Greenies calculate “The True Cost” of cheap labor in garment factories

While the Green Band is in full swing working on their Expression Projects, we’ve also continued a part-time exploration of cloth by studying garment workers and factories. Our study of garment workers was inspired by the documentary, “The True Cost,” which we watched the week before Winter Break. This documentary about the clothing industry specifically analyzed the environmental, social, and economic effects of “fast” fashion. The 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was a huge focus of the documentary, with footage of the building’s wreckage and interviews with garment workers and the factory owners. Students were outraged to hear the mistreatment and working conditions many garment workers face.

Promotional poster for the “The True Cost”

The week we returned from break, the Greenies started to collect data on where our clothing comes from. Over the course of a week, we checked the tags of our clothing each day and collected data from other bands. We then graphed our data.  We found that China is the biggest manufacturer of our clothes by a long shot, making double of what Vietnam makes, which was the second largest manufacturer on our graph. The Greenies were surprised to find out Bangladesh was not one of the highest places considering we had heard so much about the garment factories there.

Gita, Lucy and Phoebe check out our new Band Space map.

To continue our mathematical analysis of the clothing industry, each child chose one country to calculate the incomes of their garment workers. The countries were Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. Based on this slightly dated 2010 article, students took the hourly income of a garment worker from these counties and calculated their daily, weekly, monthly and annual income based on a 10-hour day, 7-day-a-week schedule, which we found is a pretty average schedule. We then graphed their monthly incomes. We found that in general, factories in Latin America paid their garment workers much more than those in Asia. A garment worker in Colombia, which was the highest paying country out of the ones we chose, makes about $325.00/month. We compared this to a garment worker in Bangladesh (the lowest) who makes under $50.00/month.

Our poster showing the monthly income of garment workers in our selected countries.

To wrap up our study of garment workers, the Green Band jigsawed articles taken from the Clean Clothes Campaign website. The Clean Clothes Campaign “is a global alliance dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear industries.” The articles we read covered topics such as living wages and severance pay, working hours and overtime, unions, health and safety, and gender discrimination. Students split up these articles, practiced their close-reading, highlighting and note-taking skills, and then presented the most important points of the articles to one another (this is what we call jigsawing.) We learned that while the working conditions for garments workers is often horrendous, the workers and their allies are doing what they can to fight and improve the lives.

Notes on the Clean Clothes Campaign articles.

Cloth Catch-up

Hello again from the Hive. We’ve been buzzing right along in the Hive moving from exploration into expression. While the Hive tried their hand at many different aspects of working with cloth we landed on the expression of stories using cloth with puppets. Along with puppeteering expert Daniel Gill, the kids have learned how to animate  a variety of puppets from pieces of cloth to mouth plates, hand puppets, marionettes, and stick puppets with the main idea being, anything can be a puppet. Each lesson has taught us a new skills to move, animate, and bring to life the characters we create.


Lesson 1: Get Creative



Lesson 2: Anything Can Be A Puppet


Lesson 3: Bringing Your Puppet To Life

Our first iteration of our puppet theater evolved from a window to adding wings for waiting behind the scenes. Next a second panel was added to provide a place for backgrounds to hang as well as the possibility of using marionettes. Our first planning meeting of the second iteration of the puppet theater was about outlining the work the kids had done so far and labeling parts in order to create a cut list for our plywood. We then added the constraints that the puppet theater be able to close flat for storage. While we still have work to do with accessorizing the puppet theater, we had our first kid test on Friday. We even used our projector to play with shadows and add backgrounds.





Stay tuned to see our final edits and additions for the puppet theater!

Coming back from winter break, the Violet Band set right to work on their Expression projects.  The projects exhibited illustrate a diversity of thought surrounding the concept of “Cloth”; everything from how cloth is made, using cloth to help others, and even designing a home in cloth.  The Violet Band Crew took some time to explain what they are doing, in their own words.  Check out a few of their exciting projects!


