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make and mend

Learn to sew and make simple mends on a shared canvas using shoelaces, buttons, and felt patches.

I created this exhibit starting with generating concepts to fit within the gallery theme of 'How do we care for things that matter to us?' and the section theme of 'Clothing'. Through prototyping the exhibit experience on museum visitors and building and testing the engineering aspects of the exhibit, I developed the concept into a final exhibit that I assembled from outsourced parts.

The assembled exhibit is installed at the Kiewit Luminarium in Omaha, Nebraska.



During initial prototyping, I experimented with a range of fabrics (burlap, plastic burlap, felt, rug hooking grid-canvas fabric, mesh), needles and sewing yarns. At first, I only put out large plastic needles with different types of yarn, and I noticed that the biggest barrier for visitors to engage with the exhibit was threading the needle. Switching to shoelaces eliminated that barrier and added a familiar object to the exhibit to invite visitors in.


To start testing, I used canvas stretcher bars to mount fabric of different sizes. Switching to embroidery hoops made the pieces easier to hold and increased engagement time at the museum up to as long as 70 minutes. The downside of individual canvasses was that many visitors weren't sure how to begin engaging with the exhibit without seeing someone already there. I switched to a larger shared canvas and worked with the architectural designer for my gallery to expand the canvasses to the largest possible size while fitting into the floor plan. I build all prototypes of the exhibit and ran testing on the Exploratorium museum floor.


Working with the gallery content specialist, I developed a set of written and diagram instructions. It quickly became clear that most visitors were ignoring the written instructions, but some were referencing the graphic images and the work of previous people for guidance. I experimented with visual instructions and showing examples of mending and of other visitors' work.  To reduce graphic size for the final exhibit and remove any language or reading barriers, I just included the visual instructions.

Design for Maintenance

Throughout the prototyping process, I was balancing visitor engagement goals with ease of maintenance. Resetting the exhibit by removing past visitors' work was time consuming, but removing and disposing of entire filled canvases would be wasteful. When I saw that some visitors were removing shoelaces to use or to make room for their creations, I focused on encouraging this behavior to reduce maintenance work or waste.  I found that waxed cotton shoelaces were easiest to remove from the grid-canvas, and that color coding the material bins was the easiest organization strategy for visitors.

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