Sewing: Bisa Butler Project

This is part four of a six-part blog series on textile artist Bisa Bulter. The previous blogs were on Inspiration, Batiks, and Collage. The future blogs are on Kente Cloth and a Reflection on the project. This blog is on Sewing. 

A child holds up their artwork to add stitch, their art work is a piece of self created batik style fabric mounted to a piece of cardstock, fabric scraps have been collaged on top and holes hammered around the edge for the child to use to add stitches.  At the bottom are the words "Sewing/Bisa Butler Project/A SEEC Story"

After the children finished collaging, Carolyn gathered up their artwork. Carolyn then started the labor intensive and noisy process of hammering holes using a leather working tool along the border of each of the pieces. Carolyn noted that using a hole punch would not have been ideal because it would have been hard on her hands and might have hurt the fabric that the children had already glued onto their art.  

Top left, Carolyn helps a child turn their project as they choose where to start their stitching, bottom left, a child has run out of yard for their stitching and is cutting off the extra, right, Carolyn demonstrates how to use a small folded rectangle of cardstock to thread a needle.
Children used large plastic sewing needles to thread yarn through the holes Carolyn created on the edges of their projects. They were invited to add stitches wherever they liked, even through the middle of their work.  

Carolyn then replayed the video of Bisa Butler and had the children focus on her sewing techniques. The children loved watching Bisa use her huge sewing machine. It reminded them of driving a car or using a joystick to play a game. Carolyn encouraged the classes to observe how Bisa used the machine to make different types of lines with the thread. Carolyn explained to the class that they “don’t have to go around the outside. You can make lines going through the middle” with their thread. Knowing that they could stitch in any pattern they wanted was very freeing for the children; it really let them be creative. 

A child places the end of a piece of yarn into a small folded rectangle of cardstock.  This "hotdog" will be used to help the child more easily thread the needle
Children learned to thread their needles by folding the end of their yarn into a piece of paper, they would then use this “hot dog” into the eye of their large plastic needles.  

The children had to be taught the basic components of sewing. To show them how to thread a needle, Carolyn taught the children to use a “hotdog bun” technique that she learned from art teacher Cassie Stevens. Carolyn explained that “sewing is very different from any other art making activity” and the children had to learn a new skill set. But rather than getting frustrated, “they loved the stitching” and continued to use the techniques learned in future projects.  

On the left, a child pulls a piece of yarn through the eye of a plastic needles, on the right, a child pulls up a piece of yarn from a ball of yarn, the ball of yarn is contained in a spherical clear plastic compartment of grocery store apple packaging
Carolyn set up a yarn station where children were able to choose and cut their own yarn. She repurposed the plastic packaging used to hold a set of apples from the grocery store to corral balls of yarn as children pulled and cut.    

Learn more about the last step of the project in our blog about exploring Kente Cloth and read Carolyn’s Reflection on the entire project. If you would like to learn more about this project you can access our Smithsonian Learning Lab collection based on this lesson.

Fabric Collage: Bisa Butler Project

This blog is part three in a six-part series. The first blog post focused on the inspiration and preparation of the Bisa Butler focused project. The second blog post showed how the children made their own batiks which would serve as the base for the rest of the project. Part four is about sewing. Part five is on exploring kente cloth and part six is a reflection on the whole process. This blog post focuses on how the children approached the fabric collage.  

An educator sits at a table next to a child, they both point to a piece of cloth the child has glued to their projects.  At the bottom Text reads " Collage/ Bisa Butler Project/ A SEEC Story"

After making their batiks, the next step for the children was to add fabric to their piece. To show Bisa Butler’s process, Carolyn showed the children a video that starts with Bisa Butler walking through a fabric store and touching fabric. After watching the video, the class talked about how Bisa Butler used both her sense of sight and her sense of touch to choose fabric. Carolyn wanted to emphasize the role of touch and texture in Bisa Butler’s process. The classes looked closely at Bisa Bulter’s portrait of Questlove for the New York Times Magazine and noticed the lace and beading that she used to emphasize the texture of his afro. Then Carolyn gave the children swatches of fabric to touch and asked them how they might correlate with elements of their personalities. 

On the left, a child holds out a flat basket with several pieces of green and yellow fabric scraps, on the right a child adds fabric scraps to a flat basket from a large tray of fabric
Children were given baskets and invited to “shop” for the fabrics they wanted to use in their pieces. 

Carolyn set up a store in the art studio where the children could go shopping and choose their fabric to use for the collage. Each child had their own shopping basket and she encouraged them to choose whatever fabric they wanted from the wide variety that she had placed out. The textiles in the class’s store included sequin flip fabric and themed fabric like Zelda and Cars. As the children shopped, Carolyn observed and noted, “it was interesting to see what they picked.” 

