Adventures on Zoom (or teaching high school students how to weave online)

by Patty Townsend, high school arts teacher

This fall presented challenges like no other: how to teach hands-on art/craft classes in a totally hands-off setting? Nothing like a pandemic to create a little chaos! Teachers were turning themselves inside out, scrambling to manage brand new technology and create instructional videos & slideshows. I’ve been teaching Basketry, Weaving, and Bookbinding classes for the last couple of decades at SF Waldorf High School—all required classes. 

For the weaving classes, the 10th graders typically weave a scarf or pillowcase on 4 or 8 shaft floor looms, in addition to tablet woven belts, guitar straps, etc.  This school year sent me back to the drawing board. I had 13 eager students hoping to get going, but we obviously couldn’t send home any floor looms!

The solution? Tapestry weaving—offered for the very first time! I quickly amassed 13 small tapestry looms and created 13 kits with tools, yarns, and instructions. 

We started out by establishing rules: keep your video cameras turned on during group instruction although nothing could persuade them to unmute, except when personally asked a question. This came as a surprise since the students are normally quite spirited in person.

I usually teach the class by presenting a good deal of information; however, this became a class much more focused on artistic expression—more like creating woven paintings. We gathered at the start of class for short demos on technique, then I asked, “Are you ready to weave?” They gave a resounding, “Yes!” I encouraged them to put on some music at home and to weave their hearts out. At the end of class, they returned to show their work. They also emailed detailed pictures so I could assess and make suggestions.

We started out making samplers of basic techniques for weaving, joinings, rya knots, soumak, etc., and then creating a final piece. Some students created cartoons while others worked spontaneously.

The conclusion to this year’s curricular upheaval? I’ll let you be the judges…but I think it actually worked! Although some of the students bemoaned not getting onto the floor looms, they all seemed quite grateful for the experience. For if there was ever a time we all need satisfying, creative work, it is now.