Saturday, 6 September 2014

Let's do it for the kids: the Adinkra symbols project

This is the second post in the series about the arts and crafts workshops for children that I ran almost two years ago with the African Cultural Association, Barnet.
As usual the brief was to encourage children and young people from 7 to 18 to learn and use textile craft techniques to make something, possibly with links to African history and culture.

A series of coasters embroidered in long stitch on canvas with Adinkra symbols, bound with African fabrics.

As a great fan and lover of embroidery, something involving embroidery was for me naturally on the agenda from the start. Running a workshop on a drop-in basis carries the risk of not knowing in advance the average ability/knowledge of your  audience, in which case it is safer to assume none.
Activities based on sewing, had previously had a mixed reception: some children loved the challenge, some didn't. The apparent or real complexity of some of the embroidery stitches and styles can be off-putting, especially for children, who are generally looking for quick results that offer satisfaction and a sense of achievement and self-affirmation.
Long stitch kits are usually popular with children as they offer the possibility to quickly fill a simple design with an uncomplicated stitch in order to decorate small items that have a practical use as well. Things like a picture frame, a book cover and so on.

Bookmark Long stitch kit embroidered in wool on canvas
The idea then came to my mind to research some Adinkra symbols that could be adapted, translated and embroidered in long stitches. Adinkra are a series of visual symbols that originated in Ghana (or the neighbouring Ivory Coast) among the Asanti people and are used on hand crafted items, especially on cloth, to convey certain concepts.
A quick useful resource can be found on  this link but, a good and more substantial starting point can also be found here
Welcome to Adire African Textiles gallery
I decided to choose some symbols that I thought would be both appealing to children for their meaning and simple to reproduce:
Here are some of the initial sketches and drawings...

The next step consisted in translating the symbols into long stitch patterns that could be embroidered

Translating symbols into long stitch patterns

Three symbols seemed to be fit for purpose for more than one reason (simplicity of execution, concept appeal etc) : one of them was 'royalty', the other was 'peace' and the other was ' good fortune'. I auditioned beforehand the feasibility of the symbols with my audience and was greatly guided by their choices.

The other steps consisted in preparing the canvas, by drawing the design on it and colouring it in to facilitate the execution, a bit like some 'tapestry' (needlepoint) kits that come ready painted with the colours of the threads.                                                                                                                                

One of the coasters embroidered in long stitch on canvas with the "royalty" symbol

The home-made "kits" proved very popular with the children, and some of them not only mastered the long stitch, but also worked out their own version. The resources used were minimal: recycled wool yarn (from my stash!), permanent markers, needles, of course, and scraps of African fabrics. The only relatively expensive item being the 10 holes x inch canvas, which though, yielded quite a few "squares." While we decided to bind the embroidered squares and make them into coasters, they might have been just as easily turned into something else (a book cover, a mini wall hanging etc.).

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