Sew a Soft Sculpture Inspired by Nick Cave’s Soundsuits
So, what is a soft sculpture? A soft sculpture is a 3D form that is made from soft materials like cloth, foam, paper, or other flexible materials. Soft sculptures can range from fine art pieces in exhibitions to comforting toys.
Get inspired to design and hand sew your own soft sculpture with this lesson inspired by a series of sculptures called Soundsuits by fabric sculptor, performance artist, educator, and dancer Nick Cave.
About the Artist:
Nick Cave began working with fabric at a young age by manipulating hand-me-down clothing from his older siblings. His work is inspired by an array of things, from the experience of being Black in America, to African art traditions, to haute-couture fashion. Cave has created over 500 Soundsuits since he created his first one in 1992. The Soundsuits serve as a sort of armor that distorts the wearer’s figure and hides their identity.
“The Soundsuits hide gender, race, class and they force you to look at the work without judgment.”
• Paper & drawing utensil
• Fabric – Use something from home like an old dress shirt or linens. Choose fabric without much stretch because sewing on stretchy fabric can be challenging. If purchasing fabric, choose something cotton, as cotton is easily drawn and painted on.
• Polyester fiber fill – Alternatives include cotton batting, stuffing from an old pillow, rice.
• Needle & thread
• Straight pins
• Skewer or chopstick for filling
• Strong glue – Elmer’s Glue-All, Alene’s Tacky Glue, or fabric glue
• Embellishments (See optional supplies)
• Fabric markers/Sharpies
• Acrylic paints
• Embroidery thread
• Beads & bells
• Sequins & gems
• Pom poms
• Sewing machine
1. Plan your design and pattern.
Sketch out what you want your sculpture to look like, and then draw a pattern for your design. To create a sewing pattern, draw and cut out each piece of your sculpture onto any type of paper or cardboard. Then trace the cut pieces of your pattern onto the fabric to guide you in cutting your fabric. Keep in mind that this is a sculpture not an item of clothing, so you’re pieces of fabric don’t need to be perfectly symmetrical. You can even try to freehand draw the pieces of your pattern onto your fabric.
This simple, 4-piece Soundsuit pattern includes a front side, a matching back side, and two identical legs. Make the leg pieces twice as thick and a few inches longer than desired. Each leg will be folded in half and sewn together to create a cylinder shape when filled. The extra length at the upper end of each leg will be sewn inside of the body.
Tip: Limit the pattern to simple shapes. Details will be lost when pieces are sewn together. Also, make your pattern an inch larger than you want your sculpture because you will lose some of the size.
2. Cut the pieces of your pattern out of your fabric and pin together pieces where you will be sewing.
Mark a line along the edge to help guide where to sew.
3. Use a running stitch to sew together pinned pieces about a ¼ inch away from the edge.
A running stitch is when the needle and thread pass over and under. Keep the stitches tight to strengthen the bond between the two pieces, and carefully remove pins as you go. Leave the bottom edge of the body and the top of each leg open to fill.
4. Turn the stitched pieces inside out to hide the raw edges of the fabric and create a cleaner look.
Skip this step if you prefer to see the edges.
5. Fill the legs with stuffing.
Use a skewer, chopstick, or long handled utensil to help pack filling and reach small areas like the toes. After the legs are filled, halfway fill the body with stuffing, and then position legs inside the body before you finish filling the body. Be sure to leave enough space so that the bottom edge of the body can be stitched closed with the legs inside.
6. Pin the bottom edge closed and using a running stitch to stitch close the body.
This completes the structure of the soft sculpture.
7. To finish the sculpture, add embellishments and surface design.
This is your opportunity to personalize your sculpture. Use markers, paint, found objects, and fiber materials to strengthen your Soundsuit ‘s appearance.
Begin with markers and paints if you want to add color and pattern to the fabric. Once that dries, add the three-dimensional decorations using different embroidery techniques and glue.
Ideas for surface design:
• Couching using a chunky yarn. Couching is a type of embroidery where thread is laid down on the surface and then stitched over with small stitches to hold it in place. A thicker yarn makes the process go faster and gives the sculpture a plush feel.
• Thread long pieces of twine through the sculpture and then tie beads to the end. This makes a great clacking sound when the beads knock against each other.
• Glue sequins or any other small objects to the surface.
Challenge: Create your own pattern to sew. Think of ways to add more pieces and dimensions to the sculpture.
