Whether you think of yourself as a fashionista or not, fashion plays an important role in all of our daily lives. In this week’s unit, we’ll explore the history behind beloved pieces of clothing and designers who brought them to life. We’ll also work on a variety of hands-on life skills like cutting and sewing for children interested in designing themselves! Ready to get started? Click here to download this week’s skills tracker.
Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings) and upgrades (for children ready for more). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) or plus (+) symbols.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
Note: This week, we have a lot of book options and alternatives for you! Where we have denoted upgrades or modified choices, choose by your child’s interest and attention span. Otherwise, either option will work if it is easier to find! If fashion is a strong interest of your child’s, you may wish to find several of these books and the additional options we recommend.
- The Fashion Legends Alphabet by Beck Feiner
- Levi Strauss Gets an Idea by Tony Johnston (or read it here on OpenLibrary or listen to this read aloud)
- Different Like Coco by Elizabeth Matthews (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- OR Little People, Big Dreams: Coco Chanel by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara
- Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Ann Lowe by Kate Messner and Margaret E. Powell
- OR Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal (or listen to this read aloud)
- A Perfect Fit: How Lena “Lane” Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion by Mara Rockliff (or listen to this read aloud)
- Polka Dot Parade: A Book About Bill Cunningham by Deborah Blumenthal
- Who is Ralph Lauren? by Jane O’Connor
- Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparellir by Kyo Maclear
- Vera Wang: Queen of Fashion by Ai-Ling Louie
Optional activity book:
- How to Be a Fashion Designer by Lesley Ware
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
- paper + access to a printer (don’t have one? we like this model)
- sewing scissors (optional, but recommended for kids who love to cut fabric)
- pinking shears (also optional)
- faux pearl beads
- firm potato (yukons are good)
- fabric paint (or you can use any paint if you don’t plan to wash your fabric)
- small paintbrush
- drop cloth (or you can use any plain cloth you have)
- 22″x28″ foam board (you may be able to find this cheaper locally)
- craft sticks
- foam adhesive strips
- old pair of jeans you can cut up (see below for modified and upgrade jean craft materials as well)
- hot glue gun + glue
- small canvas (or you can use thick paper)
- pipe cleaners
- sewing kit (or a needle, thread, and button)
- craft foam (or a Styrofoam plate)
- embroidery thread (regular thread will work, too)
- cross stitching kit (if working with a younger child, you may also want these plastic embroidery squares)
- flexible measuring tape (or you can use a string and a tape measure)
What to do:
We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!
Throughout our week, we’ll be examining how fashion has played an important role in a variety of historical events and time periods. To start our unit, we have recommended several books. If your child is interested in gaining a broader knowledge of some famous names in fashion, we recommend the book The Fashion Legends Alphabet. For older children who would like to dig deeper into popular trends throughout history, read Why’d They Wear That (or read it here on OpenLibrary). For children who prefer a picture book, you’ll love the story Mary Wears What She Wants about Mary Edwards Walker, a surgeon, women’s rights advocate, abolitionist, spy, and pioneer in dress reform for women. (Or, read them all! Follow your child’s lead about what engages them the most.)
Activity 1: Want to learn more about the true story of Mary Edwards Walker? She led a remarkable life, and remains the only woman in U.S. history to receive the Presidential Medal of Honor. Read more about her life in this article. Even wilder, she really was arrested for wearing pants! There are actually a lot of silly laws about fashion out there (though very few of them are still enforced). Let’s read a few of the funniest ones in this article.
Now, let’s create our own silly fashion law! Does your child think it should be illegal to wear polka dots with stripes? Should you only be able to wear skirts on Thursdays? Work with them to write out their law in a paragraph (using the topic sentence, 2-3 supporting sentences, and concluding sentence format we learned about in our Inventions Unit). This is a writing exercise, not a handwriting lesson, so feel free to let them type or scribe for them to help them get their ideas down comfortably.
Activity 2: Make your own fabric pattern with this potato stamping tutorial.
Activity 3: Even today, modern fashion designers often take inspiration from fashion trends of the past. Let’s pretend we’re fashion designers and follow their lead! Begin by exploring this website from a famous fashion and design school in New York City, the Fashion Institute of Technology. Look under the Time Period tab in the header to explore some style and trends from virtually every century and decade. After exploring for a while, let your child choose a decade that inspires them. Print these fashion templates (also called croquis, which is a French word for “sketch” and, in the world of fashion design, is a quick sketch of a fashion figure) and let them design an outfit inspired by the trends of their chosen decade.
