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Art teachers were STEAM-ing before STEAM was cool!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Modern-Day Adinkra Cloth

Last time I taught a lesson on African textiles I did the traditional woven paper Kente cloth. This time I wanted the children to explore a type of stamped textile that comes from Ghana: Adinkra. "Adinkra" means "goodbye" and his beautiful fabric was traditionally part of funeral preparations.


To make Adinkra cloth, long strips of cloth are pegged to the ground, then an artisan uses ink and a broad-toothed comb to divide the cloth into sections. Each section is then printed with stamps carved from the calabash gourd. These symbols are sacred and many of the symbols are inspired by nature or from important parables. Many have been used for generations, but some are new such as the Mercedes-Benz emblem, which appears on some cloths and seems to symbolize wealth. The ink used to make Adinkra cloth comes from boiling the bark of the Badee plant.

When the strips of cloth have been stamped and are dry, they are joined with decorative embroidery. I have tried lacing the sections together with yarn, but it was very frustrating for the children. I was recently looking through the book, "Kid Made Modern," by Todd Oldham and he made a screen of little circles joined by paper clips--that's when I knew I had found a way to link the sections of our Adinkra cloths. I found 1000 colored paper clips on sale at Staples for $3--what a bargain!

Modern-Day Adinkra Cloths

Supplies Needed:

  • 4 5" squares of white poster board
  • 6" piece of corrugated cardboard
  • Bits of craft foam for stamps
  • A few wine corks
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Tempera paint, assorted colors (we used green, red, blue, yellow, brown and black)
  • Paper plate for palette
  • A pushpin
  • 9 paper clips, assorted colors
Directions:

1. Make your stamps. I made a few of four common symbols: heart which means love, paddle (looks like a plus sign) which means strength, drum (looks kind of like an uppercase letter "I") which means rhythm, and a crescent moon which means patience. I cut the symbols out of craft foam and hot glued them to wine corks. These are pretty permanent, but you could just cut them from a new kitchen sponge.

2. Put some black paint on the palette and dip the 6" end of the corrugated cardboard into the paint. Use the cardboard to make borders on your 5" squares of poster board.

3. Put some colored paint onto your palette and use the stamps you made to fill the center of the squares with symbols. You can probably get about three rows of three symbols in each square. Check out the photos for inspiration. Stamp all of your squares. Let dry.

4. Decide on the order you want to have your squares in. Use the pushpin to create three holes on the bottom and top edge of each of your squares. The holes should be about 1/4" from the edge and be evenly spaced.

5. Insert paper clips into the holes on the bottom edges of the squares. Rotate through the hole two times. Connect all the squares together (this takes a bit of fiddling, but it is easier than it sounds!)

Detail view of the paper clips joining the squares. 
A few examples of Adinkra cloth from my home school class.

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