Simplify: Fill a sock with stuffing and sew it closed. Add embellishments to the outside.
There is so much to look at and learn about Nick Cave and his hundreds of Soundsuits. Check out the resources below to learn more about Nick Cave and his work:
This idea brought to you by Zoe Whiteside
Sticker Making with Owl: Mini art workshop
This video compliments the Teen Hangout that Owl will be hosting with NexGen. Sign up to watch Owl work, or pull out your art supplies and work along side her.
Draw & Print Patterns Inspired by Textiles
Find patterns in the textiles around your house, then turn them into a series of prints inspired by the glass panel installation Spin, Weave, Gather by Nancy Callan. In her patterned glass panels, Callan references North Carolina’s rich history of textile manufacturing. From twisted threads, to woven patterns, to designs of stripes or dots, the fabric around us can prompt some pretty cool design ideas!
“I think art is both a question and an answer. We ask the question ‘What if?’ and we answer that question through the process of making.”
About the Artist:
Glass artist Nancy Callan lives in Seattle, Washington, where she works among many skilled glassblowers. She created the piece above while working at STARworks in Star, North Carolina.
• Scratch art printing foam (or recycled foam trays from the grocery store)
• Paper to print on
• Water soluble printing ink or tempera paint (also known as poster paint)
• Paint brush, pencil, or blunt end to use as a stylus (you can use more than one size tip to create different line thicknesses)
• Brayer (or small paint roller or foam brush)
• Washable, flat container for rolling ink
• Tarp or table covering that can get dirty
• Damp and dry paper towels for wiping hands
• Ruler – optional
1. Gather fabrics to use as your inspiration.
Find pillows, towels, or pieces of clothing with textures or patterns that interest you. Pictures from the internet can also be used as inspiration for the project. Printing them and having them next to you as you work can help.
2. Carve your decoration
Use your stylus or pencil to scratch patterns into foam boards, also called “plates”. Press hard enough to make an indentation, but not so hard as to cut through the foam. Mixing large and small patterns and using various sizes of foam boards helps create contrast and interest in your prints.
3. Create your Borders
To create even borders around your print, or to plan a layout of multiple prints on one large piece of paper, draw light pencil marks where you plan to print your design. This will help with positioning. You can use a ruler or straight edge, or trace around the non-inked styrofoam plates. You don’t have to be this precise if you don’t want to.
4. Add some ink
After you have covered your work area with a tarp or disposable covering, decide what color you would like your print to be. Put ink into the flat container and roll the brayer back and forth to cover the entire roller with ink. Roll over your foam plate several times until there are no bare spots. If you are using a foam brush, dab the ink on as evenly as you can. If you get ink on your hands, be sure to wash and dry them before touching your paper to keep from getting fingerprints on it.
5. Press on your design
Place foam plate, ink side down, on a piece of paper. Gently press and rub your fingers over the foam making sure the entire surface of the plate is in contact with the paper. You can use a paper towel or extra piece of recycled paper to lay over top of your foam plate before rubbing to help keep the edges of your print clean.
6. Do it again!
Carefully lift the foam plate off the printed paper. Remember, perfection isn’t the goal. If you would like to use the same foam plate with a different color, just gently wash the foam plate and the brayer with warm soapy water and dry with an old towel. Have fun; make more than one! Why not make multiple prints to share with friends and family?
If you like the way your foam plate looks with ink on it, let it dry and then glue it to a piece of paper ink side up. The plates will have a darker tone than the prints themselves.
Have friends or family each create their own unique patterns. Make a larger collage with all the prints.
If you don’t have styrofoam, try printing with a plastic sandwich bag! Brush one color of paint onto a bag, doodle designs into the paint with a Q-tip, and flip it onto a piece of paper. Gently pat, then peel off, and you’ll have a print.
This idea brought to you by Maggie Burgan.
Simply Tie Knots to Create Macramé
Macramé is an ancient fiber art that uses knots to create items that are both useful and beautiful. This activity inspired by Wall Hanging 3 by Tanya Aguiñiga uses only square knots. It is easy for beginners and for young children, with help from parents.
About the Artist:
Growing up in Mexico and California, Tanya Aguiñiga discovered a passion for making things with her hands. As a child, she got her start in fiber art by turning shredded palm fronds into jewelry and selling it to her neighbors! Today, she uses her artist/designer/activist voice to address social issues with creativity and compassion.
