LESSON TITLE:                  African Textile Design: Finger Spinning and Weaving

AUTHOR:                             L. Andrus                               

GRADE/AGE LEVEL:        Can be adapted for grades K-9

WRITTEN HERE FOR:      Teens in special education





Unit/Theme and Relation of this Lesson to Larger; Major Concepts to be Learned


This lesson will commence our semester-long unit on studying lifestyles and traditions of various peoples and their cultures in comparison with our own. The focus of the teens’ classroom curriculum is on living skills.  The Art Partners program will expose these students to the ways in which other people around the world practice the same living skills but in diverse ways.  Today’s lesson will begin a mini-unit on textiles: What do different people wear?  How is their clothing made?  How are cloth and clothes  decorated?  How are artmakers involved in textile production? How is this different from the way we do things in the USA, how is it the same? 


How people dress and decorate themselves is of particular interest to teens, so we will explore these ideas as well. To begin, we go to Africa to learn about West Coast traditions of weaving and the fabrication and decoration of cloth for clothing. Students will explore the aesthetics of textile design and production as they learn about West African textile industry. Part I of lesson will introduce the culture, the people and textile artisans (slides, artifacts, hands-on exploration), and Part II will allow time for students to complete their own weavings using a simple cardboard loom. Weaving designs will incorporate personal symbolism through the use of color.


Relation to Life:


As citizens working towards integration into the mainstream, it is important for these young men and women to become aware of the larger world that exists outside of their own.  In addition to enrichment, and for instilling awareness and pride in cultural identity, broadening the students’ view of our global world will enable them to become part of the vital process of working toward understanding and unity through recognition and appreciation for diversity. It is not possible for the citizens of this new millennium to live in peace and productivity without each person attaining such a view and attitude. Increasing awareness of a culture’s aesthetics productions has universal appeal and can aid in the promotion of this process.

The selection of weaving as a focus is deliberately meant to provide an experience that is inherently calming and therapeutic, and through actual experience, allows the students to center, focus and sustain attention to task. In addition, the weaving process will enhance the students’ fine motor control and other psychomotor skills. 




Goals Specific to Unit/Lesson (reflecting NYS Art Standards and Targeted Learning areas.  See key at end):


The students will:


·        Increase knowledge and understanding of African culture, particularly of West Coast countries  (Std. # 4, AH, A/C, S)

·        Develop greater appreciation for cultural diversity in lifestyle and aesthetic systems; and for similarity (e.g., all makers of art use art elements and principles) (Std. 4, AH, AC, AE, S)

·        Increase understanding and appreciation for artisans and artistry of African textile design and production (Std. 3 & 4, AC, AE)

·        Develop skill in the art of weaving (Std. 2, AP)

·        Improve cognitive skills: abstract thinking (symbol), and planning, follow through, problem solving, and memory recall  (Std. 3, AC, AE, A/C)

·        Improve perceptual/motor skills: directionality, fine motor, visual tracking

(Std. 2, AP, P/M)

·        Develop personal aesthetic sensibilities (Std. 1, AE, E)

·        Improve attending and participation skills (Std. 1, AP, W/S, S)


Performance Objectives for Observational Assessment (reflecting goals):


The students will be able to:




·        Name at least two features a culture encompasses

·        Describe at least one thing learned about African culture 

·       Define the term textile

·       Name one example of African textile design (Adinkra, kente, mud cloth, adire eleko)

·        Attend to slide presentation without disruption 

·       Name/indicate the warp and weft threads on a weaving loom

·       Finger spin at least five inches of thread from a cotton boll

·       Define the term symbol




·       Name/describe at least one personal quality to represent in weaving, and select at least one color to symbolize this quality (e.g., I will use red to symbolize my strength) 

·        Using the plastic needle and pre-warped loom, create a weaving that:

a.  is at least 4 inches long

b.  uses at least two different colors, with at least one being the personal                                                                                                                                

          symbol color

·        Cut and tie fringe on completed weaving with S/Ts’ help




·       Recall at least one example of African textile design/method 

·       Describe how larger pieces of cloth for clothing are made in West African culture (individual strips created are sewn together to create a larger piece of fabric)

·       Describe at least one thing about African culture that s/he admires  






Teacher-made:       various weaving examples, a cotton boll with a pre-spun length of thread, African triangle loom (if possible), culture chart, map of Africa, warp and weft chart, list of personal qualities chart or handout (see #21 under Procedural Steps)


