Waldorf Handwork Through the Grades

Handwork is a subject area in you’ll find in Waldorf schools. Just like you would find math or science in traditional school settings, handwork is a staple in a Waldorf setting as well as history, literature, mathematics and many more subjects. One difference is that handwork is not a daily lesson. Usually you’ll find that handwork lessons are 2-3 times a week, similar to eurythmy classes and other specialty classes.

Each grade in a Waldorf school will have lessons that promote and support the the development of the child. The handwork lessons do the same through hands on learning in the fiber arts. Knitting is one of the first skills learned by a grade 1 student. The criss cross motion and cross body movement when the knitting needles cross each other (right at heart level), helps promote healthy brain development. When the two sides of the brain community through cross body movement (also achieved in other areas of the curriculum), it strengthens the pathway between the two hemispheres and primes the brain for higher learning in middle school.

Each grade engages in handwork to support both what is being taught in the curriculum and the child’s development. Here’s a brief overview of the handwork you might expect through the grades.

Grade 1

In grade 1, when the students are about 7 years old, knitting is introduced. Knitting in grade 1 is taught with two needles and in a style that promotes cross body action. There are some knitting styles in which the yarn is held in one had and nevers crosses the body’s midline. You want to ensure that the midline is crossed and that proper handling of the knitting needles means the child won’t tire of knitting before the lesson is over and that the child enjoys the maximum benefit of knitting.

The materials for knitting as well as all handwork that will follow is as important as the skill being developed. Strive for using all natural materials, such a wood knitting needles and wool yarn. Wool is preferred in the younger years over cotton because wool comes from sheep and the life forces are stronger, and the wool’s temperature is warmer, especially to touch. Just as wood is warmer than metal and a preferred material in the younger ages, even though both are natural materials. Strong pure colors are preferred over muted colors which contain grey. Bulky yarn and size 10 needles are just right for this age. The students may start their handwork lessons by making their own needles from hardwood dowels and wooden beads for the end.

The first project a child will do in Grade 1 is to knit a square or rectangle. Once the project is complete, the child will turn the rectangle into an animal shape with the help of the teacher. Out of a two dimensional piece of knitting emerges a three dimensional animal that is stuffed with wool. The delight a child experiences when making this first project is seen in the joy that is expressed. Seeing the child light up is a gift for the teacher and parent.

Once the first project is complete, the child may knit a case of her recorder. Her personalized carrying case will be treasured for years. If there is time for another project, she may choose to knit a multicolored ball, a scarf or a hat (using just two needles, a hat with four needles comes in grade 5).

I distinctly remember doing this project in first grade at my Waldorf school in France. I still have my project, too!! It was only years later that I knew it was called a pompom and there were many variations on this project. Today, I’m showing you the way I learned many years ago. You can reuse the template, but if you weave your pom pom really tightly, you may need to cut it out. I made my template out of heavy chipboard from the back of a paper pad. I’m using bulky weight wool yarn from A Child’s Dream in a beautiful multi color. Directions: Cut a circle 5″ in diameter. Cut out a circle 2″ in diameter from the center. Tie a piece of yarn about 2-3 yards long to the template and begin weaving around the circle. When the yarn runs out, tie on other piece. When you can’t fit another piece of yarn through the middle, carefully cut around the perimeter. Tie a string around the middle and remove the template. And voila! You’re done!

How adorable is this little octopus?! What’s great about it, it that it’s super easy, easy enough for a brand new knitter. In fact, if you don’t know how knit, I walk you through the basics, from one novice knitter to another 😉 For this project, I’m using bulky weight Lamb’s Pride yarn in Cranberry Swirl. It’s gorgeous and you can find it at A Child’s Dream. I’m using size 10 needles. I’m using a large blunt needle for sewing the octopus together, wool batt for stuffing and black yarn for the eye.

Direction: Cast on 15 stitches knit 30 rows bind off Sew the top and side together to form a tube Fill the top 2/3 with wool batt or top Sew around the tube so you have a spherical head with a ‘collar’ Twizzle four pieces of yarn about 12-18 inches long (ply them together) Sew the twizzles to the collar Stitch eye and you’re done!

Grade 2

Grade 2 projects continue with knitting with two needles, but now crocheting is introduced as well. A multicolored ball using six colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple in bright undiluted colors is recommended. How exciting it is to see a long rectangle turn into a ball! Stuffed with wool and this plaything is wonderful for movement activities to support learning and becoming proficient in spelling and math.

In addition to crocheting, the skills in knitting are expanded upon. Purling is introduced and with that, ribbing is learned. After practicing with the multicolored ball, the student is ready to make a knitted doll! These are my favorite Waldorf dolls. I’m always so impressed that children aged about 8 years old are able to made these lovely dolls.

