Dora Milaje Tabi Boot – SCOPES-DF

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Nettrice Gaskins
Nettrice Gaskins
Dr. Nettrice Gaskins has worked for several years in K-12 and post-secondary education, community media and technology before receiving a doctorate in Digital Media from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2014. She has focused on the application of cultural art… Read More


This lesson originates from Ruth Carter’s approach to costume design for the Black Panther film. Students will create a pattern using software to be laser etched into soft material that is laser cut to make a tabi-style boot. If time allows, students can create shoe accessories such as 3D printed ankle bracelets and holders for electronic devices.


Costume images retrieved from

This lesson was inspired by the Dora Milaje, a team of women who serve as special forces for the fictional African nation of Wakanda (see images). Students will create and piece together the components for the project using a variety of digital fabrication and computation methods. This lesson culminates in the creation and display of a tabi-style boot.

As part of the SCOPES-DF Black Panther Collection, this lesson includes the following STEM units:

  • Zulu Mathematics (mathematics, coding)
  • Techno Organic Heritage Algorithms (biology, coding)
  • Kimoyo E-Textiles & Wearables (electronics)

This lesson uses the following activity modules:

  • 3D modeling & printing 2D symbols
  • laser etching soft materials
  • laser cutting soft materials
  • sustainable bio dyes & wax resist
  • e-textiles/wearables
  • sewing (optional)

What You'll Need

Teacher Notes:
This lesson can be a first dive into using the Fab Lab for future lessons or personal projects.

Key Vocabulary

Adinkra – visual symbols that represent concepts or aphorisms. Adinkra are used extensively in fabrics and pottery among the Ashantis of Ashanti Kingdom and Baoulés of Cote d’Ivoire.

Adire – a name given to indigo dyed cloth produced by Yoruba women of south western Nigeria using a variety of resist dye techniques.

Batik – a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to cloth made using a technique originated from Indonesia.

CSDT – Culturally Situated Design Tool or web-based application that simulates cultural designs using mathematics and computation.

Dora Milaje – fictional characters appearing in Marvel’s Black Panther comics and movies. They are a team of women who serve as special forces for the fictional African nation of Wakanda.

E-textiles (electronic textiles) – enable digital components such as a battery and a light (including small computers), and electronics to be embedded in them.

Felt – a nonwoven fabric of wool, fur, or hair, matted together by heat, moisture, and great pressure

Inkscape – graphic design software used extensively in the Fab Lab for many design processes

Jika-tabi or Tabi – are shoes modelled from traditional split-toe Japanese socks. Tabi have a divided toe area, are heavy-duty, and often resemble boots.

Laser – a device that emits a concentrated beam of light. Different types of lasers are used in many different fields, from space communications to fabrication. Most laser cutters are capable of cutting through and burning into (etching) different materials.

Xhosa/Zulu – relating to the Xhosa or Zulu peoples of southern Africa and their basket weaving techniques

Materials List

Craft or synthetic felt (1-2 yards per shoe)

White or neutral-colored cloth (1-2 yards)


Needles and thread

Batik wax

Natural or organic dyes (ex. tumeric, coffee grounds)



Digital Fabrication Equipment Details

Inkscape or another vector graphics editor

Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDTs)

Laser cutter

3D printer (if time allows)

Flora or Lilypad microcontroller

Conductive fabric or thread


Neopixel LED

Alligator Clips

Design File Attachments

The Instructions

Preparation / Setup

Depending on how much time, how many students, how many facilitators, and how many computers and tools, you might want to pre-cut any or all of the shoe parts (using a laser cutter).

This project includes three levels of digital fabrication skills:

  • Novice – basic shoe parts (steps three and five are optional)
  • Intermediate – shoe parts with some decoration (painting or laser etching), basic 3D modeling and basic electronics
  • Advanced – shoe parts with laser etching, advanced 3D models/printing and electronics

Step 1 – Introduction to Cultural Art & Costume Design

Once you have welcomed the students, give them a brief explanation about digital fabrication and what the lesson will be about. Students will be given cultural backgrounds to read such as Adinkra, Adire, or Xhosa/Zulu. They will identify cultural designs in the costumes worn by the Dora Milaje in Black Panther.

Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter did research and noticed many superhero costumes had a textured pattern in common. For Black Panther’s signature texture, it was the triangle, a shape that has featured prominently in African art for centuries.

“T’Challa’s [Boseman] Panther suit has the Okavango pattern on it from Botswana, which is a triangular pattern,” Carter notes. “The triangle is kind of the sacred geometry that you see in a lot of African patterns throughout the continent and it has a sacred meaning. When you go into a close up on the Panther suit, you’ll see the tiny triangle covering his whole suit.”

