Art in the Early Years: Part 7: Textiles

Explore the surprisingly wide variety of woven materials and their artistic possibilities, with the Suffolk Early Years and Childcare Service (Suffolk County Council)

The word 'textile' is used to describe a wide variety of materials, both natural and synthetic, which have been woven or have fibres bound together mechanically, by hand or naturally. As an area of experience in art and design, 'textiles' is closely related to collage. It provides young children with the opportunity to work with materials such as fabrics, wool, thread, string, felt, ribbon, cotton wool or faux fur.

Through experimentation and play with threads, fibres and fabrics, young children begin to develop knowledge and understanding of the potential of the materials. When working with textiles, you can allow children to select their own materials and to communicate, express and develop their own ideas.


Provide children with a wide range of opportunities so they can explore and experiment with fabrics both indoors and outside. It is useful to provide some preliminary activities to familiarise the children with the skills, materials and techniques they need. For example, supply:

  • a range of fabrics so the children can explore and experience different textures
  • wool, fabric, cotton, and yarn of different colours, lengths and shapes
  • ready-cut paper or fabric for sticking
  • small baskets or ice-cream or margarine tubs, and sorted materials such as buttons, ribbon, bows, lace, beads, string, cotton balls and sequins, which can be used to add detail to textile creations. Label the tubs and store for later use.

The types of activity that that you plan for the children in your setting will depend on your knowledge of the individual children. For young children, activities associated with textiles will include:

  • exploring the origins of textiles - for example, wool comes from sheep and cotton from a plant. Provide photographs, books or videos. If you are in a rural area, visit a local farm to see sheep being shorn. Show videos of sheep shearing - some are available on the internet
  • investigating the properties of textiles
  • exploring the uses of fabrics for clothing, protection, or display
  • using fabric in imaginative play through den-making and tent-making or dressing up in different clothes.


Model the techniques and tools needed for this area of experience so children can:

  • explore different fabric with their hands
  • use scissors to cut and trim fabric, yarn and string
  • spread glue and stick fabric, yarn and wool on to a chosen surface
  • use fabric creatively with other resources, such as paint or wax crayons
  • use textiles creatively in various activities
  • see what happens when different types of fabric get wet.

Meaningful interactions

The area of textiles provides scope for children to develop their vocabulary and understanding of the world around them.

  • Provide opportunities for children to discuss different kinds of textile, what they are used for and why.
  • Talk about different textiles and clothing styles that are suitable for different types of weather, and why.
  • List words to describe how textiles feel to the touch - for example, fluffy, warm, silky, smooth, cosy, shiny, waxy.
  • Consider why people wear certain types of clothing, such as uniforms, and how these clothes are made and designed (for example, made for warmth, protection, camouflage or ceremony).
  • Discuss aspects of clothing and their purpose, for example, pockets, collars and hoods.

Engaging environments

As with collage, textile activities can be provided indoors and out. Outdoors, you should aim to provide opportunities to:

  • work on large sheets of fabric to develop a collage or use other media, such as wax crayons to draw on the fabric and then paint over with Brusho
  • create dens and tents.

Develop the learning environment so there are opportunities to:

  • display different fabrics and 'tell the story' of where they come from
  • sort, store and label textiles (fabric, wool, yarn, string) and embellishments that can adorn them (buttons, lace, ribbons and bows, sequins and beads)
  • discuss, sort and play with fabric and the textile-related embellishments
  • self-select materials, and tools (such as scissors, glue and spreaders)
  • self-select surfaces such as card or wood.

Provide a range of materials that support the area of textiles, such as:

  • fabric of different colours, weights, textures (including sheer and translucent), finishes (such as metallic), patterns and weave (including loose weave, such as netting and net curtain material)
  • old towels (washed before use) and white sheets or printing fabric (washed before use)
  • felt, wool tops (raw wool that has been washed, combed and sorted) and decorative wools, such as natural Shetland or dyed Merino.