(+) Looking to bring their designs to life even more? Use scraps of fabric and trimmings to create collage versions of their designs.
Today’s activities will be themed around one of the most iconic items of clothing in history…jeans! Let’s begin by learning about the creator of denim jeans in this silly take on history, Levi Strauss Gets an Idea. After reading the book, share this more accurate story of Levi Strauss with your child.
Activity 1: One skill that is very important in making clothes is cutting. Let’s practice our cutting skills by cutting out the clothing shapes on this printable.
(+) Ready for more? Let your child try their hand at cutting felt. Draw circles, squares, triangles, and angled and wiggly lines on pieces of felt and let your child do their best to cut them out. (Note: We recommend sharp scissors for this activity, or else your child may become frustrated. These sewing scissors are perfectly sized for small hands.)
Activity 2: Let’s do some jeans pocket math! First, print 2-5 of these pockets (we’ve included a color version and a black and white version if you’re conserving ink). Cut out the pockets and mount them onto a piece of foam board with foam adhesive stickers or tape:
Write numbers on the pockets, 1 through however many pockets you have.
Next, get 10-20 wooden craft sticks and write equations that amount to numbers on your pockets. Adjust the equations to meet your child where they are, either with reading tally marks, addition, subtraction, or multiplication.
Finally, give your child the sticks and have them put each on in the pocket of the correct answer. If needed, provide manipulatives to help your child work out the answers.
Activity 3: Finally, let’s do some denim crafting! Adapt this tutorial to make coasters, trivets, or placemats. (You can also leave out the colorful fabric if desired.) The original tutorial uses super glue, but we recommend hot glue.
(-) Looking for a simpler craft? Make these denim tassels.
(+) Ready for some real sewing? Make this denim apron.
Today, we’ll learn about one of the most famous fashion icons in history, Coco Chanel. Begin by reading either Different Like Coco or Little People, Big Dreams: Coco Chanel to learn more about this designer’s life and impact on the fashion world.
Activity 1: Ready for some copywork? Pick one of these famous Coco Chanel quotes for your child to copy.
Activity 2: One of Coco’s biggest contributions to fashion was the little black dress. If your child is interested in the history of this timeless piece, click here for an article.
Next, let’s look at one of the most famous black dresses in the world, the portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent. Click here for more background information about this painting. Read through and discuss some of the question prompts on that page. Finally, have them create a self-portrait painting of themselves wearing what they consider to be their signature style or favorite item of clothing.
Activity 3: Looking for some more math practice this week? Coco Chanel was famous for her pearl necklaces—let’s use some faux pearls to work on addition and subtractions (while sneaking in some fine motor skills practice). Start by stringing some pearl beads (or any white beads) onto a pipe cleaner. Use the strip to help your child work through some addition and subtraction problems, sliding the beads on and off the pipe cleaner to find each solution.
While everyone knows the name Coco Chanel, there are plenty of other famous designers that are less well known. One of those is Ann Lowe, the first Black person to become a noted fashion designer. Let’s learn more about her talent, resilience, and story in either Only the Best: The Exceptional Life and Fashion of Ann Lowe or Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe (or listen to this read aloud).
Activity 1: Is your child inspired to start sewing? Let’s work on several common hand stitches with our first activity. This blog post shares a few, including how to sew on a button. Provide your child with a needle, embroidery thread, and some felt, and then work with them on the first few stitches (or as many as they want to try).
(+) If this is something your child shows an interest in, check your local library for books with sewing crafts for kids!
Activity 2: Now that we have the basic stitches down, let’s practice following a sewing line by drawing a simple picture (like a sun, a flower, a leaf, or a rainbow) onto a piece of craft foam (or a Styrofoam plate) and having them sew along the lines. Start by drawing your picture lightly with coloring pencils on a piece of white craft foam, like this:
Next, help them thread their needle and work with each color at a time. If your child is having a hard time finding their way back from the other side of the picture, use the eye-end of the needle to poke holes for them to follow with their stitches, like this:
(+) Ready for more? Try your hand at cross stitching! You can use a simple kit like this, or purchase the materials separately at a craft store. This video provides some tips for getting started.
(-) If you’re working with a younger child, these plastic embroidery squares can be helpful until they get the hang of it.
Activity 3: Have you had a chance to practice your phonics rule of the week yet? Let’s get some hands on practice reading -ED words with this sorting activity.
