Wakandan Bling – SCOPES-DF

Lesson Details

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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 is inspired by different designers’ approaches for the Black Panther film. For example, LA-based designer Douriean Fletcher curated a special set of jewelry such as beaded bracelets, necklaces and a pair of earrings. Designer Ruth Carter embedded African symbols in the actors’ costumes and Hannah Beachler used remnants of ancient African languages in her set designs.

Images retrieved from https://www.douriean.com/blackpantherjewelry and https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/black-panther-designer-ruth-carter-reveals-the-african-symbols-embedded-in-the-costumes

Students will select cultural symbols, research their meanings, create and piece together components for jewelry using digital fabrication and computation. This lesson culminates in the creation of laser and 3D printed jewelry.

Additionally, this lesson includes the following culturally situated design tool (CSDT) unit:

  • Computational Adinkra (mathematics, computation)

This lesson includes the following tasks:

○ Research
○ 3D modeling & printing 2D symbols
○ Creating and assembling new designs for jewelry

What You'll Need

Teacher Notes:

This lesson would follow introductory lessons to the basic tools introduced in the lab. T​eachers should use their prep time to explore CSDTs, Inkscape, or Tinkercad if they have no prior experience. Additionally, teachers or the Fab Lab manager should know how to use a laser cutter and 3D printer.

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.

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

Wakanda – ​a fictional African nation appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics​.

3D Printer – an additive manufacturing process that makes three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.

Bling – ​flashy jewelry worn especially as an indication of wealth or status.

Materials List

Craft foam (sheets)
Scissors or wire cutters
Wire or string
Elastic string (optional)
Hot glue and glue guns
Protective gear

Digital Fabrication Software & Equipment

Tinkercad (3D modeling)
3D printer

Design Files attachment: Files to print

Sample Adinkra images​(from Dora Milaje Tabi Boot project)

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 or 3D print the jewelry symbols.

This project includes three levels of digital fabrication skills:

  • Novice – basic stl files and 3D printing
  • Intermediate – jewelry parts with modification and 3D printing
  • Advanced – jewelry parts with advanced 3D modeling and printing

Step 1 – Introduction to Cultural Art & Jewelry Design (45 minutes)

Establishing the Activity (5 minutes)

  • “Today we are going to start by learning what inspired designers to create 2D symbols and related 3D objects for the ‘Black Panther’ film. The designers’ approaches included researching African cultures, identifying several African artifacts and symbols, and repurposing them for the film.”
  • Before starting with tools we will start with ​Computational Adinkra​(Adinkra is one type of cultural symbol system used in the film).
  • Each Adinkra symbol means something specific. For example, Dwennimmen (“JWEN-nih-men”) means “ram’s horns,” symbolizing that even the strong have to be humble.

  • After reading about ​how Adinkra symbols were used​(in Black Panther) look at an ​Adinkra chart​and answer the following questions:
    • What symbols would you choose for the Dora Milaje? For T’Challa? For M’Baku?
    • What do/does the chosen symbol(s) mean?
    • How do you think your character would wear the symbol(s)? As jewelry?
    • How would you re-create or simulate the symbol?
  • Come up with several ideas for how to use the symbols in jewelry, print and cut out symbols using craft foam sheets, then create prototypes for jewelry (earrings, bracelets, etc.) using the craft foam. Note: This material can also be laser cut.

Step 2 – Simulate & Model Cultural Symbols for 2D and 3D (45 minutes)

Black Panther designers repurposed and simulated cultural symbols, including Adinkra. ​Culturally Situated Design Tools​(CSDTs) are web-based software applications that allow students to create simulations of cultural arts using underlying math principles. The software exposes users to computation and design, as well. On the RPI ​CSDT Community site​there is a “Challenges” section with a selection of Adinkra symbols that can be simulated in order of difficulty. The Dwennimmen simulation was the hardest symbol to simulate.

Symbol created using Adinkra CSDT with 3D print.
  • Use the ​Adinkra CSDT​to simulate ​anyAdinkra symbol (play around with the tool).

