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Manual Dexterity for Kids and Adults: Spool Weaving, Rainbow Looms, and Bead Work

Updated on December 6, 2014

Weaving with Rubber Bands or Loops


Arts and Crafts and Manual Dexterity

We in America used to see jokes and derision about college humanities classes as well as high quality arts and crafts done by people of all ages and ethnic leanings. Snarky people used to call these skills "basket weaving" and associated them with mental patients in state institutions (which have nearly all closed for business).

Had the snarks tried to do any of these activities, they would likely have seen how much detail work and a large amount of well developed fine motor skills these projects entail.

For example, the hand sewing done by pioneer women in the US Territories we see in museums and art exhibits is so close and tight that it is stronger and less visible than sewing machine stitching. These people could have become plastic surgeons. As it was, when a few of these women went blind, they were still able to sew, because of memory and extensive manual dexterity.

First grade pencils were a little smaller, all black, with no erasers. Yikes!
First grade pencils were a little smaller, all black, with no erasers. Yikes!

Children and youth need to develop fine motor skills and manual dexterity, because it will help them in keyboarding, IT employment, IT manufacturing, and other of the rising jobs in the world. It will also help them at home, if they can sew, handle garden tools, use cooking implements, etc. They handwriting can be more legible as well. The gifts below include several that require the development of fine motor skills in the hands and fingers - adults even use them, on their own, and in occupational therapy.

Many of these products helped me as a child to overcome poor handwriting caused by being sent to school with, and using, fat "baby pencils" for too many years in school. When the fat pencils were taken away, I could not make the regular Number 2 pencil work at all!

An evil baby pencil.
An evil baby pencil.

Rainbow Rubber Bands

When I first heard of the Rainbow Loom, I thought it might be like the old potholder looms that came with a square plastic frame and cloth loops that were rather stretchy. The pot holders sometimes curled up at the edges, though. We became bored with potholders and our parents accumulated drawers full of them.

The Rainbow Loom does not make, thankfully. It helps kids to weave bracelets made of colorful rubber bands. I hope the kids don't snap each others' bracelets and raise welts, but the bracelets are better, safer, and more attractive than wearing plain rubber bands - or shooting rubber bands into someone's eye.

These types of arts and crafts devices are often used by occupational therapists for building fine motor skills and for retraining the body's hand, wrist and finger joints after injury or illness. These tools and toys are effective as well as fun for the patients to use.

A large variety of colorful rubber bands for use with the Rainbow Loom can be used in different patterns for making rings, bracelets, charms, and small purses. According to Michael's craft chain, the colors have meanings, for example:

  • White: Innocence and Kindness
  • Black: Mystery and Power
  • Red: Courage and Power
  • Pink: Friendship
  • Orange: Compassion
  • Yellow: Confidence

The rubber bands also some in military greens that together look like camoflage.

The bands come in regular finish, slick shiny jelly, and neon color finish.


Spool Looms

Another fun item is the Spool Loom or Weaving Spool, made of plastic now, but occasionally from wood. Originally, such an item was fashioned from a large wooden thread spool and four small nails.

You can still put four nails into one end of a wooden spool, if you can find a wooden spool. You can even paint the spool and supply some colorful, thin yarn to use with it and a wooden pick of some sort or a crochet hook -- Children may enjoy that as a stocking stuffer. However, a starter kit can be found at the local craft store.

The spool weaver or spool knitter creates a long snake-like cord that is easily sewn together with the same yarn and a yarn needles. Below are instructions from a 1909 child's toboggan hat.

Child's Toboggan Hat Sewing Instructions

  • Make 84 inches of cord with the spool knitter for a hat measuring 5" x 4."
  • Start 5" from one end of the cord. Measure another 5" and from there, fold the cord onto itself. Continue to fold 5" lengths back and forth and sew them into place side-by-side with yarn and a yarn needle. You will form a rectangle of knit cloth that is 5" x 8."
  • Sew together the short ends of the rectangle with yarn.
  • Gather the top of the hat with yarn and the needle and neatly sew the opening closed.
  • You can add a length of cord and a tassel on the end, or make a pom pom of yarn and sew it to the top of the hat.