In grade 2, pot holders and mats may be crocheted as well.

Handwork in Waldorf schools matches the development just as the subjects do. Knitting is one of the first handwork skills that students learn in Grade 1. This tutorial for a knitted ball is very simple, but is best suited for a child (or adult) who is comfortable knitting.

Directions: Cast on 18-20 stitches (less if your yarn is bulky) Knit 12 rows in each color (we chose six colors in the rainbow) Bind off Using a blunt sewing needle for knitting, sew the top closed and sew the side. Fill the ball with wool and stitch the bottom closed. We used bulky weight Lamb’s Pride yarn. We used size 10 knitting needles.

Grade 3

It’s truly beautiful how the handwork in Waldorf education is specifically chosen to help the child on his emotional, educational and spiritual development. The third grade student is going through the nine year change and to help give the child a sense of purpose and comfort during this transition, the curriculum aims to teach the practical arts and skills to the child in the form of shelter building, farming and clothing. The handwork for the third grade student will reflect the curriculum with projects ranging from knitted scarves and hats to stitched bags and tunics. Additionally, candle making, weaving and working with clay or beeswax is introduced. While some things will have already been familiar to the child like working with beeswax and making candles, the projects this year take on a practical purpose.

When I first saw the third grade Waldorf curriculum, I wasn’t interested in using it because there was so much content I didn’t intend to use. A few years later, I realized the wisdom behind why these particular main lesson blocks are chosen for the 9-year-old student. I’ll share those reflections in the video as well as give you an in-depth review of the Live Education! curriculum with tips of how to use it.

We’ve gone through this curriculum before so you can to see my children’s main lesson books. As we used our own resources for many of the main lesson blocks, you’ll see how we tailored this year’s curriculum to suit our religious needs and cultural background. You’ll need a number of supplies for the third year including the basics of main lesson books, additional resource books, crayons and color pencils, watercolors and watercolor paper as well as the materials for handwork projects. You can see the complete list of supplies for the third grade.

Handwork projects are quintessential to the Waldorf curriculum. When done right they complement the curriculum and enhance the student’s educational experience. Check out the ones we’ve done for third grade. While you don’t need any additional resource books for this year save a few for the lesson on Hebrew Myths and Culture, I do have a number of additional books that round out the 3rd grade curriculum. The bulk of them were used for the main lessons on Hebrew Myths and Culture. We used culturally relevant texts and religious books for those main lesson blocks. I share more resources that will come in handy for the parent/teacher, but they are by no means necessary to use the curriculum successfully.

This tutorial will show you how to weave using a template you can make from chipboard. You can weave this into a pouch or purse. Supplies needed for this project: Yarn, chipboard (for template), embroidery thread, yarn needle or shuttle, pencil and scissors. Most supplies can be found at local crafts stores or from A Child’s Dream. Level: easy Duration: under an hour Cost under $5 Check out the Circle weaving tutorial.

When doing a main lesson block, I look for a variety of books and projects for the children. For this unit, I set up our Harrisville Designs wooden loom for my 8-year-old daughter. Weaving is just right for a grade 3 student and it fit nicely with our American History unit that was primarily for my 12-year-old.

For this project, we just a sturdy child-sized loom. While this kit comes with all the supplies needed to weave a project, this happened to be a hand-me-down, so I collect our own supplies for this project. I used cotton string from Harrisville Designs to prepare the loom. Next I wove several rows for my daughter until the complicated pattern was set. We used bulky Lamb’s Pride yarn that we dyed using natural materials like tea, avocado pits and onion skins.

After the pattern was established, I showed my daughter how to go under and over with the wooden pick stick, then send the shutter through the open space created when the pick stick is turned on its side. The process was repeated until the project was complete. Some problems we ran into was making the middle too tight. As my daughter sent the shutter back and forth, the middle of her project got tighter and tighter. A way to remedy this is to have a long metal or wooden dowel run the length of the loom so that the yarn goes around the metal as well as the cotton warping.

DIY Loom to Make a Bag

Weaving is one of those projects you need to dedicate yourself to. It takes time, perseverance and mindfulness. Weaving engages your mind and hands, and unlike knitting for instances, you can’t easily take your eyes off your project. Weaving in found in the Waldorf curriculum starting at grade 3. It complements the the block on shelter, farming and clothing. With a bit of effort, you can actually weave fabric and potentially make your own rudimentary clothes! In this project, however, we are weaving a bag. With a bit more effort, you can optimize your weaving time and create a bag rather than a solid piece of fabric.