After viewing the film or reading the comic, students should identify concepts or themes that are represented in other cultures such as Adinkra. In the above example, the Adinkra symbol for security was chosen because it represents who the Dora Milaje are to T’Challa (Black Panther). Other concepts such as strength were used in other parts of the boot.

Students will view the Zulu Mathematics presentation, then complete one of the following tutorials:

Adinkra CSDT:

Ruka CSDT:

After the tutorials, students can import a triangle, Adinkra symbol, or another cultural symbol (300 pixel square, PNG file format) into a CSDT and use the code to generate a pattern. Screen capture and save the final symbols and patterns for later.


Screen grab from Ruka CSDT.

Step 2 – Digital Fabrication and Batik

Ruth Carter mixed patterns from many different African cultures in her costumes for Black Panther, especially for the Dora Milaje team that contain symbols or motifs.

After students create and save their cultural symbols, they can trace or redraw them in Inkscape or another vector graphics editing program. Then, the digital files can be made ready for laser cutting.

Students will view the ​Techno Organic Heritage Algorithm​presentation, then laser cut their symbols from wood or another rigid material and use the ​batik wax resist method​to stamp their symbols on white or neutral colored fabric to create the inner lining of their tabi-style boot. Non-wax methods can be found ​here and ​here​. The goal is to repurpose a laser cut symbol and stamp it on fabric to create designs.


Batik with Adinkra symbol stamped with hot wax and dyed with coffee and beet root.

Step 3 – Laser Etching on Soft Material

After students batik their tabi-style boot liners, they can decorate the outer boot (felt) layer using fabric markers or paint. More advanced students can etch the patterns created with the CSDT on felt to make the outer boot layer. They should use the tabi-style boot template to arrange and layout their patterns.

Laser cut and etched felt material (​based on template file​).

Step 4 – Laser Cutting From Soft Material

The tabi boot style was chosen because it most closely mirrors a boot worn by the Dora Milaje in the film. Also, note the accessories on the boots.

If time allows, students can research and choose a different style template.

Retrieved from

After students decorate the outer tabi boot felt material, they need to cut out the shoe parts using the provided template and a laser cutter.

Laser cut and laser etched tabi boot (from the template).

Step 5 – E-textiles & Wearables

Many of the costumes and props in Black Panther are powered by electronics. In the real world, e-textiles enable digital components and electronics to be embedded in clothing and shoes. After students cut out their shoe parts from the felt they can add electronics by inserting wearable microcontrollers (Flora, Lilypad), LEDs, and velostat pressure sensors .

Students will view the ​Kimoyo E-Textiles & Wearables​presentation, then attach electronics with conductive fabric, or thread and LEDs or even electroluminescent patches (el panels).

Testing a circuit for the boot using a soft (velostat) pressure sensor and Flora microcontroller.

Students will need to learn basic electronics such as what is featured on the CSDT website:​. This includes the basic concepts of circuits, coding, and how they can be applied to sensors.

Depending how much time you can dedicate to this step, you can also guide the students through several iterations of a design process, by having them prototype their designs and wear them in a Black Panther-themed fashion show.


  • Adding decorative stitching or beads to the outer boot felt
  • Creating 3D models/prints as housing for electronics (see below)
  • Assigning other costume parts or props to multiple work groups. In addition to the boot, students can create jewelry, belts, etc.

Master fabricator Daniel Smithwick repurposed an Adinkra symbol as housing for a Flora using Tinkercad.

Download design files here.​

Step 6 – Assembly and Final Presentation

To complete the boot, first sew the front seam of the batik liner, or middle felt layer (middle layer contains electronics) together. Next, sew the front seam of the outer felt layer. Put the liner/middle layer inside of the outer layer and attach both to the sole of the boot. Pin and sew the top layers to the sole.** Turn the boot inside out and fix any holes or gaps in the seams.


**If the velostat pressure sensor is in the sole make sure the ends of the conductive fabric or threads for power (+) and ground (-) are between the outer and middle layers.

Using a needle sew the conductive fabric/thread to the middle layer and create two stitches (+ -) to where the microcontroller is housed. Sew a pocket in the middle layer for the battery (ex. near the microcontroller). Use velcro, or stitch the top and back soles together. Adding accessories is optional.

All layers of the boot sewn together (multiple views).

After assembling their boots, students will present their final projects to the whole class or a celebration with parents and/or community members. This is an opportunity to facilitate conversations between parents and adult family members.

Lesson Feedback

2 Reviews

  1. Victor Scopacasa October 22, 2019
    • Nettrice Gaskins October 28, 2019
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