• Cardboard or clipboard for holding your work
• Macramé cord- this can be rope, twine or yarn cut to desired length (3 feet is a good length for beginners/young children)
• Support, something to tie your cords to- dowel, branch, straw or ruler (Your yarn will be attached to this)
1. Start by cutting your cord or yarn.
Three foot pieces (3’) are a good length to start with. You will need at least two pieces to practice tying square knots. Tape your support to the cardboard then anchor pieces to it using a simple loop called a Larks Head.
You’ll need 4 cords or strands to make a square knot.
2. Tie a Knot
Bring the ends of each cord together to find the middle. Loop it midway over your support then feed the ends through. This is called a Lark’s Head knot. Repeat with each cord. You’ll be using the Left and Right strands for knotting; the two center strands don’t move.
3. Make a Loop
Take the Left strand and make a loop over the center strands, then the Right one goes over the Left’s “tail” and through the loop in back. Then tighten. Now you’ve made a Half Square knot.
4. Now do the reverse!
Loop the Right strand, Left strand goes over the tail and through the loop in the back. Tighten the Square Knot you just made. You can keep repeating the same knots to make a chain. Here is a little trick to help you as you work:
Left over Right, tuck under. Right over Left, tuck under.
Using just square knots, you can make a chain for a bracelet or keychain. Add a few more strands and you can make a wall hanging. You can even add beads to your work!
Even young children can experiment with freeform knotting. Get them started and let them go!
Try a more advanced approach using 5 cords. Start your knots lower and skip the outer cords after the first knot, then add them back. Then use all the cords to make a large square knot. Feel free to experiment, you can always untie and start again!
“Meet” the artist in this Craft in America video (13 minutes)
Personalize your space with a tissue paper initial
Use small squares of tissue paper to create a colorful, textured initial to personalize your desk or room. This project is inspired by Pilar Albarracín’s Ceiling of Offerings, a sculptural installation made of 724 flamenco dresses suspended from the ceiling. From below, the ruffled material looks like a floating bouquet of colorful flowers.
About the Artist:
Spanish artist Pilar Albarracín creates performance, video, and installation art. She often creates challenging art about identity, culture, gender, and heritage.
• Cardboard cut-out of your favorite initial (or other symbol/shape)
• Colored tissue paper squares (1” and 2” work well)
• Tarp or table covering that can get dirty
Choose tissue paper colors that best represent you, and cut into small squares. Wrap the squares (one at a time) over the eraser end of a pencil to create a flower-like shape. Dab a small amount of glue to the bottom of the tissue paper, and lightly press onto your cardboard. Repeat the process until your cardboard is covered. The closer you place them together, the fuller the effect.
You can clump colors together or go with a random approach – either way, have fun! This process is simple, but you will find that it helps with focus and relaxation.
Draw a block-letter initial or a symbol onto a piece of cardboard, instead of cutting out a shape. Fill in the shape first, and then fill in or paint the background area.
Glue a smaller size tissue square inside of a larger one to create dimension. Use a complementary color for variation.
Purchase pre-cut tissue paper squares.
This idea brought to you by Maggie Burgan.
Collaged Memory Box
In this collage project inspired by Romare Bearden’s Evening of the Gray Cat, you can create an artistic Collaged Memory Box to celebrate a special person, place, or journey. Cut, paste, and collage your story on the lid, and keep favorite mementos inside the box.
As a child, Romare Bearden traveled to Charlotte each summer to visit his great-grandparents. Many years later, he created a series of art called “Mecklenburg Memories,” inspired by his recollections of North Carolina in the early decades of the 1900’s.
Can you find the gray cat in this scene?
“A work of art can always keep growing. You can always add something to it each time you see it.”
About the Artist:
Romare Bearden was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1911. At a young age, he moved with his parents to Harlem, in New York City to seek opportunities that weren’t available to African Americans in the south. As an adult, Bearden became known as one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. Combining images from magazines, prints, and colored and textured papers to create collage “paintings,” his art told many stories about the Black experience, classical literature and art, and cultural history.
• Shoe box, or any box with a lid
• Piece of paper cut the size of the box lid
• Small paintbrush to paint glue onto paper
• Small container for glue (add a drop or two of water)
• Collage material cut from magazines, catalogs, recycled artwork, envelopes, photos, greeting cards etc.
