I am in the middle of reading The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles with my 4th graders, and they just finished designing their own Whangdoodle scrappy caps this week. It was a surprisingly successful craftivity and brought me unexpected teacher joy all week. The Whangdoodle book is written by Julie Edwards (you may know her as Julie Andrews… or the original Mary Poppins) and was published in the 1970s. It is one of my favorite fantasy books for upper elementary. Three siblings travel by imagination to Whangdoodleland with an eccentric professor. In order to travel from our world to the Whangdoodle’s world, they must wear brightly colored scrappy caps. The caps are like ruby slippers or the wardrobe to Narnia; they are the bridge to the magical land.
I wanted my students to have their own scrappy cap to wear during our novel study to focus our thinking about the book and activate our imaginations. I ordered knit beany caps for all and provided lots of fun accessories. I had a few reservations about the activity. I was not sure if the students would be that interested in stitching designs on the hats, or if they would buy into wearing the hats during our reading time. Boy, was I wrong.
The students spent a solid two days embroidering, gluing, and attaching various embellishments to their hats– boys and girls. They planned their designs carefully and figured out ways to stitch letters and patterns. I met with small groups and taught blanket stitch, chain, and a backstitch, and they started teaching each other and sharing ideas. A few knew how to make pom poms from yarn and started explaining the process to interested classmates. They figured out ways to mix felt with yarn, buttons, and sequins to add different effects to the hats. The results, both skills wise and with the hats’ appearance, have been well worth the class time dedicated to the project.
Scrappy Cap Materials
- knit hats, buy in bulk, solid colors
- yarn, bright colors
- plastic needles, one per student
- fabric glue
- hot glue gun
- felt, bright colors
- feathers, bright colors
- foam shapes
- any other fun, decorative materials
I made a sample hat that I wear during class too. I shared the different techniques I used on the hat before letting the students loose to work on their own. All the materials were at a station, and students worked at their own pace. I set up the hot glue guns (I had two) at a station on the floor. If you don’t have low temp hot glue guns, include work gloves at the station. Small cloth gardening gloves work well to protect fingers from burning.
It helps to have some group instruction for basic sewing how-tos. I recommend students start with a piece of yarn that is about an arm’s length. They would put a simple slip knot at the end of the piece of yarn and thread the other end through the needle creating a fairly long “tail”. If they don’t have enough of the tail part pulled through the needle, they are constantly de-threading their yarn. Some of my students liked to tie the thread to the needle, but it created problems for them if they wanted to pull a stitch out. For right-handed students, they should hold the hat with their left hand, and use their right hand for the needle work (the opposite for a lefty). After observing students hold the hats, I realized how many benefits the activity has for OT type issues. Many were worried about really gripping onto the hat, and when they didn’t, the fabric was too wobbly to get the needle to pull through. The gripping hand works as a guide and stabilizer for the needle work. All students started with a basic running stitch.
For the handful of students that wanted to get fancier, I pulled small groups and showed them a few specialty stitches. This helped students think spatially about moving left to right or right to left. Keeping one hand inside the hat in order to poke in and out of the center of the hat and not wrapping around the outside was little bit of a brain teaser for the kids. They also needed to plan ahead a few steps to create the design they wanted.
If you can work in the time for a sewing activity in your class, it will be worth it. The students activated a whole slew of skills that I did not expect, and they are so proud of their finished hats. They have been really excited to wear them, and we put them on not only for reading time, but during tests, to complete a writing activity, or just because it’s fun to have them on and makes us happy.
To see my full Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles novel unit, CLICK HERE. There are many posts with tutorials or YouTube videos for embroidery stitches. I found this BLOG POST with a few simple examples. I also had a “sewing for kids” book that I brought to the classroom, and students could flip through it.