Collaborative String Art in a Makerspace

Our Makerspace is a very busy place during student recess and their lunch breaks and I try to offer a combination of both group and individual projects and collaborative string art is the perfect project. Our Makerspace Lab and library are connected and students looking for quiet can go to the library and read. Mini-string projects have made a resurgence and I’ve seen pictures of finished projects all overPinterest. I decided that we should make a big collaborative string art project. After wandering around the hardware store I bought a 24″ x 24 “Mason Board. I chose that size because it was already pre-cut. At home, I used some leftover teal spray paint to spray the entire board. At school, I drew a large heart on a piece of brown craft paper and taped the craft paper onto the board. I used regular nails that I found in my garage and starting at the bottom tip of the heart I hammered the nails in. There’s no need to measure the distance between the nails I just eyeballed the spacing and I was careful to not hammer all the way through the board. 

Hammering the nails into the collaborative string art.

Setting up the String Art

I borrowed an easel from a teacher and I propped the board with the heart up. The easel allowed the string to hang down and made it easier for the students to manipulate the string. I added a sign that said the following:   

A few guidelines for collaborative string art.


A student unwound a skein of thin cotton yarn and rolled it into one large ball. I then tied the end to a nail in the bottom of the heart and put the ball of yarn inside a large container. Keeping the yarn in a container helps keep the yarn from rolling away. 

Collaborative Work

Of course, students noticed the easel right away. One by one they all wanted to take a turn. Without adding much instruction other than the above sign I let them get to work. Students would ask me for a turn and I would tell them that they needed to work it out amongst themselves. A few times a day when the students were in class I would use my hand to push the sting down closer to the base of the nails. This made more room for students to add the string to the project. 

The beginning of our collaborative string art project.

Finishing the String Art

It took the students about a week and a half to finish the heart. When there was no room to add any more string to the heart I tied the end of the string to a nail and it was finished. I was not sure what I was going to do with the finished project. A few months after the students finished the heart the principal and I decided to move our library. We were able to double the space of our library. In our new space, we had plenty of room to hang up our artwork. I hammered a picture hanging hook into the back of the mason board and our Collaborative String Art Heart is now proudly hanging on the wall in our library. 

Everyone wanted a turn at the collaborative string art.
Starting our collaborative string art.
The sewing table.

Sewing in Makerspace

We are teaching our students to sew in Makerspace. Our school is a public elementary school with around 500 students in grades Tk – 5th. Students use our lab during recess, lunch, and sometimes during class time. One of the first pieces of equipment that I purchased was a sewing machine.

What I ordered:

  1. A Brother sewing machine from Amazon for about $180
  2. A pack of different colored spools of thread. 
  3. A pin cushion and straight pins.
  4. Extra bobbins
  5. 2 Pairs of regular fabric scissors and one pair of pinking shears.
  6. An iron
  7. An ironing pad that lays flat on a counter.


Fabric for Sewing

We started with lots of left-over fabric that I had at home. After students brought home things that they had sewn or parents saw pictures on social media of what we were doing they offered to send in fabric donations. We now have plenty of fabric to choose from. 

Teaching Students to Sew

I’m not a great seamstress, but I can sew straight lines and I know how to thread the sewing machine and rethread the bobbin. My main goal was to teach our students basic sewing skills and I came up with a project to do that.

Learning the basics of sewing.
Teaching Students to Sew in Makerspace

First Sewing Project

Our first project was fabric bookmarks. I let the students choose one cotton fabric and one piece of felt. At first, I would cut the fabric to size and then have them cut along the edges with pinking shears. Because they used the shears we didn’t have to worry about the seams fraying. They lined up the cotton fabric in the middle of their felt fabric and added a straight pin to keep it together. 

An Embroidered Bookmark
A student learned to sew An embroidered bookmark.

Learning to Sew

Once they have their project ready I sit down at the sewing machine with them. If it is their first time sewing I give them a brief explanation of how the machine works. When they are ready I help them line up their project and help them get the hang of how to use the pedal and how to guide their fabric through without pushing. When students are just learning we keep the sewing machine at the slowest speed. The bookmarks are a perfect first project because the felt keeps the fabric from moving and because the bookmarks are a rectangle the students only have to sew straight lines. After the two fabrics are sewn together I let them choose a few specialty embroidery stitches to add to the middle. They love this part and it helps to make everyone’s bookmarks unique. When they are done with the embroidery they pick out a ribbon for the top and I help them sew it on. 

