Handwork/Practical Arts

Patricia Holdrege
  • Patricia Holdrege

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  • Biography

Welcome to 8th Grade Handwork!

As a part of our practical arts programming, handwork instruction begins in first grade and continues through high school. Handwork includes studying artisanal skills in felting, crocheting, knitting, sewing, basketry, weaving, dyeing and bookbinding. These skills are taught to aid students' dexterity, focus, motor-coordination and integrative capacities. Many studies have shown that such kinesthetic learning amplifies cognitive skills: so the patterning and complex systems engaged in crocheting, weaving and knitting also aids in the conception of mathematical patterns and systems operations in higher order mathematics. Similarily handwork experimentation with materials and transformative processes like dyeing and saturating solutions, the burnishing and enamelling of copper, and similar chemical processes connect the students to scientific exploration and enhance their undersanding of the physical properties and chemical underpinnings of our world.

Why do we teach this subject here?

Handwork is an important component of the Waldorf curriculum for several reasons. Not only is it
important for the students to learn many different skills with their hands, but neuroscientific research
also points to the more wide-reaching significance of handwork in child development. For example,
since the 1970s linguists have found that fine finger movements stimulate our speech centers, while
more recent research has shown that differentiated hand movements build and encourage cognitive
growth (E. Seward, The Creative Hand). Mobility and dexterity in the fine motor muscles, particularly in
the hand, may also strengthen the physical foundations of thinking by stimulating synapse formation
and cell development in the brain (E. Schwartz, Handwork and Intellectual Development).
How/What is done in this subject this year to meet my child’s development?
By doing handwork, the children not only develop fine motor and practical skills but also acquire a fine
sense for color combinations, form and beauty. They practice patience, perseverance, gratitude and joy
as they carry out a project that transform raw material into a finished project. Their senses of touch and
smell are enlivened by contact with natural materials such as wool, cotton and silk in the form of yarn
and fabric. Handwork students also learn to attain a balance between socializing and working during the

What will my child achieve in this subject by the end of the school year?

After a brief technical overview of the sewing machine, the students are eager to start working. They will practice straight and zigzag stitches by sewing a small stitch sample. They will practice basic skills such as sewing two pieces of fabric together, and sewing different kind of seams by using the iron to prep the fabric. They use those skills to transform some recycled pillow cases and shirts into useful pieces like bags, sundresses and aprons. We will donate the sundresses to children in an orphanage in Haiti. After a short presentation on using a commercial pattern, the students will start to work on a pair of pajama pants. They will also learn how to make and sew pockets for the pants. After that, they will work on a bigger and more challenging project, a messenger bag. They will make their bags unique by designing and sewing pockets and inside compartments.  This half-a-year block gives them a small taste of the work involved in manufacturing clothing. 

What are things that we can do at home to help support this work?

Ask what your child is learning in handwork and how her project is coming along. Show an interest in
what your child is doing; compliment her and encourage her to do some handwork at home. Maybe
your child could teach you how to do it. Be appreciative of the natural fibers and handmade accessories
around you; share this appreciation with your child.