Before initiating this activity, set the tone by reading The Talking Cloth by Rhonda Mitchell and provide background information concerning the use of Adinkra cloth (see italicized wording below). Students will subsequently create a meaningful wall hanging and an accompanying paragraph to describe the significance of their cloth creations.
For centuries, Adinkra craftsman have fashioned their cloth with painstaking care. As holds true throughout Africa concerning the use of any natural resource, the Adinkra craftsman pours libation to Nyame (the Creator) before undertaking his creative effort.
A special dye is made just for the Adinkra. Extracted from the bark of the badie (pronounced bah-ghee) tree, it is placed into a large makeshift barrel. Water is poured over the bark until it is completely covered. The bark is allowed to soften for several days. Thereafter, it is sieved and dried. Using mortar and pestle, the remaining bark is ground into a fine powder. The fine granules are placed into kettles of water and boiled for hours, and subsequently sieved to remove undesired particles and to extract the rich dark liquid. Adinkra print designs are made using carefully carved and intricately crafted calabashes. (A calabash is a type of gourd. In Ghana, some grow on trees, others along the ground. They come in gooseneck or spherical form and are used to make everything from ladles and bowls to percussion instruments.) Symbols are meticulously applied to the cloth using nothing more than sculpted calabash stencils and accompanying hand-carved wooden tools.
Note also that colors within the fabric hold significance, and their meaning differ for each societal group. For the Akan, gold or yellow represented royalty, everlasting life, prosperity, warmth, glory, maturity, prime of life, and the presence of God. White symbolized purity, joy and/or victory. For the Ga people, red denoted the death and remembrance of a relative or loved one, sudden calamity, national anger or crisis. Green represented vitality, procreation, and fertility. Among the Ewe, blue was symbolic of love and female tenderness. For some cultures, black conveyed reverence of old age, death and its power over life. In some cultures, green mixed with white was symbolic of a bountiful harvest. The combination of red and yellow stood for life and its power over sickness. Purple represented serenity, patience, and oneness with God.
Up until recent times, Adinkra cloth was used during funerary occasions and worn solely by men. Aesthetic symbols (see http://Quattro.me.uiuc.edu/~fog/adinkra.html) and the colors contained thereon rendered the cloth a source of communication, for together, a message was conveyed. When worn, the "talking cloth" would be eloquently wrapped around the wearer.
We do not have enough fabric or time to create an authentic piece of Adinkra, but we can perceive the essence of its beauty and symbolism by making a cloth of our own.
You will need
An electric iron
Adinkra stencils (see Bibliography - Ghana: Stencils)
7 x 18 inch strips of cloth (use white, beige, or pastel blue pillow cases cut into strips, one per student)
spool of heavy duty black or brown thread
watercolor template with brushes (emphasize the use of red, black, green, yellow, blue, purple-colors often found in Ghanaian fabrics)
water-filled cups (to clean paintbrushes and moistened watercolors
red, black, green, and yellow acrylic paint
Preliminary Stencil Preparation
Fold freezer wrap. Using half of the Adinkra stencil, lay against fold and trace. Cut out stencils. Open. Make enough to accommodate 3 to 4 stencils per student. Additionally, cut out strips to frame each ironed-on stencil.
Cover tables. Lay out one watercolor palette per student with two water-filled cups (one to moisten the palette, the other for cleansing the brushes)
Step 1. Have students roll up their sleeves, wear smocks (or garbage bags with openings cut out for student arms and head), and cover desktops with newspaper prior to beginning this activity.
Step 2. Take linen strip. Use finger to pucker a small section of cloth. Place a rubber- band on the bottom portion of the finger-draped fabric until it forms a small peak. Slide peaked fabric off of finger. Repeat rubber-band pucker technique as many times as possible until there is no room to continue the process.
Step 3. Highlight the significance of colors found in Ghanaian fabrics. Have students select two or three watercolors for his/her cloth from the colors noted above. Saturate chosen color palettes with water. Drench brush and generously apply paint to the peaked portion of the fabric. (I recommend using a repeated color pattern, e.g., purple, red, and dark blue or green, black, and yellow. Using such patterns results in a beautifully tie-dyed cloth, and it is a great way to reinforce the Math concepts of patterns and sequence.) Saturate the remainder of the cloth. Paint will be absorbed inside the folds and throughout the surrounding fabric.
Step 4. Remove rubberbands and open fabric. Allow it to dry. (If a radiator is available, lay painted fabric thereon to expedite drying process). Iron it flat.
Step 5. Have students select two or three different Adinkra stencils. Encourage them to select stencils that have special meaning for them. Aesthetically place them on the fabric, allowing equidistant space between each stencil. Iron them onto the fabric, shiny portion facing downward. Using additional freezer wrap strips, frame each stencil, again with the shiny side facing downward. Iron on to form "boxed stencils."
Step 6. Have students select one acrylic paint color that accentuates the "tie dyed" cloth. Paint space within the ironed-on stencil frame. Don't panic if paint gets on the freezer wrap. The adhesive stenciling will be removed after the paint dries.
Step 7. After the Adinkra wall hanging has dried and all stenciling has been removed, coat the top 1" inch of cloth with Elmer's glue. Wrap this portion of the cloth around the plastic straw. Do the same thing with the bottom. Allow fabric to dry. Push string through straw at the top end of the fabric. Tie. Your wall hanging is complete!
Step 8. Encourage students to think about the colors and stencils used in their cloth and subsequently create a paragraph to define the meaning behind their talking cloth.
Note: This activity can conclude with an Author's Tea, where students present their artistic and literary accomplishments before parents and classmates. The wall-hangings can also be placed on exhibition within the school, and/or at a community businesses and/or at a local library in the surrounding area.