Students Learn to Sew a Pillow After They Finish a Bookmark

After students have used the sewing machine to make a bookmark I let them make a pillow. They first pick out their fabric and then decide what size they want to make. If their fabric needs ironing I generally do it. I have a few 5th graders that I let iron. After they cut out their fabric they use a few pins to keep the fabric together. Usually, if they are sewing a pillow, they are more comfortable with the sewing machine and I can just be in the area, but I don’t have to sit with them. Using straight lines they sew the sides leaving one side unsewn. After sewing, they turn the fabric with the right sides out. They use stuffing to fill the pillow. We cheat to sew up the 4th side. I use the iron to fold down the seams and then they use the sewing machine to sew a straight line on the right sides of the fabric. This is easier for the students and allows us to speed up the whole sewing process.

A pillow in progress.
Sewing a pillow in Makerspace.

Sewing on Their Own

Students that have made bookmarks and pillows move on to make other things on their own. They ask me for help when they need it, but they have the freedom to be creative. They have made a lot of purses and bookbags. Sometimes they make patterns out of paper first and sometimes they just cut their fabric. Lots of times they make a project and during the process, they figure out a better way of doing something so they make another one. 

Cutting, sewing & the finished product.
Cutting, sewing & the finished product.
The finished purse.
The finished purse.
Sewing a strap for a purse.
Sewing a strap for a purse.


What Students Are Learning From Sewing

Learning to sew is an amazing skill for our elementary school students to have. So many students have told me that their grandma or mom has a sewing machine, but the students are not allowed to use it. At the basic level, they are learning a skill that will last them a lifetime and on a much bigger level, they are learning how to develop an idea from a concept to an actual product. They are learning how to follow rules about safety and respect in both the machinery and our space. The list of what they are learning from sewing is ongoing and it is definitely one of their favorite things to do in Makerspace. 

Answers to Questions

  1. Am I a great seamstress? No, not even close. I can do the basics. If I run into a problem that I can’t figure out I Google it or watch a YouTube video.
  2. How do I control who gets to sew? At the beginning of the year, I start with the 3rd-5th graders. Once I have a few students that are proficient I open it up to younger students. We have a sign-up sheet next to the sewing machine and they add their names to the list. I usually have a few students that already have their projects cut out and are waiting to sew. 
  3. Has anyone ever got hurt? No. Knock on wood we haven’t had any sewing accidents. 
  4. Do the students know how to thread the needle and rethread the bobbin? Not really. I have had a few older students that can do it, but for the most part, if a needle becomes unthreaded they yell for me to help them. 
  5. Do only girls sew? NO. It is probably 60% girls and 40% boys ratio. I had one boy that loved it so much he asked for and received a sewing machine for Christmas.
  6. Do I change the bobbin thread and thread for each project? No, I don’t have time for that. I try to use neutral colors of thread. They get what they get.
  7. Where do you get the stuffing for the pillows? We sell pencils in the library for 50 cents. I use the profit from the pencils to buy the stuffing using a 50% off coupon from Michales or Joanne’s Fabric. 


Kindergarten Love Bugs made with Morphi.


  A New 3D Printer…

Our students are embracing learning 3D printing in Makerspace. We are a public elementary school with just over 500 students in grades Tk – 5th grade. A few years ago our district bought each school a 3D printer. Our printer was in the library, but it is now permanently housed in our Makerspace Lab

Our new 3D printer by Craftbot.
3D Printing in Makerspace

Getting Started With 3D Printing…

There is a learning curve for 3D printing, but once you get past that the possibilities are endless. We received our printer late in the school year, so the first year we just printed projects that were already preloaded on the flash drive that came with the printer. It was enough to build excitement in our students and it became the norm to have students just standing in front of the printer watching an object build. We printed countless whistles and other little trinkets. 

One of the many whistles we printed.
A 3D printed whistle.

Learning To Design For The 3D Printer 

The next school year I came back ready to dive into 3D printing. I read a how-to book and felt like I had a basic understanding of how it worked. A fellow colleague had already been using a 3D printer in her classroom. She told me about a program that allows the youngest of students to design an object to be printed on a 3D printer. The program is called Morphi. I was able to have our tech department install this app on our 2 iPads.