Art Resources:       slides presenting an overview of African dress; slides from book, Master Weaver of Ghana by Louise Meyer (see; selection of African artifacts (textiles including example of kente, Adinkra, adire eleko and mud cloth); CD’s of African music


Kente: cloth that is woven with symbolic colors and shapes

Adinkra: cloth that is printed with Adinkra symbols,

Adire Eleko: a cloth design created using a cassava paste resist process

Mud Cloth: cloth printed with design using a mud paste resist


Vocabulary (defined in student-friendly language):


Culture:  a way of life; the way certain people live; the customs, habits and traditions of a group of people

Loom:  what we weave on

Symbol: something that stands for an idea, like a heart shape for love, or the color red to mean stop, or the golden arches for McDonalds,

Textile:  fabric, cloth, material clothes can be made from

Warp: the bottom/vertical strings of a loom that go on the loom first

Weft: the horizontal threads we weave through the warp strings


Materials and Preparation:


boom box and CD of African music


slide projector, screen, extension cord

piece of carded wool

cotton boll for each (order from;

cardboard looms for each (can be bought or made from corrugated cardboard)

cotton thread for warp; warp each loom beforehand, app. 4” wide

colored yarns for weft

plastic needle with large eye

hair pic or comb for each


masking tape & black markers for labeling names

larger loom with wider warp and weft material for demonstration 




Procedural Steps: (details on procedures from beginning to end with                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ability-appropriate language scripted in where necessary)


NOTE:This lesson will take place over two sessions.     




1.         African music should be playing in background as we set up.


2.         Lead teacher opens with introduction to new unit, explaining that the world is such an interesting place with so many different countries and people and cultures.  Teacher asks if students can state where they live: city, state, country (continent, if possible).  Can anyone come and find the USA (North America) on this globe?


3.         Teacher uses globe to help students see how many other countries there are in the world, and asks them if they can name any other countries that they know of. Does anyone have a relative who came here to the USA from another country?


4.         Teacher focuses on continent of Africa: Does anyone recognize the music we heard before? What place in the world do you think it might be from? Teacher shows students Africa on the globe and the maps, focusing on the West Coast area of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, suggesting that we can learn something about the people and culture of this area of the world.


5.         Teacher helps students define the term, culture using culture chart: Culture is the way that people live, their habits, their customs, their traditions. Can anyone think of something that is a part of a person’s culture/our culture, the way they/we live? (use the chart which lists: food, clothing, music, art, language, religion, beliefs, holidays, etc.)


6.         Using the map, the teacher explains geography of Western Africa, telling about some of the ethnic groups that live in these places, like the people who all speak the Akan language, such as the Ashanti from the country of Ghana.


7.         The teacher engages students in discussion that all people around the world have to have living skills in order to survive.  Just like us, people from all different cultures have to learn how to take care of themselves: cook, keep a house, learn a job, work, get around their towns and cities, use money, etc.


8.         Teacher focuses on idea that people also have to know how to dress and how to get clothes to wear, and suggests that we look at some sides of different ways that African people dress (point out relation between clothing and such factors as climate). 


9.         Following the slides, the teachers help students to discuss: Where do we get our clothes?  Does everyone buy clothes in a store?  Do some people make their own clothes?  If so, where do we get cloth or fabric from to make clothes? Who decorates the fabric? How is an artmaker involved?


10.       Teacher explains that today, we will learn about some of the ways that the Akan people of West Africa make cloth to sew into clothes for themselves, and to sell to others in the market place. Teacher explains that the business of making and decorating fabric is called the textile business, and defines the term, textile.


11.       Using artifacts from the display, teacher discusses and shows different examples of  African textiles, explaining each piece and how it is designed and produced: Adinkra, adire eleko, mud cloth, and finishing with kente cloth. Teacher explains use of indigenous materials, making art and design materials and tools from nature, the use of cultural symbols (recall term) in the choice of color and pattern of the cloths, some meanings of the symbols that have been passed down for generations, who can wear the cloth and when/why, the idea of talking cloth (oral history and tradition), etc.


12.       How do you think the kente cloth was made?  Teacher now focuses on the art and craft of weaving to make cloth, explaining how strips of cloth are woven and then sewed together to make a whole/larger piece of cloth that can then be made into a garment.  


