Knit, Hook, and Spin: A Kid's Activity Guide to Fiber Arts and Crafts

Knit, Hook, and Spin: A Kid's Activity Guide to Fiber Arts and Crafts

by Laurie Carlson


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Dive into the wonderful and creative world of fiber arts and crafts with this easy-to-follow activity book packed with over 70 projects across a variety of fiber arts including knitting, felting, knotting and braiding, spinning, weaving, crocheting, and dyeing. Clear instructions and illustrations guide you in creating these cute, useful crafts. Learn to: felt a handy bag, braid a small rug, weave a colorful tapestry, knit comfy slippers, crochet an eye-catching belt, make and use natural dyes, repurpose old clothing, and much more!

Along the way you'll learn fascinating fiber facts and history, such as how Viking ships' woolen sails were made, the history of rope bridges, how artists in Japan craft giant straw sculptures, and much more. Fun for younger kids to explore with a caregive or older kids to work through alone, Knit, Hook, and Spin belongs in any craft-loving kid's home or classroom. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781613734001
Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 06/01/2016
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 1,044,396
Product dimensions: 11.00(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

Laurie Carlson is the author of over 20 nonfiction books for children and adults, including Colonial Kids, More Than Moccasins, Westward Ho!, and others. She raises Shetland sheep and mohair goats on her small farm in Oregon, where she operates an artisanal yarn store. Carlson enjoys speaking to local groups about goats, sheep, and fiber arts. Visit her online at 

Read an Excerpt

Knit, Hook, and Spin

A Kid's Activity Guide to Fiber Arts and Crafts

By Laurie Carlson

Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Copyright © 2016 Laurie Carlson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61373-403-2


Know Your Fibers

Fiber is the basic ingredient in crafting — sort of like flour for a baker and soil for a gardener. Fibers are thin strands of plant stems (linen), fluff from seed pods (cotton), animal hair (wool), or tiny strands of plastic (acrylic) that are twisted together to make yarn. Fiber can be as thin as sewing thread or as thick as rope. But before fibers can be twisted together, a lot of preparation must be done. Fibers from plants or animals must be clipped, washed, fluffed, combed, and dyed.

Fibers create different types of finished projects. Whether your project will be silky, soft, stretchy, shiny, or warm is determined by the type of fiber. Some fibers can be scratchy — like jute — and are best for ropes or sacks. Do you want something soft and luxurious? Use angora rabbit. Shiny? Well, that's silk or mohair. Washable and nonallergenic? Try synthetics. Warm and fireproof? That's a job for wool. The more you know about fibers, the easier it will be for you to match the right fiber to your project.

Plant Fibers

People used plant fibers long before they discovered any of the others. They plucked grassy stems, strips of stringy tree bark, and long skinny leaves from the natural world around them. They did things to the pieces of bark or leaves to make them easier to bend and shape to suit what they wanted to make. They were processing the fiber, making it both easier to work with and longer lasting once a project was complete.

From those plant fibers, people made nets and ropes that made it easier to catch fish, birds, and small animals for food. They made mats that they used as roofing on their homes and for sleeping pads. Listed here are the plants most commonly used in fiber and fabric today.


Cotton is a fluffy fiber that comes from the boll, or flower, of the cotton plant. It was grown in Egypt, Asia, and South America for 6,000 years. It was grown by Native Americans in North America and became a valuable farming product in the southern United States about 200 years ago. Northern Europeans relied on sheep's wool, because cotton plants didn't grow well in their cold climate. People there called cotton "tree wool," because the fluffy puffs of fiber looked like pieces of sheep's wool stuck on a branch.


The fibers of the flax plant are used to make a fabric called linen. It is a lot of work to get flax ready to spin. The full-grown plant is pulled from the earth, with the roots hanging. Then a rough comb is pulled through the stem to remove the seeds. The stem part is soaked in water for a few weeks until it begins to rot. Then it is dried in the sun. Next, the flax stems are beaten against a board and combed with metal combs. Finally, the strands can be separated from each other and spun into linen thread, ready for knitting or weaving.

Flax plants grow best in colder, wetter climates, such as northern Europe and Canada — places where cotton doesn't grow well.