Frederica, age 12
For my project I am making coconut husk (Coir) into  a usable thread. I will chemically soften it using NaOH (Caustic Soda) then treating the Coir with MgCL2 (Magnesium Chloride). I will then incorporate this softened Coir with other natural materials including wool, hemp, and cotton. I will then test the flexibility, durability, and tensile strength of each blend of Coir and other material. From this project I have learned that Coir is usually is used for ropes and mats and is produced in India and Sri Lanka. In India, which produces one fourth of the worlds coconut, only 15% of the husks are recovered for use. India annually produces 280,000 metric tons of husks. Coir fibers are categorized into two sections, from ripe to immature coconuts. Ripe coconuts produces coarse brown strands which is  highly resistant to abrasion and strong, they are also one of the only naturals materials to float in sea water. Brown husks  are usually used for mats, rope, and upholstery. Unripe or immature coconut produce light brown or white soft and weak threads which are spun into yarn which is woven into mats or twisted into twine for rope.

Aurora helps Frederica build her fume hood.  After building the hood, Frederica taught her peers about how she used lye safely



Patrick, 12
At my school, we have three arcs in the school year. Each arc is two parts, Exploration and Expression. This year we have Coin, Cloth and Cities. The current arc is Cloth. In Exploration, we learn about the subject and go on fieldtrips to try and find an idea for our Expression project. My project is felting multiple cup sleeves, like the cardboard slip-ons at Starbucks. As this won’t take too much time, I am also felting a original item, which is turning out to be a plant… thing. I had to design the plant, as well as multiple cup sleeves, until my expert explained the prices for the wool. I just learned how to felt, and think everyone should at least try it.

Thanks for reading,

Patrick exhibits his first iteration of his felted sleeve



Selina, age 12
For my project, I am using SketchUp to create multiple room designs. I will have three designs in total. My designs are based off of a Victorian style. They also have as low carbon-footprint as possible, all while keeping it within a reasonable price range (reasonable meaning not higher than a normal Victorian room). Along with this, I am designing my own chair. It is a cross between an armchair and an ottoman. So far, I have finished my final drawings and my paper model. I still have to create a final foamcore model, then put it into SketchUp. My goal is to have three examples of environmentally friendly rooms, using low water-consuming material, low-waste dye, and healthy (not chemically harmful) cloth. Doing this project has taught me how to use Sketchup, how to create comfortable, aesthetically pleasing designs, and how to manage both aspects of my project.

Selina working away at one of her iterations on Sketch-Up


Trudy, age 12
My project is creating a photo essay about how the media’s portrayal of women’s bodies and clothing can affect a woman’s self perception of themselves and their body. There will be two photos of each woman, one in an outfit that makes them feel confident and another in an outfit that they think highlights their insecurities. I am also taking audio interviews where I ask the women to share some experiences they’ve had feeling bad about their body. I’m going to compile each person’s audio and photos and post them to an Instagram account I created for this project. So far I’ve learned that I lose things very easily and that cutting PVC pipe gives me anxiety. My first photoshoot is today, Wednesday, January 17, and I have one tomorrow and two or three on Saturday. My next steps are getting my backdrop together and finding a microphone and other equipment for recording.

Trudy built her own backdrop for her models.  She designed it to be easily taken up and down so she can travel with it.



Jared, age 12
Hello! My name is Jared, Im a 7th-grader, and in my school out semester is divided into three subjects, these three are: coin, cloth, and city, we call these “arcs”. Majority of the time, we make up projects related to the arc. For example: my project is weaving as many scarves as I can for the homeless. This includes carving out the loom. (A tooI I need to weave the scarves). Along with donating all of the scarves I end up making to a homeless shelter.





Cloth Update and Tool Training

The hive has been so lucky to have Daniel Gill, a master puppeteer, visit the hive once a week to make different kinds of puppets and show us how to tell stories with them.

Last week, Daniel brought some marionettes!

This week, Daniel taught us how to make our own marionettes.

Now that we’ve begun tool training, we can begin to work on our second iteration of the puppet theater.

Speaking of tool training, Sylvester shows us proper eye protection while using a clamp.