13.       Show selected slides from the book, Master Weaver of Ghana (optional, depending on time allocation and students’ attention spans).




14.       Following slides, the teacher explains that to weave cloth, you must start with thread, and asks students: where do we get thread?

Teacher explains that natural threads all come from nature in form of a plant or animal fur, showing wool from a sheep, and then the cotton.


15.       Teacher presents cotton, from seed to plant to cotton boll, explaining how cotton is grown in these parts of Africa we are studying because of the climate. Where else is cotton grown? In the southern USA for many generations. All students are given a cotton boll to gently handle.


16.       Teacher asks students how they think we can get thread from a cotton boll?    What do we have to do with this fluff of cotton? We have to spin it!  What if we don't have a spinning wheel?  How can we do this?  Teacher begins to demonstrate finger spinning.


17.       Each student can begin to finger spin from their cotton boll, working around the seeds: hold boll in one hand, using pinkie and ring finger to hold stem, and middle, index and thumb to gently hold the fluff, as index and thumb of opposite hand begin to gently pull out a bit of fluff and start to spin it clockwise by twisting in one direction only while gently continuing to pull out. Continue pulling and spinning gently, twisting in the same direction.  Students should try to finger spin at least three inches without breaking thread. If thread breaks, twist back into itself.


18.       Following finger spinning, the teacher proceeds to explain weaving, showing the large loom and explaining/demonstrating how it’s done, defining terms warp and weft, etc.  Teacher then asks a few students to come and demonstrate, assessing for understanding.

19.       After this experience, teacher presents idea of making our own weavings on cardboard looms. Teacher distributes looms, recalling warp and weft.


20.       Teacher demonstrates: area of loom to work in and where to start, using yarn, needle, pic/comb to beat back rows and keep straight, how much yarn to cut to begin with, how to begin a new color, how to weave weft on a diagonal (then use pic/comb) to keep from pulling in sides of weaving too tight and distorting shape.


21.       Teacher recalls the use of symbolism in the Kente cloth weavings, and suggests students do the same, asking them to think of something they would like to symbolize about themselves, and then choose from our yarn colors accordingly to use in their weavings. For example, think of a quality you have or would like to have in yourself, like strength, or speed or bravery or kindness or friendliness or helpfulness, etc., then choose a color that could represent or symbolize this quality for you, such as red for strength, or green for generosity (colors will have highly personal meanings). S/Ts help students to come up with ideas using their personal qualities handout lists.


22.       Students are given yarns and looms and proceed to weave. S/Ts help students to see where they should begin and end (need at least 3 inches of warp thread showing at both top and bottom to tie off piece when finished, so do not start or end close to the top or bottom of the loom; can mark with piece of masking tape for a visual guide).  Students are encouraged to work in silence, and get into the rhythm of the weaving.




23.       Weaving will carry over into our second day of this lesson, when students complete their weavings, and S/Ts will help them tie off/knot ends, making a fringe on bottom by tying every two threads together. Top is tied off in the same manner.


24.       Finished weavings are labeled with masking tape, and taped up on board for display and discussion.




25.       Teacher has children recall major terms/concepts: culture, textile, types of African textile designs, weaving terms, warp and weft.


26.       Students share their weavings, explaining any symbolism they may have used.


27.       Teacher explains what’s coming up as we continue our journey to learn more about the way people from other countries and cultures live their lives and how it compares to us in the USA.




In addition to observation of the Performance Objectives described above for evaluating students, as well as noting what teachers may need to re-teach or do differently, questions to ask might include:


·        Were students able to weave with a minimum of mistakes in applying their weft threads?

·        Are weavings fairly uniform, with minimal bowing in center? Were students able to control their tools and materials?

·        To what degree did students incorporate use off symbolism in their color choices?








DBAE:                                                                     NYS Standards for the Arts:


AH = art history                                                 Std. 1 = creating, participating in art

AC = art criticism                                               Std. 2 = knowing art materials and processes

AE = aesthetics                                                 Std. 3 = responding to works of art/artists

AP = art production                                            Std. 4 = knowing cultural dimensions of art


Needs Assessment Areas for Developing Skills and Abilities:


A/C    = academic/cognitive          M/P = motor/perceptual                        E = emotional

C        = communicative status      W/S = work/study habits                     S = social

Pre-V = prevocational skills              L = living skills