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Ceramic Art Lesson Plan: Bitten Patterns

Posted By Craig Hinshaw On March 26, 2010 @ 4:47 pm In Education,Lesson Plans K-5 | No Comments

 

Introduction

 

The Chippewa (or Ojibwa) peoples used the bark from birch trees for making containers and canoes. They also created “bitten patterns” to be used for embroidery and bead work on clothing, or simply to be enjoyed for their aesthetic qualities.

 

A bitten pattern was made from a piece of soft, pliable, folded bark (similar to folding a paper snowflake). They bit the bark to create an impression using their sharpest teeth. The unfolded bark revealed a symmetric pattern, often resembling a floral design.


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Bitten Patterns


Student biting the folded paper/carbon paper with her eyeteeth.

Student biting the folded paper/carbon paper with her eyeteeth.

Process

 

Step 1. The night before presenting a lesson on bitten patterns, I rolled out slabs of terra cotta clay, which I cut into 4-inch square tiles, and allowed them to dry to leather hard. The following day I brushed a layer of white clay slip over the tiles, and allowed this to dry to leather hard.

 

Step 2. Students placed a 4-inch square piece of carbon paper (carbon side down) onto a 4-inch square of white paper. They folded both pieces in half, then in half again, and then folded this diagonally.

 

Step 3. Students placed the folded papers in their mouths, bit down, rotated the papers and bit again. A few attempts are usually necessary to understand how a certain degree of control can be achieved.

 

 

Using the paper as a pattern, a student pokes holes through the paper into the leather-hard clay tile.

Using the paper as a pattern, a student pokes holes through the paper into the leather-hard clay tile.

 

Step 4. After laying the paper with the bitten pattern on a clay tile (pattern-side up), the students used the sharp end of a bamboo skewer to transfer the pattern to the tile by poking holes through the paper into the clay. The tiles were bisque fired after drying.

 

Step 5. In the next class the students placed colored glass beads onto the poked holes of the bisqued tiles. The tiles with the glass beads were fired to 1550°F (Cone 012). At this temperature the glass beads fluxed to the clay but still remained raised off the surface of the clay.

 

Project Worth Displaying

 

I glued the finished tiles to a framed piece of ¼-inch plywood and hung it in the school. Although it’s interesting to know the history behind the colorful tiles, it isn’t necessary in order to appreciate their beauty, which is likely the main reason the Ojibwa created bitten patterns in the first place.

 

Four leather-hard tiles after the bitten patterns have been transferred.

Four leather-hard tiles after the bitten patterns have been transferred.

Notes

 

To see examples of bitten patterns and learn about other tribes that created the patterns, use Google.com as a search engine and enter ‘bitten bark patterns.’

 

  • Carbon paper can be purchased at an office supply store
  • Glass beads can be purchased at crafts stores. Make sure you have glass, not plastic!
  • For visual and tactile aids, I brought pieces of birch bark limbs as well as some of my wife’s collection of birch bark baskets to class when teaching the lesson.

 

Craig Hinshaw is an elementary school art specialist in Michigan. He is the author of Clay Connection: Innovative Ceramics Lessons that Make Connections to the Elementary School Curriculum & Seasonal Calendar available at www.CraigHinshaw.com.


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