Hemp plants have been grown for their fiber for about 10,000 years. Hemp plants are processed like flax. It is a rough but strong fiber that was used for fabric and ship sails in the past but is mostly used to make cord, rope, and sacks today. Synthetic fibers have replaced most hemp use around the world.


Jute plants grow in wet, warm areas with warm rains. Most jute is grown in India and Bangladesh. Jute plants don't need fertilizer or insect spray, and jute fiber is completely biodegradable. Jute is used to make twine, rope, and sacks. Jute sacks were very commonly used in the past for holding wheat, beans, and other farm products. Today those sacks are made of plastic. Jute strings are used as a backing for making carpeting, but plastic is replacing it for that purpose, too.


Soybeans are pressed and treated to make a yarn that is soft like silk. Soybean plants are field crops grown in many parts of the world today.


Bamboo yarn is made from the cellulose (fiber) in the bamboo stalk. Bamboo grows in wet tropical climates.


Starches in corn are turned into sugars, fermented, and then separated into a paste that is pushed out a machine with tiny holes called a spinneret, making delicate strands. Corn yarn feels a lot like cotton yarn, but it melts very easily if it is ironed. It hasn't become popular yet.

Animal Fibers

No one really knows when people began to use animal hair to make string, rope, and fabric. People used animal hides and skins for most of their clothing and bedding for a long time. Because hair rots away easily, very little has been found in archaeological remains. Below are some of the most common fibers made from animal hair. In addition to the animals and insects mentioned below, hair from alpacas, camels, llamas, possums, and yaks can be used to make fiber.


Wool, made from the hair from sheep, was probably the first fiber people used, because they could easily gather it where it snagged on branches or fell on the ground. That's because sheep used to shed their hair every spring, so for thousands of years, people just walked around and gathered up wool where they could find it. Wool gathering was done by children as they watched over the grazing flocks. They would sometimes spin the wool into yarn right in the pasture using a hand spindle. Over the centuries, metal-working was developed and shears were invented. That meant farmers began to select sheep that didn't drop their hair, and raised them instead of those that shed. That's because it was easier to gather all the wool at one time, when the shearing was done.

Today, sheep are shorn twice a year, in spring and fall. It doesn't hurt them; in fact, having the large mass of thick hair taken off means they can run and move better. It's like getting a haircut over their whole body. Shearing also keeps fleas and lice from making a home on their skin. The hair that is cut off is called fleece.

The fleece is covered with a natural body oil called lanolin, which keeps water from wetting the hair. Sheep can graze comfortably in the rain because the lanolin coating on their hair keeps their skin dry. In the past, fishermen's sweaters were made from unwashed wool and were never laundered. The natural lanolin coating on the yarn made the sweaters waterproof and kept men dry during storms at sea. Some said it helped the sweater float, like a life preserver, if the man fell overboard. Wool is washed today, and the lanolin that is removed is used in making hand cream, soap, hair conditioners, and many other items. Check the labels on your products and you'll probably see that you've been using sheep's lanolin, a by-product from the wool industry.

Wool hairs have tiny scales on their sides that open up like little umbrellas. They also help keep the sheep dry during rainstorms. When wool fiber gets wet, the fibers swell, and the ends of the scales push out and open up. If the wet fibers are pressed and rubbed together the open scales get tangled and the fibers stick together. The matted material is then called felt. If you use hot water and add soap, the scales open up and slide together. They link together, and when you add pressure or rub the fibers, they lock together and won't come apart.

Plant fibers don't have scales, so they don't mat to make felt. Synthetic felt — which is sold in craft stores — is made by pressing and heating petroleum-based fiber, such as polyester. Synthetic felt won't unravel, but it also won't shrink or mold into shape like wool felt.


Mohair comes from mohair goats, also called Angora goats. They are a special breed of goat that are nearly completely covered in long curly hair that brushes the ground. They originated in Turkey. Today most mohair goats are raised in South Africa and Texas. Mohair is shiny, soft, and warmer and stronger than wool.