One of the best things about fashion is how personal it is. From your color and fabric choices to the style you wear, clothing is one of the ways we express ourselves every day! For our last day of our Fashion Unit, we’re going to learn about a designer who embraced the idea of making clothes that would suit every one—and every body. Let’s read A Perfect Fit: How Lena “Lane” Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion by Mara Rockliff.
Activity 1: When you are buying clothes, and especially when you are having them made, it is important to have accurate measurements. And, especially when you are a child, your measurements will change from year to year (and sometimes more often than that!). For our first activity, let’s learn how to take our own measurements in this video, and then take your own! If you don’t have a flexible measuring tape, you can also use a string and a retractable tape measure. Use this printable sheet to help record the measurements.
Activity 2: Let’s put our new sewing skills to work by making our own felt needlebook! Begin by cutting out a rectangle of felt, about 4×9 inches. Next, cut the “pages” out of a contrasting color of felt, about 3.5×4 inches. (If you have pinking shears, you can use those to add a zigzag edge to the pages.) You can also draw a shape for your child to cut out and sew on the cover, like a heart, star, crown, or whatever they would like.
Once they have cut out the shape, have them use a running stitch to sew it to the cover of their needlebook. Finally, layer in the pages and use a whipstitch to bind the book:
They can now use the pages to store pins and needles for future sewing projects!
Activity 3: Did you know the fashion world even has its own vocabulary? And if you want to really know your stuff, it’s important to be familiar with several special terms. Let’s review some common terms from this list. (To keep this hands-on, you can use real garments to point out the parts of clothes and look up photos online to find examples of the types of clothing being discussed.)
- A-line: A dress or skirt silhouette that is narrow at the top, around the waistline, before flaring out at the hemline. It makes an A-shape silhouette.
- Embellishment: This is a decorative detail on the fabric of the garment, such as appliqué, embroidery, sequins, or fastenings.
- Hemline: Hemline refers to the lower edge of the garment. A hemline can hit the thigh, the knee, the ankle, or the floor.
- Inseam: This usually refers to the seam area inside the pant leg, from the crotch to the hemline. It can also refer to the seam area on the sleeve, from the armhole to the sleeve hem.
- Neckline: The neckline is the top edge of a top or a dress, usually around the neck. There are various neckline cuts, such as a bib neckline (where there’s an extra piece of fabric sewn to the front), boatneck, halter, off-the-shoulder, plunging, and V-neck.
- Sleeve: A sleeve is the part of a clothing item, whether a dress, T-shirt, blouse, jacket, or sweater, that covers the arm. Sleeves are attached to the armhole of the garment. Sleeves can be tight or loose-fitting, long or short. Examples of sleeves include cap sleeves, bell sleeves, dolman/batwing sleeves, and raglan sleeves.
- Waistline: This term applies to dresses or long garments covering the wearer’s upper and lower half. The waistline is the line that demarcates the upper and lower half of the garment. The waistline can hit just below the bust, such as in an empire waist, or below the natural waist, called a drop waist.
- Evening wear: This describes a dress code for formal events, such as a gala or a wedding. Evening wear is usually bespoke for the wearer and more expensive than daytime casual clothing. Examples of evening wear include an evening gown, a wedding dress, or a tuxedo.
- Haute couture: Haute couture includes high-end clothesmaking where clothes are usually made by hand from start to finish, with custom tailoring for the wearer. Haute couture is also made in small batches, with limited-edition merchandising, and is much more expensive than ready-to-wear clothes. Special retailers sell haute couture, also known as high fashion.
- Ready-to-wear: “Ready-to-wear” (known as prêt-à-porter in French, pronounced like “pret-ah-por-TAY”) is a fashion industry term that signifies that an article of clothing was mass-manufactured in standardized sizes and sold in finished condition—rather than designed and sewn for one particular person. Retail stores sell ready-to-wear clothes in standard sizes rather than tailoring items for the wearer. Ready-to-wear garments tend to be trendy and switch out from season to season.
- Outerwear: Outerwear refers to clothing worn on top of an outfit, usually to protect the wearer from the environment. Outerwear typically features heavier fabrics than clothing worn directly on the body. Outerwear can include a trench coat, a quilted puffer coat, or a wool coat.
- Sportswear: Sportswear or activewear is ready-to-wear clothing for working out or casual day wear. Sportswear can include drawstring pants, sweatpants, sweatshirts, hoodies, and sneakers.
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