Background for the Teacher
The basic principles of design are taught to students to help them develop an aesthetic sense and to learn how to create attractive as well as expressive works of art and of craft. These principles, such as using balance in compositions, contrasting values that complement the composition as a whole, and expressive line, are often taught separately or in pairs, through the use of cut paper, or through graphic techniques that enable art students to go on to the more ambitious art form of painting. An exciting way to introduce some principles of design is to use the traditional Latin American craft of appliqué of
It would be ideal to be able to show the students an authentic
such as the one reproduced below. This piece comes from Puerto Rico and is typical of the craft as it was executed about thirty years ago and more. The colors of this applique are primarily red, with the three layers of outlines in green, bright yellow and denim blue. Purple, lilac, pink and white are repeated in the decorative vertical hyphens that are scattered throughout the surface forms.
are made out of fabric remnants that are cut into designs (such as the ones on the following pages) based on traditional Latin American animal and flower motifs. Many of these works are made up of three layers of fabric, and the basic shapes are cut out of these. Both the positive and the negative of the cut shapes are retained in the design as the layers that are closest to the viewer are given wider hems in order to reveal the lower layers. The local colors are inserted between the layers and are seen as vertical lines in the broader planes. Although the design here illustrated is perfectly symmetrical, most
are made of asymmetric forms that virtually dance over the surface.
In Guatemala and Venezuela,
are used to decorate clothing, bedspreads and walls. Like the early settlers of the United States, these people have few materials with which they can be creative and yet practical, and so both peoples turned to the recycling of fabrics in order to fulfill their needs for attractive and yet useful crafts.
The objective of this lesson is to introduce three of the basic principles of design: l)designs should create a rhythmic pattern made up of related shapes, 2) colors should be repeated so as to not force the eye to remain with a single part of the composition, and 3) a composition should have a major center of interest and at least one minor one. Another objective of this lesson is to introduce the students to a useful and attractive craft that is a living part of the tradition of several Latin American countries.
Fabric remnants, needle, thread, paper and pencil for preparatory drawings. For a complete paper “sketch” of a
: three or more different colors of construction paper.
Show an example of appliqué, or make a simple
to show the class. The Peabody Museum carries appliqués from various Latin American countries.
Tell the students that it is a
. Encourage them to answer the following types of questions: “Can you figure out how this decorative work was made?” “Are the fabrics all new?” “Are the fabrics all of the same type?” What do you think the
is used for?” “Can—you think of any other uses for it?” “Does it remind—you of any craft of this country?” (quilting) “Do you know of any European countries that have similar forms of appliqué?” (Poland, Belgium, Russia).
should be made out of construction paper so that the basic concept of positive-negative cut outs can be understood, and so that the more valuable fabric supplies are not wasted.
The class should either collect traditional Latin American motifs by looking at books and crafts at, for example, the Peabody Museum, or if this is to be a one lesson exercise, the teacher should hand out drawings of typical motifs such as those included at the end of this paper. See the bibliography for books that provide other designs.
Steps for Making
(figure available in print form)
(figure available in print form)
Double Bird Mola
1. Choose one or more motifs for your mola.
2. Trace or copy it making several copies in two or more different sizes.
3. Arrange the tracings into an attractive design that is either symmetric or asymmetric.
4. When you have a design that you are satisfied with, place the shapes on what will be your uppermost layer of paper.
5. Trace the outermost line of the shape onto the fabric and cut that shape out and retain the negative shape for the next step. The negative shape is the part that would usually be discarded but for this project it is the most important part.
6. Using the negative shape as a template (a grid from which you will work), draw a second layer of designs within the first one, and close to it by about one fourth of an inch.
7. Cut out the positive shapes that you have just drawn and again retain the negative template.
8. Using the second layer as the new template, draw more related designs within the cut out areas of the second template onto the third layer of your
9. If you are working with paper or felt, glue the layers together.
If you are working with fabric, make tiny hems on all the edges and use the overcast stitch to connect the layers.
. Mixed cotton fabrics, 24" L., 15-3/4" H. Puerto Rico (c1940)