Morphi For 3D Printing

Morphi enables even our youngest students to design and make 3D models. Using Morphi students can use their fingers to draw on the screen and when their design is complete it can be turned into a 3D rendering with the click of one button. Older students use the drawing feature, but they also use symmetry and revolving lines to design with. The erase and resizing tools are both easy to use and intuitive. Morphi has continued to grow. Students are now able to explore augmented and virtual reality through their app. When students have completed their project they email it to me.

Students working on snowflakes using the Symmetry tool in Morphi.
Students working on snowflakes using the Symmetry tool in Morphi.

3D Printing Book Report Characters

I have a 1st-grade teacher that sends a few students a week to the Makerspace lab to make something to enhance their book reports. These are usually students that are ahead in class and they could benefit from extra enrichment. These students bring a book report form and work on it while they are waiting for an iPad to open up. When it’s their turn with the iPad they use Morphi to pick a character, an object, or a scene that they would like to bring to life. After they are done designing I show them a ruler and let them decide what size their project should be. When I return the 3D project to their teacher they are always excited to show their fellow students what they made. I also have teachers that will schedule a time for their entire class to work on a project. A 1st-grader bringing his book report character to life.

A 1st-grader bringing his book report character to life with 3D printing in Makerspace.

Class Reports

One 3rd grade class did a project on animal adaptations. First, they had to write the report, then they drew it, then they made a model out of recycled materials, and lastly, they used Morphi to design a 3D model of their animal. They were able to display all of their work at our Open House. 

A 3rd grade project.
A 3rd-grade project.


In our Makerspace lab, we only have 2 iPads and we use them to control many things. Because there is usually a long list to use the iPads some of our older students have learned to use Tinkercad. Tinkercad is a free online program that students can use to design and model in 3D. Our students use Google SS0 (single sign-on.) They are able to use their SSO for Tinkercad as well. This allows them to work on projects both at school and at home. We held an introduction to Tinkercad class in the lab for students that were interested. At school, our students are using Tinkercad on our desktops. Tinkercad has plenty of how-to videos and tutorials that students can follow along with. The projects that they are building tend to be larger and more elaborate than the ones they build on Morphi, but that is probably because the students using Tinkercad are older. 


Thingiverse is a website that is dedicated to sharing user-created files. Open-source projects are available for downloading, modifying, and printing from their website. They also have an education section with projects that are easy to follow along with. There have been times when a teacher has asked me for a 3D model and instead of spending hours designing it I look on Thingiverse. After I find what I’m looking for I download the files and then print them out. Students enjoy browsing Thingiverse. It gives them ideas and helps them see what is possible in the world of 3D printing. 

USB Flash Drives

The most efficient way I found to get student’s projects from their Tinkercad accounts to me is with a flash drive. Students first log in to their Tinkercad account. When they are finished designing they make sure to change the name of their project to include their name, for example, Sam’s helicopter. Tinkercad automatically names and saves projects, however, it puts random titles. It is important for me to know who made the project in case I have problems printing. After the name is correct the student gets a flash drive (I have 10 flash drives hanging in the lab for their use) and exports their work to a folder on the drive that is labeled lunch 3D. The student then hangs the flash drive on a hook by my computer. 


Regardless of what program students use to design their 3D projects before I can be print them the projects need to be sliced. Slicing software is basically a program that tells your 3D printer how to print the project. The printer needs to know how to layout the project and how many layers the project will have. Each 3D printer will tell you what slicing program to use. I have our slicing program installed on my computer. At this time I am the only one that slices in our lab. My computer displays on a large screen, so if I’m working on slicing while students are in the lab they like to watch. In the program, you can also resize the project if that wasn’t done prior. During slicing is when you can add supports or rafts to the projects to help ensure a quality print. 

Getting Ready to 3D Print 

When I have time to sit down at my computer I go through emails and plug in each flash drive. I look at each project and determine if it has already been resized. I resize the projects from Morphi for our younger students. Our students in the 3rd – 5th grade know how to resize. I have two flash drives that I only use for completed projects. Each drive has folders labeled with either teacher’s names or lunch 3D. I found out the hard way it is easier to be organized and put projects in folders.


When the projects are loaded on the flash drive I plug them into the printer and start printing. As soon as I start a project the student’s name will show on the screen. I use a Sharpie to write their name on a piece of blue painter’s tape. I stick the piece of tape to the printer. When the project is done I stick the piece of tape on the completed project and continue on with the same process for the next print. If I’m printing projects for an entire class sometimes they look very similar. I use the painter’s tape, but I also print out a class roster and mark off their name as I go. This helps me stay on track. In addition to the Makerspace, I am also running the library and I’m constantly distracted or running off in another direction. 