• Optional: White paper and markers or paint to create your own collage paper
To make some of your own hand-painted papers like Bearden did, use markers or paints to create patterned and colorful papers. When they dry, cut them into shapes or add to the background. Check out the other Mint Museum Create at Home projects for some inspiration.
Gather your supplies. Look through the collage materials for images and patterns that appeal to you or bring back a memory. Draw out any elements you would like to add.
Cut out your shapes and elements, and start arranging them onto the box lid, or onto a piece of paper the size of your lid that you’ll glue down to the lid. Layer and overlap the pieces to add more depth to your collage, and play with different placements.
Once you’ve chosen your final arrangement, it’s time to glue. Put some glue in a small container and add a few drops of water to thin it. Using a paintbrush to apply the glue, paint a thin layer of glue to the back of each piece or to the surface, making sure to secure the edges.
When you’re finished gluing, look at your collage and think about the images you chose and how they relate to your memories. What feelings come up? This gray cat feels proud that his picture made it into our collage!
Option: Write a note, short story, or poem about your project inspiration and drop it in the box. Our project was inspired by fun memories of traveling with a good friend.
Challenge: Fill the background with a grid of horizontal and vertical rectangles of different sizes and colors, then build your collage on top of it.
Simplify: Instead of a box, collage onto a colorful piece of paper. This makes it easier to fill your space.
Learn More: There are so many great resources about Romare Bearden! Below are a few. As you view his art, look for some of these themes:
Trains, large hands, birds, musicians, windows, cats, roosters, the sun, the moon
• YouTube Video: Trains, Snakes, and Guitars- The Art of Romare Bearden
Recreate Ancient Ruins with leftover cardboard
You’ll just need a cardboard box and a few basic tools to create these ancient architectural ruins, inspired by the wood sculpture Pompeii by artist, architect, and furniture designer Po Shun Leong. This project can serve as a launching point to design your own imaginative architectural realm from cardboard scraps!
About the artist:
A man of many talents, Po Shun Leong creates complex wooden sculptures and boxes reimagining ancient sites like Mesa Verde, Pompeii, and Petra. He works with many different types of wood, and encourages artists to recycle their scraps into new art.
“Be joyous, use all your … scraps, and add to the sum total of beauty in this world.”
-Po Shun Leong
• Corrugated cardboard
• Medium- large bowl to trace
• Strong glue, like Elmer’s Glue-All or Alene’s Tacky Glue
• Masking tape
• Paper towel for wiping hands
• Extra cardboard (paperboard like cereal boxes, paper towel tubes, etc)
• To glue cardboard, add glue then hold the pieces together and count to 20.
• Use a small piece of masking tape to temporarily hold cardboard together while glue dries.
• Wet a cardboard box and leave it outside to dry to easily separate the corrugated layer from the smooth layers. The water dissolves the glue!
Use the bowl to trace a circle onto a large piece of cardboard. Peel some sections of the paper covering to reveal areas of texture. Keep the bowl nearby to hold small scraps of cardboard
Cut 4 cardboard rectangles, around 6” wide by 4” high. Peel the paper from both sides of the cardboard to reveal the corrugated piece in the middle. Add glue to the short end of the rectangle and roll into a column. Repeat with the other rectangles to make 4 columns.
Measure and cut 3 triangles, about 5” wide by 2” high. Stack and glue them together to create a pediment. Do the same with 3 rectangles, about 5” wide by 1” high, to create the tablature, or base for the pediment. Cut 12 small squares, about 1” by 1”. Create 4 bases for the columns by stacking and gluing 3 squares per base. When dry, stack and glue the pediment to the tablature and the columns to the bases.
Create the corner of a building ruin by cutting 2 rectangles and cutting away sections to look like brickwork. Use the leftover right angle triangles from your pediment to make braces to hold the two walls together. Or try a different cardboard construction idea to build a wall or building.
Add details to the architectural elements using cardboard scraps. Be creative and add your unique ideas to the structures. Glue the final pieces to the base and add finishing details.
Option: For younger artists, provide cereal boxes, tubes, and lighter paperboard, which is easier for young artists to cut and manipulate. Pre-cut some basic corrugated cardboard shapes to help trigger creative thinking.
Challenge: Start with a larger base and incorporate other recyclable materials into your design.
Simplify: Don’t worry about measurements and rulers, just start cutting shapes and let the process happen organically!
