As long as I live I will never forget the special education students in my art classes. They have provided the most genuinely sweet moments for all the students in my classes over the years.
Today a little guy named Pete (not his real name) broke up my entire sixth grade class with his reaction to the color paddle chain I use to teach color mixing basics. This is a child who literally had to have his little fingers lifted off the door jam one by one as he entered the class. To say he was not feeling interested in attending art class was an understatement.
I took a calculated risk and brought everyone to the table where he sat with a paraprofessional to explain a color theory project to the rest of the class.
As I manipulated the red and yellow paddles over each other….I said to Pete, “Look, it’s magic…orange!” His face lit up like a Christmas tree…he grabbed the paddles and we were off to the races. He spent the rest of the class in a rainbow-colored trance, combining the colors, looking at his world through those paddles. The students gathered around us were smiling, laughing at his joyful reaction. God, it was a nice moment. Can you ask for a better explanation of the effect of color on the world?
As I walked around the room the rest of the period he kept looking up at me through the green paddle with this mischievous grin, saying “You look like the incredible hulk Mrs Strandberg, …..green…aaarghhhh!” I’d say “Aaaargghhh” back.
I’m sitting here at the kitchen table the first Saturday after school started this week. We had the students Thursday and Friday. What was old in May is new again in August. It is my nineteenth year of teaching elementary art in a small rural Texas school and my first days of school were good.
In the hallway the first day I saw a mom come in with her fifth grader. Mom had on what we used to call “a house dress”, big wire curlers and fuzzy house shoes. The daughter was holding her hand and grinning from ear to ear. The Granddad was carrying two bags of school supplies. They stopped and the Granddad said to me,”She said her mom couldn’t embarrass her the first day of school.” The girl laughed and posed with her mom for a selfie. As they separated and the girl walked on to the gym the mom looked like tears were close. But she also looked happy. And so did her child.
Harry Wong’s words ring in my ears. “The first days of school are so important.” As I welcomed my students this year I remember again that the first two things in their heads are, ” Am I in the right place?” and “Does she know my name?”
On the first day of school, your name is the only thing that really belongs to you. Everything else, your time, your brain, even when you eat and go to the bathroom becomes part of “the schedule”. So to a kid, ” my name”, “my seat” and “my chair” become a big identity thing. After a couple of months of summer freedom that comes as a shock to the system.
Lots of good things happen. Like a student that brought me a cookie at Meet the Teacher night. It said something like”May your days be great and your coffee be strong.” I can’t remember exactly because I ate that sucker the first day of school. It helped.
I get to see big brothers and big sisters walk their siblings around my room and say ” I used to sit here.” And “This room looks so small, I thought it was bigger!” I even had a former student bring their child to meet me because they were going to be in my class this year. I’m getting old.
Even the challenges are somehow familiar and endearing. “No you can’t say fart.” “No, you should not make a fart noise even if you are not farting.” There is nothing in the world funnier to a fifth grader than a fart.
I had a small sixth grade class practice safety drills. As we practiced the lock down drill the mood turned quiet. They were sitting on the floor, away from windows with their backs against cabinets. I turned off the lights to show them how the room would look, “See, we can still see each other with the light coming through the cracks in the blinds.” I told them how my number one job is to keep them safe, even before teaching art. And you could see the concern in their eyes. I hate that our world has put that concern there. The one student said, “It’s ok, I’m a black belt.” Everyone laughed and came back to their seat. But I got hugs as they left the class.
And so I realize once again how precious these children are and what a privilege it is to be with them each day. It was a good start.
For those of you who read about the nearly disastrous experience of Norman the fawn in our waterfall pond, here is a happy postscript. Having not seen Norman since Tuesday, we were not sure that he made it. We got a happy surprise last evening when he appeared at our donkey trough with his mom, seemingly no worse for his experience. Welcome back Norman!