A class projects of butterflies.
A class project of butterflies.

Maintaining the 3D Printer

Every 3D printer is a little bit different. Before using the printer it needs to be leveled. Ours has instructions for leveling on the menu. Once your printer is leveled and if you are not moving it you should rarely have to level it again. The one in our lab has a heated bed. This helps projects to stick to the bed while being printed. I have not had to use hair spray or another adhesive. I do use rubbing alcohol on the bed and on the nozzle that the PLA comes out of. The nozzle has become clogged a few times. I have been able to use an acupuncture needle to push the clog through. 

Final Thoughts 

By providing our students with the tools and the means to 3D print we are expanding their worlds. If they can imagine it, they can make it. Their enthusiasm for printing is contagious. I see 3D printing engaging even the most reluctant learners. 3D printing also gives students the opportunity to fail. Not every project prints properly. These mistakes give students a chance to sit down correct the problem and try again. In our Makerspace lab, we are helping students learn skills that they can build upon throughout their school years and beyond. The possibilities of what they can do with these skills are endless.

A failed print.
A failed print.

Answer to Question (That Adults Ask Me)

  1. How did you learn how to use the 3D printer? I read a basic book and then I just jumped right in. I am not an expert and I’m constantly learning new things and I ask for help when I need it. Morphi is amazing and I have worked with them on a few projects. I reach out to them when I have questions. I also ask our technical department in our district if I’m stuck on something. Google is a great resource for answers as well. One of my greatest sources of help is our students. There are always a few 4th or 5th graders that know way more than I do. I have found they flourish in the role of being an expert. They are more than happy to help me or fellow students. 
  2. When do the students have access to 3D printing? Our lab is open during our student’s recess and lunchtime. They have access to iPads and desktops during these times. In addition, teachers will either schedule time for their entire class to work on projects or send individual students to the lab during their free time. 
  3. Do I only work in the Makerspace lab? In addition to running the Makerspace lab, I am also the librarian. We have a very busy library with class visits and student check-outs. Running both is a juggling act, but it’s never boring and my days fly by.

Supply questions for 3D Printing 

  1. Are the supplies expensive for the 3D printer? We buy PLA from Amazon. It is about $20 a spool. Our printer prints non-stop and we used 8 spools of PLA during this school year. When we first started we only used 2 spools for the whole year. 
  2. Do you use other colors of PLA? We now only buy and use white PLA. I don’t have the time to switch back and forth between colors. I chose white because the students can use Sharpies, markers, or paints to decorate their prints.


  1. 3D projects displayed at Open House.
    3D projects displayed at Open House.
How Our Makerspace Started

  How Our Makerspace Began…

Starting an elementary school makerspace can be done one step at a time. When I started as a media center assistant in 2014 the library was located in a regular size classroom. I was hired mid-year. Not many students used the library and I started looking for ways to get the students to come in.

The original library.

During my first year, I quickly found out that there was a large group of students that need a place to hang out during recess and lunch. I adjusted my hours and I took my lunch early so I could then open the library to students during their lunch.  As students got to know me they started to feel more comfortable and they started to come to the library to read, check out books or chat with me.

Makerspaces Shouldn’t be Silent 

I brought in a speaker and started playing music during breaks and that helped the students realize that I didn’t expect the library to be silent. As the months went on, I could see that the students were looking for something more. I bought a roll of coloring sheets that I taped to a table and set out a container of markers and crayons. They loved it. That was the extent of our Makerspace for that school year. 

The basics.

Year 2…

All the schools in my district received $10,000 for the library. The money could be spent in whatever way would most improve the library. We needed library-bound books, but I also used some of the money for some new tables that allowed collaborative work and some Makerspace Supplies. The new tables allowed me to have small group activities in the library.

Getting Started With Projects in Makerspace

At the holidays we spent weeks making ornaments out of discarded books, using glue guns, fancy holes punches, and rubber stamps. In the spring we spent months working on Pop-Up cards using geometry skills, rulers, glue sticks, and lots of creativity.

Starting an After-School Makerspace

All of our lunch activities were going so well I added a Tinker Tuesday. 12 lower-grade students followed by 12 upper-grade students would sign up to stay after school in the library with me and we would tinker. We built catapults, used Break-out EDU boxes, made old-fashioned potholders and Perler Beads.

