware of the world around them… from spatial awareness into directional awareness. They must retrain themselves to complete each step of purling in the opposite manner from knitting and then be able to focus in order to switch back and forth between knitting and purling every other row. What a feat of concentration!

This week, we celebrated their efforts with what we call a “gnome party”. I spent the morning setting everything up in the Handwork Room, and during our Handwork lesson, the children were told a gnome story. Afterwards, we trekked up the hill and quietly crept in to see what the gnomes were up to. The children were very excited to find their gnomes gardening, tending animals, sewing, lounging on the beach, and much more. Once everyone had a chance to discover all of the hidden surprises in the scene, there was a little time for gnome-play. It was a joyous celebration!

Mrs. Hatami stealthily took photos before and during the gnome party (see below).

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A Selection of Handwork Updates – April 2018

In the spirit of spring fever, things have been a bit higgledy-piggledy in regards to photographing handwork lately, but I wanted to share what I do have.

First Grade created a wall hanging based on an angel painting they had done with Mrs. Kanteti, and it was auctioned at the school’s gala. There was knitting, finger knitting, finger weaving, and even toe braiding involved! A lot of hands (and toes) worked together to create all of the strands and sew them into place. Thanks to Mrs. Reyes for the plant dyed yarn donation and to all of the other First Grade parents who helped along the way. (photo taken just before completion)




Seventh Grade has been plugging away on their dolls. Although many have felt trepidation about sewing the facial features, they have been designing outfits and progressing regardless.

And finally, here are a few finished products from the backstrap weaving in Handwork Club. Several students chose to just keep their results simply as a woven strip, but you can see here there were also scarves and bracelets.

Backstrap Weaving in Handwork Club

We are halfway through a 6-week session of Handwork Club with a group of eleven 3rd-7th graders. Besides focusing on backstrap weaving, we have talked about being environmentally friendly by using reclaimed items that could have otherwise ended up in the landfill. Most of our materials came from The Scrap Exchange, a creative reuse arts center in Durham.


In the beginning, the students learned a little background information about backstrap weaving and looked at several different types of woven samples from various countries and traditions, including pieces woven by myself and other children. The first step toward weaving their own projects was creating rigid heddles out of popsicle sticks, many of which we had to drill holes into. Only three students tried out the drill with my help, but they all worked together to sand the newly drilled pieces smooth again. Then wooden knobs were glued onto notched dowels for the loom bars, and the backstraps were finger knitted with several strands of yarn held together. Once the heddles were warped with long strands of yarn (The warp is the group of threads that the shuttle passes over and under.), the warps were then tied onto the backs of chairs and ready for use. We are using old gift cards to cut and create shuttles that are wound with yarn for the weft (The weft is the group of crosswise threads with which you weave).

Each week, we start our sessions with a weaving-related picture book about people such as the Mayans in Guatemala and the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Here are some more photos of weaving in action, as well as some of the students’ progress so far. You can see that it’s a jovial group that shares a lot of laughter!

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