A child sits and uses scissors to cut a scrap of patterned fabric
Children approached working with fabric in many ways. Some cut them up into very small pieces while others added them onto their pieces directly. Some kept the fabric to the edges of the batik fabric they created, and others opted to cover it up completely. 

After choosing the fabric they wanted to work with, the children started cutting the fabric into various shapes. Carolyn explained that the children “really connected with collage in a different way than they would have if we used paper or any other mixed media.” Cutting fabric, which requires tension to make smooth lines, posed a challenge to many of the preschoolers but they were eager to continue working with the material. Some children spent the whole class cutting fabric into tiny pieces to add to their collage and Carolyn loved seeing all their styles come through.  

For the children, being able to cut something that you might wear as clothing was genuinely exciting. Carolyn had invited families to send in clothing that they were comfortable being cut to use for the project. Families sent in a variety of clothing including clothes that belonged to people important to them like their grandmother. Some children were excited to cut up their old clothing while others did not want to cut up their old play clothes. Carolyn talked to the children about how Bisa Butler reused clothing from her family to create her portraits.  

on the left, a child examines a fabric swatch, on the right the same child child sits at a table and picks scraps of fabric from a flat basket, they are holding a paint brush used for glue in one hand.
The children were able to choose the textiles that appealed to them and add those pieces to their collage.  

As they explored the textiles through their sense of touch while shopping and cutting while collaging, the children were growing their knowledge of fabric and fiber arts. They were becoming more aware of the fabric that they wore while learning about the types of textiles that Bisa Butler used. As the sessions progressed, the children started saying, “My t-shirt feels silky” or “I feel the seams on my pants.” For Carolyn this represented a goal of the project. As she explained, the children began to make “the connection with the fibers all around them and the fibers that Bisa used.” 

Learn more about the rest of the project in the upcoming blogs on Sewing, Kente Cloth, and Reflection on the project. You can also check out part 1 and part 2 of this series. Connect more deeply with this lesson through our Bisa Butler Learning Lab collection.

Object of the Month: Calder Gallery at the National Gallery of Art

As was the case in September, this month’s Object of the Month is actually an entire gallery. This gallery is dedicated to the artist, Alexander Calder, and is located in the newly re-opened East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. The latest iteration of this gallery is bright, airy, colorful, and full of shadows. It is in many ways the perfect art space for a young child can while away their time looking and getting lost in their imaginations.
The objects within the gallery can be used in conjunction to several age-appropriate themes.

  • Shadows – The sundial just outside the Smithsonian Castle in the Haupt Garden  + Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch would round out the experience.
  • Color – Calder’s bold color palette is a great way to introduce your child to colors.
  • Shape – Circles, triangles, even a quadrilateral (the elephant’s ears)!
  • Ocean – Finny Fish offers an imaginative take on our ocean friends- combine it with a trip to the Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall.
  • Balance – His mobiles are a great way to introduce children to the concept of balance.
  • Movement/Wind – Take notice, Calder’s mobiles move and come alive!
  • Space – Many of his pieces reminiscent of the solar system, especially Vertical Constellation with Bomb.

 

Infants, Toddlers, and Twos

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Visit the NGA’s website to learn more about each of these objects.

The animals in the center of the gallery are a perfect height for your infant and toddler, especially those who are in the stroller and struggling to see what is around them. I like the idea of pairing these objects with Sandra Boyton’s Are You a Cow or Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo. I am also very fond of the Crinkly Worm and pairing it with one of my all-time favs- Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. Whichever literary direction you go, you can also choose to bring photos, stuffed animals, or even watch a short video featuring one of the animals. Head out to the nearby terrace and see if you can imagine moving like a bull or a worm.  If worms, cows, and bulls aren’t your thing, then focus on the elephant. This sculpture is a playful interpretation of the animal and is certain to capture your child’s attention. Enjoy an elephant hunt though the 3Smithsonian and stop by the Sackler Gallery to see the Seated Ganesha, the rotunda of the Natural History Museum to see Henry the Elephant and of course, the Zoo. Take a photo of each visit and display it somewhere at home where your child can see it (you could make a mobile if you want to stay true to the Calder theme). By documenting their experience, it will help them connect events and see their own learning.

Threes and Four

I was recently in this gallery with a group of adults as part of a workshop and I was asked to work with a partner to create something Calder–inspired with paper and some scotch tape. We don’t often think about it, but museums, with the right materials, can also be art studios.  I love these types of activities not just because they support creativity, but because they encourage young children to look carefully. Here are a few gallery-safe ideas:

  • Sketch the shadows on the walls2
  • Use pipe cleaners to make shapes and forms.
  • Add pieces to a mobile that you have started
  • Have them tear a piece of paper into one of the shapes they see  (just remember a trash bag).