Before the tool challenge, we practiced using the drill to make holes and drive screws. We’re working hard on keeping control of the drill and using two hands.

Dash loves drilling holes!

This week, our tool challenge was to build a cube using drills, clamps, and your team.

Just because you’re not using a tool doesn’t mean you can’t help. Calvin held wood for his team so it wouldn’t slide around so much while driving screws into it.


In other news…

We began writing “small moment” stories about things that happen in our lives. A small moment isn’t a big long story about your day or the trip you took on vacation. A small moment is one part of your day, like breakfast or going to the park.

Khalilah noticed she needed a better spot for writing so we started finding comfortable writing places around the band space where people could work.

Ronin is writing a story about New Zealand.

Dash is writing about moving into the Sunset house. He’s really excited about his families’ new home.

We’re also exploring place value and addition during centers. For this activity, kiddos are building structures from base-ten blocks and adding them up.



First Iterations

All of the Amber Band Expression Projects have been approved! Throughout the Exploration Phase of the Cloth Arc we explored the ways in which we’re all connected through cloth. We screen printed personal logos, drafted patterns to construct wearable shelter pieces, and experimented with the chemistry behind stains and dyes. Last week students shared the first iteration of their expression project.


I am making a 360˚ fight scene. This image is the movie poster for the film. The film won’t have planes and fire in it those are just to get people to watch the film. I’m making this film because I like making movies, and I’ve never made a 360˚ video. I’m going to make elaborate sci-fi costumes for the film. In my storyboard you can see each frame is four squares long to show the full 360˚.


My project is to create a digital loom. A digital loom is a set of buttons on a website that corresponds to the levers/heddles on a loom. When you click those buttons, it would make a different pattern.



For my project, I’m making a series of dresses from the 1920s to the 1960s. In the dresses, I’m trying to show what was happening at the time that they were designed. For example, in the 1920s, dresses were almost completely straight up and down. The reason for this was, in the 1800s women had to wear corsets and have an hourglass silhouette to be accepted as beautiful, and women wanted to show off that they could be beautiful without showing off their hips or curves.

But you can see that this completely changed as the Great Depression started because there were less resources, so you can see dresses get shorter and shorter and the dresses start to get more of a waist. Around the late ‘50s or the early ‘60s it became acceptable for women to wear pants.



For my project I’m making clothing that people want to wear to school. I interviewed a few people and asked them what they would want in school clothes. I got a lot of the same answers: comfortable and functional. I also got a request for a crop top so I took this information and came up with some designs. My final designs are a comfy sweater dress, a crop top and skirt, and some comfy pants with pockets and a basic shirt.



For my project, I’m trying to augment cloth with tensegrity structures (stable three-dimensional structures consisting of members under tension that are all contiguous, and members under compression that are all not), making it a viable building material.

The fatal flaw with the idea of cloth as a building material is that it has no compressive strength. Tensegrity structures could convert its tensile strength to compressive strength, eliminating this flaw.

This would allow the utilization of the good qualities of cloth as a building material, being cheap, light, and portable.

By augmenting cloth with tensegrity structures, it eliminates its fatal flaw as a building material.

A product that would test this ideas limits as well as highlight its good qualities would be a personal cloth tensegrity structure windmill for power generation in developing countries. I have set out to make just that.



I am making a loom and rayon fiber that i am going to weave with. I am using wood and a lot of chemicals for my project. This project is interesting to me because I think it will give me a great opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and use chemicals and big scary tools (shop tools), but I will also get to weave which is something I love doing.



I’m making a project on people switching outfits for a week. I’m making it because I want to work on camera skills, and I want to research something that is less commonly known like the style from people at my school.

A Round Up of Our Cloth Arc Exploration and a Preview into Expression Projects

During a trip to the Asian Art Mue traveled through the ages of Korean clothing from traditional to contemporary. Using the framework of See, Think, Wonder, we took a deeper look at the garments and discovered connections between the past and the present.