Learn more: Po Shun Leong’s website is a treasure trove of interesting information!
This idea brought to you by Leslie Strauss.
Unique art prints made from bubble wrap
Who doesn’t love bubble wrap? Here is a simple printmaking activity using just bubble wrap markers, and paper. Children of all ages can color designs onto any type of bubble packaging and make prints. The prints can then be used to make cards, wrapping paper or displayed as art! The possibilities for creativity are endless. If you can keep yourself from popping the bubbles, you can rinse them off and use them again and again!
This project was inspired by Bubble Wrap by Courtney Starrett, on view at Mint Museum Uptown.
- Copy paper or construction paper
- Bubble wrap in assorted textures/sizes, cut into pieces or shapes
- Assorted colored markers
Begin by choosing a piece of bubble wrap. You can compare the different types and sizes and talk about the properties of air in the bubbles and how they provide cushioning. Children can draw and color on the bubble wrap to create a color pattern or something more abstract. Notice how the ink from the marker does not get absorbed into the plastic. Don’t wait too long to make your print or the ink will dry.
Flip your bubble wrap over and press it firmly onto the paper to create your print! There might be enough ink to make another print and each one will be totally different. Experiment with the different bubble wrap types if you have them. Older children can draw designs onto big bubble packaging.
Any image will be printed in reverse so lettering would need to be drawn backwards.
You can extend this activity by looking for shapes and patterns in your prints and drawing in details to turn them into faces, animals, and more. Now you can pop a few bubbles for fun! Seamus the cat was very helpful until… POP!
Three ingredients plus three steps to make your own signature clay pots
Baking is one of the little things that brings us joy while at home during the pandemic. Creating objects from common baking ingredients bridges the relationship between industry, craft, and consumer. A basic clay can be made from flour, salt, and water. Have fun using spices, such as turmeric and paprika, along with compost like coffee grinds to add texture and color to your clay.
This project is inspired by Autoarchy on view at Mint Museum Uptown.
- Cold water
- Spices or kitchen compost
- Rolling Pin
- Wax paper
- Ribbon or rope
- Metal tabs from soda cans or washers
Start with 1 cup flour and 1 cup salt. Add spices or other kitchen ingredients for color and texture. Slowly add up to one half cup cold water while mixing together to form a ball. It helps to knead the clay for several minutes. Add a few more drops of water if the clay is not holding together.
Consistency will vary depending on what type of flour you use and what you mix in.
If the clay is too soft, knead in more flour until you have a clay that can stand when shaped. Divide dough and form into pots, bowls, or plates.
Make small pinch pots from balls of clay and allow to dry on their own. Make larger bowls by rolling the clay into a slab and draping over containers with a piece of wax paper between the clay and container to keep it from sticking. Once the outside of the clay is dry, carefully remove it from the container and take off the waxed paper. The inside will need additional time to dry. It can take up to 24 hours total to dry depending on size.
Option: Drape clay over a greased, oven-proof container and bake in a 300-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes depending on size and thickness. Younger children should ask an older sibling or adult for help with the oven.
Challenge: Decorate the outsides of your pieces with materials you have at home.
Simplify: Let younger children use as play dough. The clay can be stored in an air-tight container for up to three days. Food coloring can also be used as a colorant.
This idea brought to you by Maggie Burgan.
Show your love with tie-dye hearts
This is a fun and easy project that can be used to share messages of hope and support with those you love.
- Paper coffee filters
- Spray bottle for water
- Sharpie (optional)
- Protective table covering (ink from the markers will bleed through the coffee filter)
1. Use your markers to create designs and patterns on the coffee filters.
2. When you are finished, place coffee filters on an old towel or disposable table covering. Spray the coffee filters lightly with water. Start with just a few sprays and watch the colors spread. You only need to spray one side. (Be careful not to use too much water or all your ink will bleed out.)
3. When the coffee filters have dried, fold them in half and cut out the shape of half a heart with the fold down the center.
4. Put glue around the edge of one side of the heart. Use small pieces of crumpled-up filters or recycled paper as stuffing. Place the top filter over the stuffing and press down on the glued edges to form a pocket.
5. Add glue to the other side of the heart, add a few more pieces of crumbled paper, and press seams together.Let glue dry.
6. Write a word to reflect on or a message to share with someone you love.
Challenge: Make several more hearts and string them together to form a garland or banner.
Simplify: Pre-cut filters into heart shapes.