The GB's teacher assigned an "art inquiry" project to coincide with our school's upcoming art-and-writing event, when the school becomes a gallery for a night, with beautiful displays of student work, a silent auction and a cookie-sale fundraiser. It's our most important school event of the year, a real, live glittering gala, held in the last days before the holiday break.
Our school focuses on "inquiry" as a main component of the curriculum - students are encouraged to ask questions about topics which interest them, and to perform any and all experiments necessary to find the answers. It can be a lot of fun, but stressful too because children ask really hard questions sometimes. They parlay their research into a visual presentation for their peers, which can take any form. We've made videos, PowerPoint slideshows, wooden models and traditional poster-board displays.
The GB's art inquiry came with very open-ended instructions, so we brainstormed for a few days. She wanted to know if she could "make art" with things that aren't necessarily meant for making art. Of course we can, Miss Bear! There is so much in the world we can use for that. We took walks around the house, the yard and the general neighborhood making lists of living and non-living things that might be used in some way. In the end, we decided to look at things we could use to make designs on fabric, and then use the fabric to sew an interesting piece of art to share. There were several days of experiments on scraps of old Bear undershirts - nails, paper clips, springs and other shop bits in bowls with water, bleach or vinegar, with or without salt added. There were flowers and leaves, nuts, fruits and berries smeared over fabrics and left to dry. It was messy and interesting. There was real inquiry, genuine mystery! What works, what doesn't, what looks good and what just looks like dirt? We repeated our favorite experiments on better fabric, a plain white cotton pillowcase from my bag of old craft-able linens.
In the end, we had three very favorite samples, and we made them into a quilted banner that can be hung on the wall. I used black cotton to frame each dyed sample, then sewed them into a vertical strip, sandwiched for quilting. I did all the machine-sewing myself (she's not quite ready for this, but she watched and directed me in my work). She did the hand-embroidery (stitching along pencil lines I drew for her), and what a beautiful job she did. She helped choose colorful threads, to add interest and detail to the squares.
This square features staining left behind when we soaked it in bleach with pieces of copper springs on the fabric. The springs left greenish-blue marks behind. We added a circle of green stitches around the center mark.
This square is dyed with smashed prickly pear cactus fruits, mixed with salt. We smeared it over the fabric and it left behind some dry flakes of a darker tone. We stitched a purple line diagonally across the whole square.
This one was dyed with long nails laid over the fabric, in a soak with bleach. It left behind an interesting splotchy design that also has some texture; the biggest rust spots are a bit raised and crusty. We added orange X's in the corners of this design. This was the most challenging block for the GB to stitch; there were four X's to make and we needed to move the hoop for each one. She's an expert at operating the hoop now.
I added some ribbon loops to the top edge for hanging. We went hunting in the backyard for a stick this morning and came up with a good, skinny one to put through the loops, then added some more ribbon for a hanger. Here's the finished product, a little quilted banner with naturally-dyed panels. Everything in this project came from around the house or outside, we didn't spend a penny. I enjoyed teaching my girl some new things and watching her learn. That moment, when they realize an experiment worked! What a joy. And her stitching is very good, she picked it up very quickly. Before now, she'd only sewn on plastic canvas with yarn. She was ready for more. She's very proud of her first quilt. She wants a whole bed-sized one dyed with prickly pear fruits. We need to get out there and start collecting, it's going to take a bushel or two.