Georgian Court University

Home Up Mat Weaving Reed Pen Appliqué Art Necklace

Phragmites Appliqué


One of the earliest art forms involved the use of natural materials such as corn, wood, straw and reeds to decorate objects.  In North America the art form was particularly popular in 18th Century New Mexico, where artisans used bright and shiny straw stems contrasted with a black background as a substitute for unaffordable materials like gold.  As a consequence, straw collages are sometimes called “poor man’s gilding.”  The technique probably has its roots in the “marquetry” techniques found throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.  In this technique, straw stems or other similar materials are glued to a contrasting surface or inlaid within the background material.  Once completed, the art work is finished by the application of many layers of varnish.  In this lesson plan, students will use Phragmites stems and leaves to create an abstract collage.

Grade/Level:  6, 7, 8

Estimated Time Frame:  One class period 

New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards

STANDARD 1.2 (Creation and Performance) All students will utilize those skills, media, methods, and technologies appropriate to each art form in the creation, performance, and presentation of dance, music, theater, and visual art.

D. Visual Art

bullet Individually or collaboratively create two and three-dimensional works of art employing the elements and principles of art.
bullet Distinguish drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, textiles, and computer imaging by physical properties.
bullet Recognize and use various media and materials to create different works of art.
bullet Incorporate various art elements and principles in the creation of works of art.
bullet Explore various media, technologies and processes in the production of two and three dimensional art.
bullet Identify form, function, craftsmanship, and originality when creating a work of art.

STANDARD 1.5 (History/Culture) All students will understand and analyze the role, development, and continuing influence of the arts in relation to world cultures, history, and society.

A. Knowledge

bullet Reflect on a variety of works of art representing important ideas, issues, and events in a society.
bullet Recognize that a chronology exists in all art forms.

The activity also addresses National Standards in the Social Studies standards 1 (culture), 3 (people, places and environments)



Dark craft paper (to contrast with the light color of the reed), canvas painted dark, or object to be decorated (e.g. shoe box), again prepared by being painted with a dark background field.


Phragmites stems and leaves  (If you do not have any of this plant growing on school property, we suggest contacting local parks or anyone responsible for maintaining public spaces such as parks, game fields etc.  They are often all too pleased to get rid of as much of this plant as you are willing to take.  However please take care not to disperse seeds from one location to another by collecting and transporting specimens with flowering heads.  Since you don't need the flowers / seed heads, be sure to cut them off and leave them where the plants were growing)


Multipurpose white glue


Polymer gloss or other varnish


Medium Fine Sandpaper

Sequence Instruction

  1. If paper, canvas or items to be decorated do not yet have a uniform, dark color, paint them and allow to dry

  2. Experiment with different designs, remembering to leave a little bit of space between reed stems to allow the contrast between the reed and the background to be appreciated. 

  3. Although there is no right or wrong way to lay out your design, the more that there is some underlying geometry to the design, and the more carefully the reed stems are arranged within the design, creating regular patterns, the more aesthetically pleasing will be the result. 

  4. You will need to use reeds of different lengths to fill the space on your “canvas.”  Use a pair of sturdy scissors to trim your reeds as needed (you may want to work with a partner here so that one person can secure the reed stems (to prevent them from flying away when cut) while the other cuts.

  5. Once you have your design created, glue the reeds into place and allow to dry

  6. If desired, GENTLY sand the surfaces of the reed to expose fresher, brighter tissues.  Be sure that any dust created in this process is removed (blow, wave the poster etc).

  7. Brush the entire piece with varnish (polymer gloss) and let dry.  If needed / desired, repeat one or more times to complete the “look” of your piece.

Examples of Appliqué / Collages Made From Phragmites and other such materials

Extension Activities

As with the mat activity, the teacher may want to have the students experiment with dying the materials before using them in their Appliqué /collages.  (,

Sources and Resources







TEACHER FEEDBACK REQUEST:  We are always to working to improve these lesson plans. If you use this lesson plan, we'd love to hear from you with your thoughts, comments and suggestions for future improvements.  Please take the time to fill in our survey at .  Thanks!

© 2009. Louise Wootton,  Edited by Claire Gallagher

 Although the information in this document has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement NE97262206  to Georgian Court   University, it has not gone through the Agency's publications review process and, therefore, may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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