Cashmere comes from cashmere goats. A cashmere hair is very fine — only one-third as thick as a human hair. It is very soft. Cashmere goats aren't sheared; their hair is combed off the animal by hand. Some hairs are short and some are long, and combing it off helps separate the hairs. Cashmere goats originated in the Himalaya mountains of today's northern India. Today most cashmere goats are raised in Mongolia and China.


Angora is the very delicate and soft fiber that is combed off special rabbits. Angora fiber is eight times warmer than wool. It can keep you warm even when it's wet. An Angora rabbit produces about eight ounces of fiber a year. That much fiber weighs about the same as two cubes of butter. It is very light and fluffy, however, so that small amount is enough to make a woman's sweater.


Silk farming started about 4,600 years ago in China. It was a very secret and profitable industry for China for centuries. Silk is made from fibroin, which is made of digested leaves that the silkworm eats then spits out. Farmed silkworms eat only mulberry tree leaves. They make silk fiber that is pure white, called Bombyx silk. Wild silkworms eat cherry leaves, oak leaves, or mulberry leaves, and their silk is darker, from ivory to light brown. It's called Tussah silk.

Silkworms are caterpillars that eat leaves constantly for 30 days, growing 10,000 times their hatchling size. Then the caterpillar finally stops eating and begins spinning its cocoon. It spits out the fibroin as it rotates its body about 200,000 times, ending up wrapped in 800 yards of fibroin thread. The completed cocoon is about the size of a peanut shell.

Silk farmers gather the cocoons and boil them to prevent the moth from developing inside. Then the silk fiber is pulled out of the cocoon in a long continuous thread and wound on a bobbin. Silk is one of the strongest fibers on the planet.

Yes, you could say that silk — one of the finest fibers — is made of worm spit. Check the website for more information about silkworms.

For thousands of years the Chinese government wouldn't sell silkworms or eggs to outsiders, only cloth or yarn. Eventually some silkworm eggs and mulberry tree seeds were smuggled to India, hidden in a Chinese princess's headdress. Two centuries later, Persian missionaries smuggled silkworm eggs hidden in walking canes from China to the Roman Empire. Eventually, everyone figured out how silk was made. But it's so much work and the silkworms can only be fed mulberry leaves, so it didn't take hold in very many new areas. There are wild silk moths in some forested areas, such as the Pacific Northwest in the United States, but no industry has developed there.

Man-Made Fibers


Rayon was the first fiber created in a laboratory. It is made from cellulose, which is found in wood pulp made from ground-up trees. It is dissolved with chemicals, then squirted through a spinneret. It comes out as a thread, or filament. Rayon threads are spun or woven to make clothing, as well as used to reinforce the rubber in automobile tires. Today, most rayon fiber is made in large factories in India.


Synthetic fibers include acrylic, polyester, and nylon. They are made from small molecules of chemicals found in petroleum: petrochemicals. They are made by a process called melt-spinning. The liquid petrochemical mix is heated, then pushed through a spinneret's tiny holes. It comes out in strings of hot plastic syrup. It hardens as it cools. These plastic threads can then be knitted or woven to create fabric or carpet. Today most synthetic fiber is manufactured in Southeast Asia and China.

There are many new fibers being created now; in fact, they are being invented at an astonishing rate. Some are made of recycled materials, such as plastic bottles, blue jeans, or old pieces of clothing. Some are made from natural materials, such as tofu liquid, banana plants, milk, sugar cane stalks, and seaweed. Others are synthetics that glow in the dark or even emit music. Expect more new fibers in the future. Maybe you will invent a new fiber, or create one from something ordinary!




Because you can make felt without any equipment, such as a loom, it was the first fabric people invented. For about 8,000 years people have been making felt with wool because it is so simple to make and can be used in many ways.

Felt has air trapped between the fibers, which makes it a good insulator for heat and cold. It also absorbs sound, so it is used in musical instruments, such as drum sticks, pianos, and xylophones. Felt wicks (absorbs) moisture, and doesn't dry out fast, making it perfect for creating ink markers, or felt pens.

Today, synthetic felt is made from petroleum-based fibers that are pressed and melted together with heat and pressure. It is commonly found in craft stores. Felted synthetic fibers are also found in other items, such as disposable diapers and tea bags. Many things that used to be made of felt are now made from plastics and foam.

