Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries
The Arts of India, 1556-1658
June 23 - July 1, 2008
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Unit of Study:            Meaningful Fabrics of India/Patterned Cloth Project

Lesson Title:              Motif Sketching for Symbolic Meaning (Two 45-minute periods)

Discipline:                  Art / Math / History

Grade Level:              9th-12th Grades

Author:                      Jennifer Joy Fox

County:                      Cecil County, MD

Time Period:              Three weeks of block classes



Creative crafts students will explore symmetry through relief printmaking and embroidery patterns.  The concepts of utilitarian and aesthetic are identified and defined through the class.  By studying Indian textile motifs and designs as cultural exemplars students produce a utilitarian and/or aesthetic object.  The study of symmetrical patterns will create interdisciplinary connections with geometry.  The product will be made by relief printing with acrylic paint mixed with retarding medium on muslin or cotton cloth.  The cloth will be embroidered and constructed into a pillow or chakla (a square Indian wall hanging).


The cotton fabrics of India have been valuable bartering material for many centuries.  Cotton farming and dying was developed earlier in India than in most civilizations.  Travelers called it “wool that grows on trees”.  Persians used elaborately dyed cotton to pay           Greek debts.  Later Europeans bought the patterned fabrics to trade for spices in Bantam and Java (now known as Indonesia and Malaysia).  Islamic Mughal reign over Indian workshops was established.  Craftsmen produced the finest products for court life.  Craftsman were brought in from Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  Mughal court paintings exhibit the variety of fine Indian patterned fabrics and luxuries of court life.


  • Worksheet for sketching symbolic motifs/designs
  • Notes on cultural meanings of motifs from Power Point
  • Pencils and erasers
  • Colored Pencils
  • Embroidry Floss, Hoops, and needles
  • 18” x 18” and 6” square 84 lb sulfite drawing paper
  • Newsprint paper
  • Variety of colored acrylic paints with retarder or relief printing ink
  • Gouges, exacto knives, brayers, barrens, plexi-glass sheets, spatulas
  • Square blocks of easy cut relief printing medium, one for each student
  • Cotton or muslin cloth
  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape


Resource images of Indian fabrics and motifs, Pattern Samples from India:

Motifs and Symmetry Power Point (multiple sited resources)

John Guy, Woven Cargoes-Indian Textiles in the East, Thames and Hudson, NY, 1998.

Standards/Learner Outcomes

Fine Arts Standards

  •   Outcome I Aesthetics
  •   Outcome II Art History
  •   Outcome IV Criticism
  •   Outcome V Production

Geometry Standards

CLG 2 The student will demonstrate the ability to solve mathematical and real-world problems using measurement and geometric models and           will justify solutions and explain processes used.         


Geometry Objectives:
         2.1 The student will represent and analyze two- and three-dimensional figures using tools and technology when appropriate.
         2.1.4 The student will construct and/or draw and/or  validate properties of geometric figures using appropriate tools and technology.       


Motif:         A unit that is repeated in visual rhythm.  Units in a motif may or may not by an exact duplicate of the first unit.
Symbol:      Something that stands for or represents something else.
Relief printing:    A printing technique in which the artist cuts away the sections of a surface not meant to hold ink.  As a result, the image to be printed is raised from the background.
Chakla:       A square hanging (printed, embroidered, appliquéd, or of beadwork) from Kutch and Saurashtra.
Relief printmaking

Unit Motivation:

Lesson Motivation:

The motivation for this lesson is the See –Think – Wonder activity, where students share their interpretations of motifs from elaborately patterned Indian fabrics.

Unit Scope and Sequence:

Teacher Directed

  •   Teacher demonstrates printmaking.
  •   Teacher demonstrates embroidery techniques.
  •   Teacher identifies motifs in Indian textiles and architecture.
  •   Teacher identifies symmetry in art examples.

Guided Practice

  •   See, Look, Wonder Activity
  •   Notes on Motifs from Power Point
  •   Mughal painting image jigsaw to reveal cultural stories of court life.

Independent Practice

  •    Students sketch motifs that represent personal or cultural meaning.
  •    Students carve and print motifs that represent personal or cultural meaning.
  •    Students evaluate and explain motif significance, how they represent personal or cultural meaning.

Lesson Scope and Sequence:

Day 1

Teacher Directed

Warm-up of a “Question about art?” in their folders on a   preformatted worksheet.  Students are asked to make an educated guess about the symbolic meaning of a variety of symbolic pictures.  “What do these symbols mean in Indian culture?”  Examples of symbols such as a pomegranate, lotus flower, deer, and tree of life are projected from the overhead or from a Power Point slide.

Guided Practice

Students will take notes on a printed out Power Point slides.  The Power Point will introduce Indian cotton relief printmaking technique and symbolic meanings of textile motif symbols.

Independent Practice

With visual packets (one packet per table) including a variety of Indian textiles, students will sketch their choice of symbolic Indian motifs and identify their meanings.
Day 2

Teacher Directed

See-Think-Wonder activity with full class students will interpret symbolic meaning of motifs from an Indian chakla. 

Guided Practice

See-Think-Wonder activity with student pairs who will interpret symbolic meaning of motifs from Indian chaklas or other textile images.  Students will create a list of all known possible Indian symbols and meanings.  Student pairs then dictate to the other person as they write a personal list of symbols to identify self-interests.

Independent Practice

Students create a variety of personal symbol motif sketches.


         Completed Worksheet of student sketches with labeled symbolic motifs/designs
         Student notes on cultural meanings of motifs from Power Point

Students self-evaluate their artwork based on the following grading criteria:

            1. Completion of 3 printmaking projects – cloth, 8” and 16” square paper
            2. Creativity shown through originality
            3. A pattern is made by at least two colors
            4. Motifs symbolize personal meaning
            5. Artwork was made neatly and shows effort.
            6. Use time and materials efficiently and effectively.
            7. At least two types of embroidery stitches are repeated in every block
            8.  Cloth finished by creating a means to hang on the wall or is sewn as pillow-case. 


Hang sketches on bulletin board and do a brief gallery walk and critique.  If there is not enough time for students to finish sketching their ideas it becomes homework.  The gallery walk and informal critique will then be at the start of class the next day.  The next steps for the unit are to utilize the sketches to cut designs on an ez-cut block for relief printmaking.

  •    Did students finish activities and their products?
  •    Did students have ample time to complete the products?
  •   Where students motivated to create motifs, prints, and stitching?
  •   Where students intellectually curious about the cultures of India?
  •   Where students compassionate in their approach to cultural diversity?
  •    Did students explore symbolic representations through motifs?
  •    Did students demonstrate an understanding of symmetry through products?
  •    What modifications need to be made to this unit by the teacher?

“Those cloths acquire their value and price from their brightness and, if I may say so, from the solidity and fastness of the colours they are dyed with…[Nature] has granted Indian ingredients, and above all, certain waters, whose particular qualities have much to do with the beautiful combinations of painting and dying represented by Indian cloths. “ –Father Coeurdoux, 1742 (Guy, 19)

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and the Maryland State Department of Education