https://youtu.be/4L32h1AipA4

For this project, we are making our own DIY loom out of heavy cardboard or chipboard. I’m using chipboard from the backing of a watercolor paper pad. It’s thick and difficult to bend which is just what we want. The piece I’m using is 9″x12″. Along the top and bottom (9 inch side), I’m marking 1/2 inch increments. You can make your increments smaller for a tighter weave or larger for a looser weave. One thing to make sure of though, is that your last increment is as close to the edge of the chipboard as possible. If not, trim the chipboard because otherwise in the end, you’ll end up with a large bit of unwoven yarn on either end of the project. It doesn’t affect the project, but it’ll be noticeable. If you look closely, you can see if in the correct project with teal colored bulky weight yarn. Make sure you have an odd number of increments/strings otherwise you won’t have the opportunity to go over/under in an alternating pattern to create a proper weave. Once your increments are set, it’s time to string up your loom. In this case, I made a mistake. I’ve shown you my mistake in the video and how I remedied the problem, but I also show you the correct way to do it. When weaving a bag, you want an opening! Do do this you need to string your loom so that the string goes around alternating tabs and comes down the same side before circling back up the other side in which you just string it up without wrapping it along the tab. This is very confusing at first! It took me a lot of practice and there are still times I do it wrong. Truthfully, there are a few ways to do this, and I’ve now done this about 4 different ways depending on the projects and sadly, one time, it was very wrong and this is the time you get to see! In the end, we found an alternative way to fix our mistake, and while it’s not perfect, it works.

I debated showing you the mistake, but in the end, with your suggestions, I showed the mistake in a way I hope isn’t confusing to the tutorial. I’m pleased with finding a solution to our problem even though it took so much time to fix. In the end, you can hardly tell and it salvaged weeks of work. Imagine starting over!!

We used yarn from Harrisville Designs as well as some home dyed yarn using natural materials like onions skins and tea. The yarn dyeing and weaving accompany our American History units by adding in Waldorf inspired handwork. I love having the opportunity to tailor our lessons to appeal to my child’s interests and still work within the Waldorf Education philosophy. We initially used some tools that came in the Harrisville Designs Loom Kit, but ultimately, this was completely DIY.

My 8-year-old daughter worked on the Harrisville Design loom to make her project, while my 13-year-old son worked on the DIY loom to make a bag using a ruler to separate the string and a popsicle stick as a shuttle. This project is fast at first and you can complete 90% of it fairly quickly. The last part is challenging because the space is so tight. I helped with that part using a knitting needle with a sharp point and a wide eye to fight the yarn. I also helped make the twizzle with my son (which is the handle) and sewed it in for him, though these are things he’s capable of doing at his age. He chose the pattern which was just an alternating of colors starting with wider bands at the bottom and tighter bands at the top. To keep in line with Waldorf philosophy, you’ll want to be mindful to use darker colors at the bottom and lighter at the top where it opens. Also if there is an embroidery design on top of the weaving, you’ll want to ensure that the bottom of the design is closed and the top open. In our case, I feel that the tighter bands would have been more appropriate at the bottom versus the top. Something to consider when you are embarking on your project!


Grade 4

Wet Felting

I admit when I bought this kit, I thought it was a needle felting pumpkin kit. But you can’t imagine my joy when, after a moment of confusion, I realized it was a wet felting kit! I haven’t done wet felting in years, and I’m excited to get back into it. This kit, by Rainbow River Designs, comes with everything you need to get 2-3 pumpkins, except a ball and warm soapy water. Don’t add too much soap, it foams up fast and gets very bubbly. You can find this kit at the Rainbow River Designs’ Etsy shop as well as A Child’s Dream.


Wet Felted Balls

Some handwork projects span several weeks or months and others can be done in a day. Making a felted ball falls somewhere in between depending on how you make it and for what purpose. In grade 4 Waldorf schools, you may find students making and embroidering felted balls. These gorgeous masterpieces take months to do, but the end result is breathtaking.

Today’s project is just on making a felted ball which still takes some time to make, but the majority of the project is complete in just one afternoon. I’m working with my 8-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son and when the felted balls are done, you’ll be able to see each of their skill sets and how much I helped them. We are not embroidering these balls right now. Either they will remain just as felted balls, or become heads for dolls, or eventually be embroidered. We initially did this project with the intention to use the balls for our mental and movement math activities, but found we prefer heavier objects like bean bags or racket balls. However, these balls are ideal for safe indoor movement math provided they are used appropriately.

Wool Felted Ball

For this project, I used scraps of yarn from other projects to make up the core of the ball. Next, I covered the core with undyed wool. For my daughter, she wanted a pink ball so I covered hers with additional pink wool batt. The wool is from A Child’s Dream and we typically use it in our homeschool for various projects including felted animals for our nature main lesson blocks. You’ll only need a few supplies for this project, but you may consider working outside or in the kitchen, as it’s a project that gets messy fast. Aside from a small amount of wool, and something for the core, which can be more wool, but I liked having the opportunity to use up my scraps, you’ll need two bowls of water: one hot (but not too hot you can’t put your hands in) and one cold (cold water from the tap is fine). You’ll also need some dish soap. Have a towel on hand too!