After students create their CSDT symbols, they can screen grab and trace them in Inkscape. Then, the digital files can be laser cut from cardboard, foam, wood, or plastic, or made ready for 3D printing using Tinkercad. If time allows, students can 3D print their objects using PLA (plastic) material.

Note: If there are time constraints, students can download Adinkra symbols using the Web (Google).

Using the “Grab” tool on a Macintosh to screen grab the CSDT symbol.

To screen capture the symbol on a Windows PC: Click on the window you would like to capture and press Ctrl + Print Screen (Print Scrn) by holding down the Ctrl key and then pressing the Print Screen key.

Step 2 – Digital Fabrication: Laser Cutting

In this step, students will take their imported symbol (a raster image) and trace it to create a vector image. A raster image is composed of pixels, while vector images are made of mathematical paths connected by lines, or curves. A vector image is ideal when creating a shape to digitally fabricate due to its high quality and ability to edit without losing detail. Once they understand the basics, students can ​tinker and create multiple iterations of their designs.

Create Vector Shape From Symbol Using Inkscape:

  • Select 2D symbol
  • Path → Trace Bitmap
  • Check “Live Preview” Box

  • Under ​Single scan: creates a pathselect the following option that best fits your image (see above):
    • Brightness cutoff
    • Edge detection (see image)
    • Color quantization
    • Invert image
    • Increase or decrease the “Threshold” to your preference
  • Click “OK” & close Trace Bitmap window
  • Delete old image

Prepare Vector Shape (symbol) for Laser Cutting:

  • Click ​File → Open and select your symbol (shape)
  • Select all objects in the symbol (there may be more than one). Use one of the two methods below:
    • Create a dashed selection box around the objects
    • Hold Shift and click on all of the objects
  • Click Object → Fill and Stroke
    • Fill = – “no paint”
    • Stroke Paint =– “flat color
      • R – 0
      • G – 0
      • B – 0
      • A – 255
    • Stroke Style:
      • Width – 0.001
      • Units – “in”
    • Opacity
      • % = 100
  • Draw a hole (or holes) in the vector shape using the same process. This is for stringing wire or elastic.
  • Save in the proper format for your specific laser cutter (i.e., as a TIFF or PDF)
  • Laser cut the vector image

Step 3 – Digital Fabrication: 3D Printing (OPTIONAL)

Create Vector Shape From Symbol Using Inkscape:

  • Select 2D symbol
  • Path → Trace Bitmap
  • Check “Live Preview” Box
  • Under ​Multiple scans: creates a group of pathsselect the following option that best fits your image
    • Brightness steps
    • Colors
    • Grays (see image)
  • Click “OK” & close Trace Bitmap window
  • Delete old image
  • Save as .svg
Transforming raster (bitmap) image into vector graphic or .svg in Inkscape.
Transforming 2D vector file to a 3D object.

Designing 2D to 3D

  • Open Tinkercad: ​https://www.tinkercad.com
  • Learn Tinkercad: ​https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60xfIu-lqAs
  • Import vector image
  • Create 3D models with the following parameters:
    • Resized and/or personalized (use ruler)
    • Width ≤ 1.5 inches (38mm)
    • Length ≤ 1.5 inches (38mm)
    • Depth ≤ 1/8th inch (4mm)
    • Print time < 30 minutes
    • Save as .stl file
    • Prepare for 3D printing (see image below)
Master fabricator Daniel Smithwick’s 3D model is prepped for 3D printing.

After students 3D print their objects, they can assemble the pieces by stringing them together with wire, string, or elastic. More advanced students can create/3D print a centerpiece that has some personal meaning to them or even a holder for an electronic device.

RIght: Student makes finishing touches on a bracelet; Right: Master fabricator Daniel Smithwick tinkered with and created new versions of the original symbols.

Share Activity (10+ minutes)

  • Share with the group what you made, and your process to getting there.

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