Other useful materials and equipment to provide are:

  • cotton
  • string and garden twine
  • PVA glue
  • scissors
  • oil pastels
  • wax and brick crayons
  • Brusho
  • ready-mix paint
  • graphic materials (oil pastels, pens)
  • magnifying glasses
  • natural, found and manmade materials
  • plastic table mats or door mats with holes to use for weaving
  • garden fencing mesh
  • plant netting
  • pieces of wood for frames
  • fabrics of different cultures
  • large pieces of fabric for den-making, such as curtains, tablecloths or throws (you should be able find them in charity shops)
  • sticks and canes for tents and dens
  • bulldog clips or plastic clips to fix pieces of fabric together during den-making
  • twigs and sticks that strips of fabric can be attached to.


Provide opportunities for children to:

  • look at different fabrics through a magnifying glass or microscope and use a variety of materials and media to explore responses
  • use graphic materials such as oil pastels, pens and wax crayons to make marks and drawings on fabric. Paint over with Brusho or fabric dyes to explore 'resist' effects
  • explore fabrics with holes, such as nets, lace, hessian, mats or the fence outside, and use as a frame for weaving. Experiment with shining light through woven and holey constructions
  • select natural and manmade materials such as ribbons, wool, string or strips cut from coloured plastic bags, and explore wrapping, weaving, tying, looping and sticking these on to a mat, fence or net
  • explore the use of graphic materials such as oil pastels or pens to draw on to strips of fabric. Then use Brusho and paint to colour strips of fabric. When dry, use these as ribbons to make big movements through the air or display them by hanging them from twigs
  • make hangings using fabrics, threads, found and made materials. Develop ideas and express feelings by decorating with a variety of materials on a chosen colour theme
  • use an overhead projector to create shadows on a sheet of fabric. Children could draw around the shadows and add colour with paints and dyes. They could then add to the images with threads, wool, fabrics and other materials
  • use a large piece of fabric to make a wall hanging with a painted or printed background. Add features with graphic materials, acetate, paint, fabric or threads
  • extend previous experiences with mark-making, printing and colouring fabric pieces for different uses - for example, decorative hangings or flags.


Here are some suggestions for introducing textiles to some familiar experiences and commonly used themes.

Dens and shelters

Themes: 'My environment - natural and manmade'

  • Explore ideas for making tents and shelters. Use fabric draped around existing structures such as tables, climbing frames, fences and benches. Photograph the results. Encourage children to hide in their dens and use them in imaginative play. Talk with the children about why they have chosen certain materials and structures. Photograph the process and results.
  • Explore the use of strips of fabric that have been coloured and decorated. Create a woven image in netting in response to colours in a chosen natural environment.
  • Talk about parasols and windbreaks that people use on the beach and develop ideas by using paint, oil pastels or Brusho to colour fabric.
  • Use garden fencing mesh or something similar to weave, loop, poke or hang natural materials and display them in the natural environment.
  • Talk about how textiles are used in dwellings in some cultures - for example, a Mongolian ger (yurt) made of felt. Provide photographs, books or video.

Hats and dressing-up

Theme: Myself and others

  • Explore ideas for creating a hat or headgear from natural or made materials. Develop by adding beads, feathers, sequins and so on, to embellish.
  • Use fabrics and dressing-up clothes to create characters.
  • Look at and discuss single and group portraits (photographs or works of art). Visiting an art gallery to look at portraits can be a helpful starting point.
  • Encourage the children to create their own portraits. First, construct wooden or card frames. Then the children can stand inside the frames and 'compose' their portraits. They will enjoy photographing the results.
  • Explore the idea of clothing worn for different purposes. Ideally, provide real items of clothing so the children can explore with all their senses. Alternatively, provide images which show their use in: occupations such as a soldier, fisherman or nurse; different climates or weather conditions (hot and sunny, cold and snowy, wet and rainy); ceremonies and occasions (weddings, birthday parties).