The starting of this project takes a little skill, so I did quite a bit for my 8-year-old daughter who wouldn’t have this handwork project in a Waldorf setting at her age, but because we are homeschooling, a lot of our projects end up being done by multiple children in different grades. I formed the core for her and added the wool. I also dunked it in water and formed it until is was a sphere. Once I thought the shape would hold, I handed it over to her to finish. I made the core for my son and felt confident he could manage the rest, which he could. The felting part takes a long time. I’ve shown more the process than I normally would show for a tutorial because this is one project in which the children (and possible an adult), would think the project is done far sooner than when it’s actually done. Plan on about 15-25 minutes of felting by dunking the ball into hot water with a bit of soap and forming it in the palm of your hands and dunking it in the cold water and repeating over and over again until the ball is firm.

My daughter’s ball isn’t as firm as my son’s because she tired sooner than he did and she didn’t felt firmly. In the end, while you can tell the difference, I think they are both just fine. The funnest part is bouncing the balls in a bathtub! You can pop them in the dryer to dry, and you can leave them there as dryer balls, or you can set them in a dry place and let them air dry. It took ours a full week to be completely dry all the way through, but they will be dry to the touch within a few days.

Stitching

Welcome autumn with this simple, yet beautiful handwork project that’s great for children about eight years and up. All you need is felt and embroidery thread. You also need a needle and a pair of scissors. I’ve made a pattern (with the help of the original sample made by Melanie Hatch, a master Waldorf handwork teacher) that you can download for free here. The felt and embroidery floss at A Child’s Dream. https://achildsdream.com/dmc-facial-embroidery-floss-9-pack/ https://achildsdream.com/holland-wool-felt-collection-autumn-tapestry/

Materials for Waldorf Doll Making

Doll making is found in several grades in a Waldorf school. Starting in kindergarten, simple dolls will be played with and often even made by the teacher for the students. With a simple square cloth and a bit of wool and string, you can make a rudimentary doll by stuffing a bit of wool into the center of the cloth. Pinch it closed with some string and there you have a very simple doll. Add string to make arms and a body. Less is more when children are young so their imagination may be exercised. Faceless dolls are common through the younger years for then the expressions and emotions are brought to life by the child.

Grade 5

Knitting

Grade 6

Stitching

This is a very easy beginner’s stitching project. You can free hand a sea star or download a pattern for this project. I used Holland felt in 100% wool in the color Tea Rose. Cut two sea star shapes. Line them up so they are the same. Use embroidery thread in a the color of your choice to stitch the edges using a blanket stitch. You can separate the embroidery thread for it to be thinner. After stitching one arm you can beginning filling it with filler. I used wool, but you could use anything from fill from an old pillow to cotton balls. Alternatively, you could add some details to one side of the sea star before stitching it together. I found this to be quite time consuming and had my kids skip this step. My 11-year-old son opted to do it anyway, but only did some bumpy stitching around the center.

Try your hand at pattern making! For simple silhouettes, this project is great for beginners and as an intro to making your own projects. Watch as I work my way through this project while giving you tips. See how I fix little mistakes and make alterations on the spot. The results are darling in the end, so I know you can achieve success, too!

For this project, I hand sketched a silhouette of a seahorse. I referred to images online for help and made some changes to make it easier. I gave my pattern a rough cut and then pinned it to my felt and cut both pieces of felt and the pattern at the same time. It actually worked really well! And it ensured that the patterns were exactly the same. Next, I stitched using embroidery floss (I separated three of the six strands out) all around the perimeter using a loop stitch. I filled with wool batt as I stitched. I finished off with two black eyes and the project was complete!

Check out how I store my floss for ideas on how you can store your fibers. The materials I used for this project are the following: Embroidery needle, Embroidery floss in color 352, Holland wool felt in Salmon, and Wool batt stuffing. Wool/rayon felt blend vendors: Over The River Felt and ThreadFollower for felt and intermediate kits.

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2 thoughts on “Waldorf Handwork Through the Grades

  1. Thank you posting that. I always have a hard time finding out what would be the best handwork to do with my kids.. It is super helpful this post.
    I was wondering if you have any plans to have some Fall Themed Activity, just like you did for Winter ( I am getting this one pretty soon). Thank you! You have no idea how much you help me. I am homeschooling because of you. Somehow you show that ” it can be done”.

    1. Thank you Juliana! I really appreciate you taking the time to share this with me and congrats on homeschooling! I know that it was challenging for me when I first started homeschooling and online resources were sparse and hard to come by.

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