I quilt and sew as a hobby, but I must admit that I was skeptical about the idea of having textiles as a learning tool.  In our planning meeting for the MakerSpace we decided textiles would be one of our first focus areas, but I thought “What purpose would sewing have in the classroom?”

As I reflected on this question, my initial thoughts were connections to the textiles industry itself.  I thought students could sew something and then look at the manufacturing or environmental costs, or even human rights issues like the conditions that led to the collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh, or connections to history like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

triangle shirtwaist factory

I thought of sewing and textiles as a means for engagement in other issues, not as an end in themselves.

But….then I found out about the Lilypad Arduino and some other nifty tech tools and now I wish I was teaching in the grade with a textiles focus.  I think we definitely need to incorporate this into our MakerSpace.  Let me show you what I saw that changed my mind and made me super inspired about the potential (pun intended) for textiles in Maker-ing:

My first thought after seeing that video was “Wow, that’s really cool, but would kids learn anything or just make stuff that was pretty?”  I did a little research and found that some people have actually used conductive textiles to teach computer science.  The full article is accessible through databases, but I can’t post it here without violating copyright.

Another article, “A Crafts Oriented Approach to Computing in High School: Introducing Computational Concepts, Practices, and Perspectives with Electronic Textiles,” offers some interesting insight into how “playing” with the fabrics actually helps students learn about computing.  Deborah Fields, one of the study’s authors, has another paper coming out soon about how using textiles to teach computing can promote the development of a “programming” identity.  (Professor Fields also does some research into gamification of learning, which is another topic of interest of mine for another post.)

Developing an identity as a “maker” is a big part of what the maker mindset is about.  Though it might seem stereotypical to have girls do sewing projects, the textiles projects are not an end in themselves, but a means to another end of learning and building the self confidence and identity that “I can do it!”  as well as promoting curiosity about how things work and how to make things better.  Research into science identity and its impact on persistence in STEM careers is receiving more focus these days as we learn more about how the “soft skills” impact education maybe more than content.

How could I use textiles as a teacher? I teach the biomedical class and I would love to incorporate some of these conductive textiles into a project.  Adafruit has some cool ideas:

A UV Sensing Hat – skin cancer protection

A Heart Rate Badge – fitness/heart health

I could think of quite a few more because the biomedical class has the advantage of not having set content to teach.

As for my 8th grade class, which is rather prescribed by the Texas TEKS…I’ll have to do a bit more thinking there.  Maybe an accelerometer to help “differentiate between speed, velocity, and acceleration” or light up shoes to show force applications?  The hard part, for me, is structuring the project so content doesn’t get lost in cool creativity.  Any ideas out there?






One comment

  1. Sewing is a multifaceted learning experience and puts down deep roots into many aspects of making. It is often, as it was for myself, the first introduction to drafting and pattern making and turning materials into a 3D object. It is also an terrific introduction to following step by step directions.

    Plus of course there is a lot of math involved along with accurate measuring. If you create your own patterns for clothing you will do some deep 3D thinking as you are going to covering over a lot of curved surfaces and have to manipulate materials to do so in a pleasing way.

    A sewing machine is one of the first power tools for making that historically a girl might master. It takes hand to eye coordination, timed movements and coordination of speed to precisely guide materials along a complex path while of course also working safely with a tool that can cause personal injury. Your brain is memorizing those patterns of movement of hands and even your feet and that is creating long lasting neural pathways that will translate to many future task on other tools. If you are good at using a sewing machine you will find it easy to use a bandsaw, jigsaw, tablesaw and router table because all of those types of movements for those tools are there when you learn to sew on a machine. Plus most essential for any maker, the safety training that ingrains the need to focus closely on what you are doing to protect yourself.

    Hand sewing develops a truly unique ability, the ability to direct a hand you can’t see in making tiny precise movements. Your hand is hidden behind a solid object while gripping a very small needle with a sharp point that must enter an exact point. This type of precise movement control translates into working with things like circuit boards and the placing of fine wires, electronic bits and pieces and soldering them.

    I have spent a lifetime making things from Jumbo Jet aircraft at Boeing to tiny paper miniatures. I have worked with wood, metals, plastics, fabric, paper, clay, rubber etc. Learned how to shape and fasten the materials and design things for them. I have designed in 3D CAD for several decades and in my mid 60′ for my own pleasure and for income for my own products I use laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC milling machines, vinyl cutters and lots of woodworking tools. I have taken classes in programing, electricity, building computers, CAD drafting as well as all the science and math subjects. You don’t ever want to stop exploring new educational opportunities. But my Making career all started with learning to sew and I have always realized that sewing was the core foundation course I built upon to gain new skills.

    My latest project is putting a new interior into a tiny vintage fiberglass motorhome that I will be using as a mobile artist live/work Makerspace. There is no motorhome on the market that is suited to such work so I am creating the space to do it in. Why not, I have the skills, the time and the tools. It will also involve a lot of sewing since there is upholstery to be done, curtains for privacy and exterior and interior curtains for controlling the heat loss and gain. Various tool rolls and bags are the perfect solution to contain and protect objects so they don’t crash around under movement. Lightweight fabric storage compartments that suspend under the seat boards on the couch also need to be custom made. So sewing really is an essential part of the custom renovation as no doubt it will be on your Airstream project. You will have to make patterns and templates for all those new walls and cabinets to fit the curves and sewing teaches you that too.

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