Creatures and animals

  • Select suitable materials to make a cover or blanket for a real or imagined creature. Use paint, graphic materials and collage to decorate and embellish the work.
  • Sort and select fabrics and threads similar to the colours and textures of different creatures.
  • Notice how long and short threads make up different fabrics and how some fabrics feel rough and some soft.
  • Discuss thoughts and feelings about fabrics and link to different creatures.
  • Experiment with different threads to create a tail for a real or imagined creature and use in imaginative movement and role-play activities.
  • Use oil pastel and Brusho to develop ideas for decorating a square of fabric as a design for an outfit for one of the elephants in response to the stories about Elmer the Elephant by David McKee.


A 'hanging waterfall'

Theme - All around me

  • Show the children still and filmed images of waterfalls. Encourage them to talk and scribe the words and phrases they use to describe the falls.
  • Ask children to respond by decorating strips of fabric with oil pastel marks painted over with Brusho. Hang the strips together from a cane or piece of string so they resemble a waterfall, or select strips of fabric, ribbon, fibres or threads in response to their descriptive words and phrases such as 'dark blue, white, frothy, shiny, sparkly'. Hang these together in a similar way.

Wool painting

Wool painting is a form of collage using different kinds of wools, fibres and threads. It is a method that can be used to extend collage or textile activities once children have had a considerable amount of experience.

Many children will be able to use their knowledge and imagination to create an individual wool painting. Some may need some suggestions or even examples to help them get started. You could show the children photographs of simple compositions, such as animals in a field, a boat at sea, a garden or some trees, and discuss how they might use wool to create a similar picture. It may be useful to have one or two examples of finished pieces to show the children, just to give them an idea of the possibilities.


Basic technique

  • Provide opportunities for the children to produce a simple drawing, using a soft pencil on any type of thick white card.
  • Encourage the children to use bold simple shapes; there is no need for detail, as these will be covered by the wool.
  • Spread glue, such as wallpaper paste or PVA glue, across the background and press tiny amounts of coloured wool into the glue to suggest sky, sea, sand, etc. Encourage the children to be very sparing with the wool - small amounts can produce 'big' effects.
  • If the card bends when the glue dries, press it between heavy books or pieces of wood. (You can also iron the back of the wool painting for a flatter finish.)

Take time to model the various methods and techniques used in wool painting:

  • Painting on the glue and pressing on the wool in small amounts
  • Pushing the wool around in the glue to see the movement
  • Rolling wool between your fingers to make tiny balls for eyes or nose, or to make woolly threads for legs or branches
  • Glueing on curly wool to add texture to the picture, for sheep, beards, waves, etc.

Making a wool painting is a lengthy process, but you shorten it considerably by:

  • restricting the size of paper or card for a child's individual wool painting
  • encouraging the children to work in groups, creating animals or objects that can be cut out and used in a group display or glued on an existing collage or painting using mixed media (combinations of painting, drawing, collage, textiles, print making and 3D).

Felt making

See our online feature for advice on felt making.

Part 8: 3-D will be published in Nursery World on 23 August


  • Hooper, M Woolly Jumper: The Story of Wool, Walker Books Ltd (2003)
  • Morgan, M Art 4-11 Art in the early years of schooling (1988, last reprinted 1995), available from:
  • Suffolk County Council (2005) Art and Design in Suffolk Key Stages 1 & 2. A scheme of work available in book and CD form available from:
  • Suffolk County Council (2010), Time and Place (various case studies on the Time and Place aspects of Knowledge and Understanding of the World)
  • Wright, S (2010) Understanding Creativity in Early Childhood. Sage Publication.
  • Harris, Jennifer, 5000 years of textiles, British Museum Press, 2004 new edition

Useful web sites

Suppliers of wool and fibres:

Bags of fabric scraps are for sale online


With thanks to Little Willows Pre-school, Bury St Edmonds, for their help with photographs.

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