This is a cap made from spool weaving "snakes" sewn together with matching yarn.
This is a cap made from spool weaving "snakes" sewn together with matching yarn. | Source

Spool Loom or Fench Knitter

Knitter's Pride Laminated Wood Knitting Dolly
Knitter's Pride Laminated Wood Knitting Dolly

This gadget is also called a French Knitting Needle or a Knitting Nancy. It may even called a Round Loom, although larger circular looms resemble embroidery hoops. This one is made of wood and easy to hold for children or adults. The simple device makes a long cord of knit material that is folded or wound to create anything from hats and scarves to area rugs.


Spool Weaving Demonstration: How to Spool Knit

Native American Beading Looms

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is a handcrafted version of the loom product pictured below. It was useful in early Appalachian settlements.
This is a handcrafted version of the loom product pictured below. It was useful in early Appalachian settlements.
This is a handcrafted version of the loom product pictured below. It was useful in early Appalachian settlements.

My Favorite Loom

The loom depicted to the right is nearly identical to one I had as a child. I purchased a replacement for it as an adult, since the old one was worn out. In the old days, the contraption was marketed as the "Indian Loom" and came with directions for making a beaded bracelet with a faux Native American design. It was fun and easy to do.

The beads are small and the two needles that come with the set are thin beading needles, so the set is better for older elementary school children than for younger kids. Plenty of good lighting should be used with the loom, with is good for buiding fine motor skills.

The first bead loom I owned came for a variety store I barely remember in Downtown Detroit, Michigan. the loom was made in America and constructed of metal.

The store surely is no longer in existence, because a four-story downtown mall with a electromagnetic monorail to the hotel I visited in the mid-1980s is no longer there, either. I found a new loom at a Michael's craft store in mid-Michigan.

In the 1960s, the Indian Loom cost about $5.00 and in the 2010s, the price for the metal loom set has increased only to about $7.00 retail. That is a manufacturing miracle by today's production standards.

You do need to purchase a few tubes or a bag of seed beads for use with the loom. The sample beads are too few in number to weave an entire item. The loom can make headbands, bracelets, necklaces, and trims for clothing and other items.

Seed Beads

Seed beads.
Seed beads. | Source

Table Top Looms

The table top loom model pictured here is similar to one I had as a child in the 1960s. It was a lot of fun to use and helped me develop fine motor movements as I shuttled the yarns and threads back and forth between one another.

The loom lasted a long time and helped to create scarves, coasters, belts, and even squares and rectangles to sew together for baby blankets.

The 10" wooden and metal loom pictured are right is sturdier than mine, which was made of plastics. At $6.00 in the mid-1960s, the price of my less sturdy plastic loom would be over $46.00 today, so the Beka loom is a good buy for children in Grades One through Five.

Table Top Loom
Table Top Loom

Maple wood, weighs less than 3 pounds, size 18" x 20" x 2." This is a long lasting loom that is good for older children, teens, and adults. Use it with a variety of yarns to create cloth, shawls, and any number of clothing, accessory, and household items.


© 2013 Patty Inglish


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      @Lern Things web - That's when I had the Potholder Loom - age 8. I ould have rather had something like a Rainbow Loom!

      @Koffee Klatch Gals - I still have the replacment I bought and I love using it from time to time.

      @Ben Zoltak - I still like the beading loom. Lt's see what your daughter likes!

      @hummingbirds5356 - That's interesting to use the wooden bobbins Every one in a while I see wooden spools in a variety store.

    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 4 years ago from California

      I got a Rainbow Loom for my 8 year old for Christmas because she's a creative type. I hope she'll like it.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 4 years ago from Sunny Florida

      I think these are great gifts for girls. The loom that makes bracelets is especially interesting. I have been seeing those type of bracelets on girls and boys. As for the bead loom, I am been eyeing them for myself. Great hub.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 4 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Great gift idea Patty. I'm unsure if my 17 year old daughter is into hand work like this anymore...unfortunaetly! Alas, she's a young woman now and dad can't make her be an artist...still, I'll run it up the flagpole when she gets home. I especially like the Indian bead loom, maybe I will get one for myself and make some bone beads. I used an yarn loom in high school and made one scarf, it was good, meditative fun.



    • Hummingbird5356 profile image

      Hummingbird5356 4 years ago

      This is an interesting hub. I remember the spool tool or French Knitter from when I was quite young. My mother would get a wooden thread bobbin and hammer 4 nails into it. Then we would sit for hours making long snakes of knitting. Bobbins are now generally made of plastic so it is not possible to make a home made knitter any more.

      Children like making things and you have some good ideas here.