You can make your own felt from wool. Use wool roving from a yarn store, or 100 percent wool yarn. Wool roving is wool fleece that has been washed and combed. It can be natural colors or dyed. If you want to felt yarn, be sure it is all wool and contains no synthetic fiber, such as acrylic. If the wool yarn is called superwash it has been treated with chemicals to keep the natural scales from opening, so it can be laundered in a washing machine without felting. That means it won't make felt for you, either. Another good source for wool to use in craft projects is from discarded clothing. An old wool sweater can be unraveled to make lots of projects. Check secondhand and thrift shops for wool sweaters.

Roving is sometimes also sold as carded wool fiber. Carded means it has been brushed until the hairs run mostly in one direction.

Felting wool requires hot water, soap, and rubbing (friction).

Felted Soap

People have covered bars of soap with felt since the Middle Ages. The wool felt covering makes a bar of soap last longer, and it also takes the place of a washcloth. Felt-covered soap is a natural scrubber that everyone can enjoy, and it takes very little effort to make.


2–3 handfuls of carded wool fiber or roving
Basin of hot water
Bar of soap
Leg cut from a nylon stocking
Hand towel

* Pull the wool fiber apart into strips about 1 inch wide. Wet the fiber and wrap the soap bar completely, overlapping the wool strips to make sure the entire soap is covered.

Use thin layers of wool. If it gets too thick you may get wrinkles and folds, and those areas won't felt easily.

Smooth the wool over the soap and slip it into the toe of the nylon stocking. Hold the stocking and dip the wool-covered bar into the hot water. The heat will open the scales on the wool.

Lift the stocking out of the water, and begin working the wool with your fingers, pressing firmly and rubbing to push the felt scales onto each other. The fibers will tangle and eventually create a solid mass — felt.

Keep working the surface with your fingers, but be careful to not push the wool off the soap. The wool will eventually shrink up due to the pressure and movement of your hands, as the fibers interlock. It will take about five minutes of rubbing in the stocking and two or more dips in the hot water before the fibers stick together completely and blend into a solid layer of felt. If you have trouble getting enough pressure, you can rub the soap back and forth on a baking rack, just like an old-time washboard. Rubbing the wool-covered soap on a piece of plastic bubble wrap can work, too.

Gently pull the stocking off the felted bar. Blot the excess water and suds off the bar with a dry towel. Let the felted soap dry at least overnight. In a hurry? You can speed up the drying by placing the bar in the sun, over a floor heat vent, or in a food dehydrator or by using a hair dryer.

To make more colorful soaps, you can mix different colors of wool, or wrap different-colored strips over each other, making a marbled look.

Felted Beads

You can make colorful, soft beads for a necklace from small bits of wool. String them on a length of yarn and add wooden or plastic beads between the felt beads to make it more interesting and colorful.


Wool roving or carded fleece (see the section on Dyeing to color white wool)
Hot water
Dish or hand soap
Tapestry or yarn needle
Yarn (about a yard)

* Working at a sink is easiest, but you can do this activity almost anywhere with a basin of hot water.

Tear bits of wool into chunks about the size of a golf ball. Wet a wool chunk and rub a bit of soap into it. Roll the wool into a ball and continue rubbing it between the palms of your hands. Dip it into hot water and continue rubbing and rolling. You will need to rub and dip a few times to get the fibers to link together. Continue the process until felting occurs. It will eventually shrink and tighten into a ball.

Repeat this process to make several balls. Set out your felted beads to dry. When they are fully dry, usually about 12 to 24 hours, use a needle threaded with yarn to string them together.


Excerpted from Knit, Hook, and Spin by Laurie Carlson. Copyright © 2016 Laurie Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Know Your Fibers,
The First Fabric: Felting,
All Tied Up: Knotting and Braiding,
Round and Round: Spinning,
Over and Under: Weaving,
It's Just Loops: Knitting,
Kid with a Crook: Crocheting,
Color, Color, Color: Dyeing,
Freebies: Recycled Projects,
Get Involved!,
Note to Adults: The Benefits of Fiber Arts,

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