I usually wake early, so I was up first this morning watching television when I heard my husband George open the front door and go out into the yard. When he opened the door to the garden room where I was, I knew as soon as I saw his face it was bad. He said, “The fawn is in the pond.” The “pond” is a waterfall with a fish pond that we built each other for our 25th wedding anniversary. We live in rural Texas, behind pipe and cable fencing. You can’t even see there is a pond or waterfall unless you look at it from our house.
It holds a thousand gallons of water and when my husband stands in the pond, which we only do to clean it, it hits him about hip high. In the fifteen years we’ve had the pond, countless animals have drunk from it, deer, squirrels, birds, raccoons, dogs, cats and God knows what else. Nothing has ever drown in that pond.
My heart sank. “Has it drown?”, I asked. We’d only seen this fawn for the first time yesterday when his mother brought him up to our donkey trough. “No, but we’ll have to get him out, the sides are too steep and he’s not strong enough to drag himself out.” Of course I didn’t take time to get my camera, but when I walked out I roughly saw the scene in City Slickers when the calf named Norman starts to drown in the river and Billy Crystal saves him.
My husband was talking softly to the little guy as I came out of the house; George said he had swum right over to him when he got there. He had his head up on the ledge of the pond, looking at him as if to say, “Can you please get me out of here?” The fawn was obviously exhausted; no telling how long he had been in there struggling. George put one leg in the pond and looked at me. “I’m going to hand him out to you. You think you can hold him and put him in the grass?” Adrenalin is an amazing thing. My first thought was how lucky I was to be married to this man who was about to grab this thrashing little deer in the middle of a thousand gallons of water to save it. “Yes!”, I said. I think I could have thrown a refrigerator at that point. By the way, to add to the drama of this scene, the mother doe was across the driveway in another pasture, frantically pacing back and forth, but too scared to come any closer.
In one swift motion, he lifted the struggling fawn to me and I scurried over to the nearest tree and set it gently down in the grass. I will never forget the sound it made as George handed it to me. If you’ve heard any baby cry for its mom, it’s pretty darn close. Surprisingly enough the fawn could stand. I let him go and he stood there shivering. Now mom was nowhere to be seen.
We looked at each other. “Now what?” We decided quickly to leave him alone and go in the house to see if the mother would get him. It was hard to leave him there. Several phone calls to our sweet neighbors whose son works at a deer reserve to see if we were doing the right thing. “Yes, leave it alone, don’t touch it, the mom will come back.” The fawn lay down under the tree and started cleaning itself.
The morning progressed with us peeking through the closed blinds for over an hour, to see if the fawn was still there. Finally, about an hour and a half later, he was gone. The lilies in the fish pond look like they’ve been in a veg-o-matic.
But no matter. The goldfish are swimming around through the shredded vegetation thinking…”What just happened?”
Later that morning….after I’d taken my blood pressure medicine and we were sitting on the front porch drinking tea my husband said, ” I hope we see Norman again.” “Me too.” He’s named him. Good sign for that little guy, I bet he’s got one whopper of a story to tell his friends.
I admit that I planned this lesson in my head before I went to the workshop. I knew the exhibit included Asian costumes and textiles, so I felt fairly confident they would have beautiful kumihimo ornamentation. I was right. I can’t even remember where I first came across this Japanese craft; probably hunting on Pinterest for a textile craft I could use with my 4th, 5th and 6th grade art students. We make our own cardboard looms and weave using inexpensive yarn. My students love it. Now I’m hooked. Here is my lesson plan. Hope you can use it. All the photos are my own.
History of Kumihimo
Kumihimo began as a type of finger braiding that was used in China, Korea and Japan. The oldest form of Kumihimo used in Japanese clothing and religious ceremonies is believed to be from the Nara Period (710 to 794 CE). Like many Asian crafts, Kumihimo is all about detail, with many versions having a specific pattern, use and meaning. There are many types of stands made to hold the strings to weave Kumihimo and many types of fibers can be used, like silk, nylon, hemp and even leather.