Enjoy, have fun, and don’t forget to share your ideas with us too!

The Art Room

We recently featured our art educator, Carolyn Eby, in our bi-weekly Teacher Feature.  We thought it would be great to take another look at the work she is doing with all of our age groups. Check out some of her great ideas!

Infants Explore the Arctic

Carolyn used frozen paints and invited each child to mix them with other colors on their tables. After which, she took a mono print of their work. Children later ripped the mono print to create a collage – a fun activity that also helped them build important fine motor skills!

Toddlers Sand Paint

This sand paint, made with puffy paint and baking soda,  was delivered straight to the toddler class in dump trucks — the perfect accompaniment to their study of, you guessed it, trucks!

PreK-3 Color Mixing

Our preschool students join Carolyn every afternoon for art. Here we see them exploring color with the help of a light table. They also used eyedroppers and watercolors to explore what happened when the colors ran together. So focused!

 

PreK-4 Shapes

Like the three-year-olds, the fours join Carolyn every afternoon. Here she took a common  theme, shapes, and added depth. On the floor, the students are participating in a drawing game in which the dice indicate a color and a shape. Then, she had the class paint with sponges cut into specific shapes. Finally, she has them cutting shapes to match an artwork. They approached the concept in a variety of ways and thus, got a deeper understanding of it and had a lot of fun!

The Everyday Artist

I am, by training, an art historian. After having taught for more than fifteen years in museums, I consider myself a museum educator by experience. I do not, however, consider myself an art educator and _MG_0755yet, I find myself in the position of having to provide and support art based projects. I am not going to lie, I have often felt a little out of my element and concerned about creating authentic art experiences. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one. I am certain there are other early childhood educators and parents out there who dread the “art activity” largely because many of us have the mindset of either being good or bad artists.

I am happy to report that over the past five years, I have managed to take on a different perspective. I’ve learned that my art projects don’t have to have the same goals as those of art educators. I use these projects as a way to extend a theme, facilitate a creative experience and shape a community atmosphere. I don’t try to teach technique or fundamentals and leave that to the experts. Here are some ideas for getting to your own place of Zen with your student’s or children’s art activities.

Extend the Idea

In a class featuring African masks, we visited the National Museum of African Art and explored this mask from Burkino Faso. Our conversation began simply by observing the piece and then connecting the mask with shape of a butterfly wing. We then talked about how the mask connected to nature – not only in its subject matter, but also in its meaning and use. On our way back to the classroom, we walked through a nearby butterfly garden in the hopes of seeing a real butterfly.

Once we returned, I provided students with large cut-outs of butterfly wings and asked them to design their own butterfly patterns. I was drawn to this idea because it extended the butterfly theme and supported the same connection with art and nature. I also liked it because it was simple and manageable for everyone.

Keep it Open-ended

_MG_1294I try to avoid prescribed rules or a specific set of steps for a project because it helps me stay in my comfort zone, and also sets the children up for success.

After a visit to the Freer Gallery of Art’s Peacock Room, we spent the end of class creating our own peacock-inspired painting and frame by using the Whistler’s blue, green and gold color palette. Again, this project was simple to execute but underlined the importance of the color scheme. I also thought it worked well since Whistler felt that his artwork should be beautiful.  Not giving them too many parameters enabled them to create something using their abilities and to do it in their own individual way.

Provide a Variety of Materials

I think a range of materials helps speak to different children and what interests them. For example, when designing the butterfly wings I provided markers, paint and oil pastel crayons. Each produced different effects and gave the children a chance to experiment with different mediums. It was interesting to see what they chose to work with and how they used it. The opportunity to choose for themselves felt like an exercise in creativity. With that said, the trick is trying not to overwhelm them with too many options.

Provide Inspiration

IMG_3536Like the materials, the inspiration piece has to balance. I like posting images around the room when doing an art project – whether it’s an example of another child’s work or of a famous artist, having inspiration available can help get the creative juices flowing.

Share

_MG_1320Finally, I love to give children the chance to share.  Of course there are times when children don’t want to share, but I find that they still benefit from the conversation. I begin by asking them to describe their artwork and then inquire about one or two interesting components. Why they chose a color? Did an element mean something? What did they like about the project? The class gets to see multiple perspectives, practice speaking/listening in a group and be proud of their accomplishments.

 

Want to have some fun with us? Join us for our Preschool Pioneers and create your own art project.