Our Makerspace table in our old library. 

 Year 3…

During the summer I spent a few weeks installing a giant Lego Wall. I added a rolling cart filled with Legos. Adding the Lego wall changed the course of our library. The wall brought in students that normally didn’t hang out in the library and it also increased our noise level.

The new flexible tables and the Lego wall.

The district bought all of the school’s 3D printers. I embraced learning about the printer and by the end of the year, we were using programs like Morphi Edu and Tinker Cad. I added a FaceBook page for the library to keep everyone up to date about what was going on. At the end of the school year a room across campus opened up and we made the decision to relocate the library. We had outgrown the space and on a daily basis, it was too crowded to move around. 

Our new 3D printer.

Year 4… We Now Have a Dedicated Makerspace Lab 

I spent the summer packing up the library and moving to a new location. We had two portable classrooms that had their walls touching. They were able to cut a large hole in the wall to connect the two classes. We now have one room that is the library and one room that is the Makerspace Lab. The new Makerspace lab used to be our computer lab, however, we now are almost a 1 to 1 ratio for devices, so the lab was becoming obsolete. I can move back and forth between the space and still supervise both rooms. In our new lab, we raised old computer tables to make them barstool height.

Legos in Our Makerspace

We couldn’t move the Lego wall and although the room was bigger there wasn’t a spot for a Lego Wall, so I used two old double desks to make a Lego table. I used Gorilla Glue to glue the base plates to the table and added some fun stools. One of our walls is painted green so we have a permanent green screen in the lab. We added a sewing machine, a dedicated art table, and we took a deep dive into 3D printing. 

The new empty library.
The completed library side of the room.
Starting an elementary school makerspace. 
The sewing table in the makerspace lab.

 Year 5… A Very Busy Elementary School Makerspace

Our big change in year 5 is we chose to get rid of most of our desktop computers from the old lab. We kept 12 and removed the rest and that opened up a whole wall. With all the extra room we installed open shelving for all of our Makerspace supplies. Students need to know what they can use and it helps if they can see it. Our local high school had some old lockers and the district painter fixed them up for us and we installed them. Students love having a place to store their Perler Bead projects where they know they won’t get bumped and ruined.

Expanding our Electrical

The school electrician installed dropped-down electrical from the ceiling and that was truly a game-changer. We can now have the sewing machine and the iron plugged in and not have to worry about someone tripping. One table is the dedicated hot-gluing station with a power strip on the table for all the plugs. 

Students Have the Room to Create in Makerspace

This year was busy. On a daily basis, students were busy sewing and we started a cardboard station with mini cardboard saws and hot glue guns. They made numerous movies and videos using the iPads and Green Screen. We also added a Breaker Space Station with cordless screwdrivers and some basic tools. The students continue to love the Legos and art supplies. Our 3D printer prints all day to keep up with the student’s projects. We also added Ozo-bots and Dot & Dash. 

Makerspace shelving
More shelving and the old lockers in makerspace.
The green screen wall in makerspace.

 Year 6… An Ever-Changing Makerspace

We are currently on summer break. I’m not sure what this school year will bring, but I’m sure it will be exciting. 

Final Thoughts About Starting A Makerspace…

Starting a Makerspace can feel overwhelming that is why I tried to outline how long it actually took us. Makerspace doesn’t have to be stagnant, it can be ever-changing depending on the interests of the students.

Finding Money for an Elementary Makerspace

People always ask about money. We don’t have a big budget. Don’t be afraid to ask your parents, because they donate supplies all the time. They can bring in simple things like toilet paper rolls, or fabric, or left-overs from a project that they worked on at home because the one thing I found is students will use whatever supply I put out for them.

Elementary Makerspaces are Noisy

The other thing I get asked about is the noise. Every day it is noisy in the Makerspace. We have rules, I play background music, and 99% of the time behavior isn’t an issue, because the students are choosing to be in the lab.

Go Ahead and Start a Makerspace

If you are interested in starting a Makerspace I suggest you just jump right in. You can start with something as simple as coloring sheets and markers. I have found that students are missing this creative outlet in their lives. They don’t have time to do fun projects in class or at home. I like to think that the main focus of our Makerspace is to teach students real-world skills. It is a bonus that they are having fun while they are learning these skills.