Translated as a “gathering of threads”, one of the most widely known and studied versions of Kumihimo are the silk Japanese braids used on Samurai armor in Japan during the Kamakura Period (1185 to1333 CE) through the Muromachi Period (1336 to1573 CE). The cords were used on helmets and to bind the armor plates together. Each suit of armor could require as much as 250 to 300 meters of braid. Kumihimo was also used to bind the hilts of swords and harnesses of horses used in battle.
With the rise of Buddhism during the Heian Period (794 to1185 CE), kumihimo braids were made by the monks for clothing and to decorate temples.
Kumihimo is still used in Japan today as a part of the kimono. The obi, the wide sash used as a belt on the kimono is secured by a Kumihimo braid called an obijime. Hand-made kumihimo obijime are on the decline because of the invention of machine-made Kumihimo, but obijime are still the biggest use of Kumihimo made in Japan today.
Luckily this ancient Asian craft has been popularized around the world today because of the invention of the foam hand-held Kumihimo looms for braid and jewelry making.
Interesting notes about Kumihimo:
Tea storage containers used in the Japanese tea ceremony were often secured with elaborate Kumihimo braids. The knots used were so elaborately tied it was easy to see if someone had tampered with them, so you could avoid be poisoned. Tamper-free packaging, even then.
A Kumihimo color pattern of lilac, magenta, blue, green, gold, and an orange specially imported from China was so powerful it could ward off “evil ghosts”. Called “Shōsō-in colors” when these were used in a belt, they were said to ward off bad luck for the wearer.
According to Yasuhisa Fukushima, owner of the Fukushima Store (a Tokyo kumihimo shop) and the director of the Association for Tokyo Kumihimo, 90 percent of the products created by Tokyo kumihimo artisans are obijime. “We have tried producing other accessories such as ornaments for keyholders and cords for keitaiand glasses, but these are still minor sellers compared to obijime,” he says.
The Japanese national treasure “Heike Noukyou” is a set of thirty-three sutra scrolls that are tied with elaborate Kumihimo braids.
Directions for kongo gumi (strong braid)– makes one 20 – inch necklace (including end caps and clasp):
Kumihimo Foam Loom
Four each of two colors – 1.5-yard (54 inches) pieces of 1mm satin cord (I used 1mm hemp cord in the illustrations) – total of eight pieces
Eight plastic kumihimo bobbins
E6000 industrial strength adhesive
Needle nose pliers
Tooth picks and paper to apply adhesive and protect work surface
Pendant with 6mm or larger bail (not shown)
End clasps (5.5 or 6 mm)
Binding thread (to bind braid before cutting it)
Flip foam disk over and mark north, south east west positions with sharpie (avoids the confusion of the numbers on the front until you get the basics down)
Measure and cut your eight 54-inch pieces of cord (four each of two colors)
Tie knot in one end, place tied end in the center of the hole on the kumihimo foam loom
Snap strings into place on loom as shown in photo (one color north and south, one color east and west). Put only one string in each slot.
Wrap loose cord on bobbin to within one inch of loom
Basic braiding technique for kongo gumi:
Take top right cord and bring it down to the bottom to the slot just right of the two cords at the bottom.
Take the left-hand cord from the three cords now at the bottom and bring it up to the slot to the left of the one cord at the top.
Turn the disk one quarter turn and repeat steps 1, 2 and 3. Top-right down, bottom-left up, turn.
Stop Position If you stop before you finish your braid, always leave the three cords at the bottom. That way you know when you resume, you take the cord on the left, lift it to the top-left position and then turn the disk.
Finishing your necklace:
Bind the ends of your braids with beading thread so that they will not unravel before your glue on your closures.
Use a toothpick to apply your E6000 glue to the inside of your closure caps. Be sure to do this over paper to protect your worksurface from any glue.
Insert your braid ends into the closure caps and let them rest for 24 hours.