For five years, I had been teaching weaving to senior citizens through Creative Aging Mid-South. The students I have worked with often express their creativity through their lifelong passions and experiences. Students’ abilities have ranged from the completely independent and self learning individuals to those with dementia who require a fair amount of assistance and guidance toward the completion of their projects.
When I work with individuals demonstrating decreased levels of cognitive functioning due to dementia, disease or other illness, I need to structure the project so that the many steps of weaving are broken down into a limited number of tasks with a repetitive element. For instance, residents of an Alzheimer’s or dementia program will more easily remember the repeated rhythmic chants of “under, over, under, over” than trying to remember the many steps of weaving with a frame loom such as “raise the heddle, insert the shuttle, beat, lower the heddle, insert the shuttle, beat” and so on. In fact, many of the individuals with cognitive impairments will remember the under and over motion of weaving on a potholder loom, either from their own childhoods or from teaching their children.
In previous classes offered to dementia groups, I taught weaving on a simple frame loom, or on a cardboard loom where the finished project had to be removed in order to be displayed or worn, such as a woven pendant or necklace. This meant that the students needed to finish their projects before the piece had to be removed. More often than not, I was the one who ended up having to finish their projects and then preparing them for display or to be worn. In this way, the art work became a piece woven by me and not by the students! And so I had to remind myself to KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID!
For my current class with a group of residents in an assisted living facility which housed an Alzheimer’s unit, I referred to this book for inspiration.
The book is Small Loom and Freeform Weaving: Five Ways to Weave by Barbara Matthiessen. It is available here at Amazon.com. And specifically, I was interested in adapting this altered book project by Ms. Matthiessen and present it to the members of the Alzheimer’s group:
The author of Small Loom and Freeform Weaving used the discarded cover of an old book as a loom to weave a non-traditional piece with open spaces in the weaving. In my own studio, I have many sheets of mat board as well as scraps of decorative paper, and so I designed my own mat board looms for the residents of the assisted living facility.
The looms were made from rectangles of mat board with a decorative frame of scrapbooking paper around the four edges. Carpet tacks were inserted at the top and the bottom of the boards and cotton carpet warp was wound around the tacks. Students used a large wooden weaving needle and bulky novelty yarns in a variety of colors and textures to weave under and over the cotton warp threads.
For some residents, I needed to begin the first row or two so that they could have a visual image of what their weaving would look like. Once they began a rhythm of weaving “under, over, under, over”, the class was well underway.
Students most appeared to enjoy the various textures and weights of the yarns, and the brightest and softest yarns were the most popular choices.
Ten students joined me in this class and will continue to meet weekly for three more weeks. Many will be able to complete their projects by the end of this time. And the mat board loom will become part of their art creation, because their weaving will not have to be removed from it in order for their work to be displayed! Whether or not they finish weaving, all will have a frame with a woven picture that they can proudly display, and know that they wove it themselves!