Many noticed how simple the garments appeared until they dug deeper and discovered their complexity in construction or the undergarments worn with them.

The second gallery of the exhibit featured couture clothing from high-end designers influenced by the clothing of the past. We wondered if this dress was influenced by the large number of layers in the women’s traditional undergarments.

The final gallery took us off the runway to the present. While these garments were both designed by Koren designers and influenced by traditional clothing, they were strong representations of today. They  incorporated trends in contemporary Western attire and pursued a “zero-waste design.”

Moving from curated couture to fast fashion, we recorded data on clothing at stores such as H&M and Gap. We looked at materials, construction, price and origin of production. Observations such as the quality of the clothing and price, in comparison to the customer service, were made with Nordstrom coming out far ahead of H&M and the Gap.

We also just had to take time to try on the softest stuff in each store.

Internationally known and accomplished weaver Travis Meinolf came to share his stories of weaving around the world and literally on the streets of cities spanning the globe, as well as to teach the Green, Teal, Violet and Amber bands how to backstrap weave.

We discovered how backstrap weaving can be created through working together with partners, weaving from opposite ends of the cloth towards one another. It was incredible to watch partners overcome hurdles and problem solve as a team.

For some it was an incredibly relaxing activity, for others it became a task of intense focus.

As well an act of dedication. A number of students gave up their park time to stay in and finish weaving a scarf they wore with pride the rest of the day.

It was pretty incredible to watch all these focused weavers working together. Travis’s visit has led to a couple Expression projects in both the Green and Violet bands.

In preparation for our field trip to a sheep and cotton farm, Rich shared with the Teal, Violet and Amber bands a presentation on protein and cellulose fibers. We looked at the science behind them and why we use them the way we do for cloth production.

We took a trip to Sally Fox’s sheep and cotton farm, Viriditas. We learned about how she’s been able to produce both cotton and wool and the relationship the two have with one another’s production. It was really cool to hear her story of acquiring her first flock of sheep and the work they did to repair her land.

Sheepies! The farm raises both Merino and Shetland sheep. Do you know how to tell the difference?

With the negative environmental and financial impacts that dyes create, Sally has spent her years studying and developing naturally-colored cotton and successfully invented the first commercially viable method for mass-producing colored cotton.

Here are the three colors of her cotton. We were surprised to learn that the cotton on the left could go from that incredibly pale shade of “green” to a rich dark green through a boiling process.

Sierra and Christian walked us through the once yearly process of sheering all the sheep. She described it as unzipping and removing a coat in the way that they begin down the belly and move outwards.

The next step in the process for the wool was learning to skirt it or simply cleaning anything stuck in it. Once skirted, we learned about the ways that you can distinguish a higher quality fleece from a lower quality. We looked at, felt, and even listened to the wool fibers of a few fleece. In the end, the students made arguments for why they would select one fleece over another.

Our exploration of wool didn’t end on the farm. We selected the fleece we believed to be the highest quality and purchased it. Back at school, we combined our soap we made with our wool, exploring how much lanolin is in the wool, by weighing it, washing it, then weighing it again.

We also take some pretty incredible visual notes.

Who knew all that wool could come off one sheep and all intact.

Diving deeper into natural dyes after learning about Sally Fox’s naturally dyed cotton, the Teal and Violet bands prepared a Lunch to Dye For for Community Lunch. We made salads full of natural dyes such as purple cabbage and yellow onions.

While enjoying lunch, everyone’s swatches of silk sat in the dye baths, soaking in their incredible natural colors.

After weeks of exploring cloth, it was time to start looking towards our Expression Phase. We brainstormed ideas and organized them into similar project focuses. Anyone interested in creating cloth out of human hair? Thankfully this wasn’t one of the selected projects, though it would be interesting.

After being able to answer all the questions Gever had about his project, Viggo was so excited to get his first declaration signed.

We’ve launched right into project time. Nora is spending her days sewing, knitting and crocheting hats and scarves. She’s also inventing phone holding headbands to help with the recording of her work for her how to video she’s making.

Looking to create a “net floor” for the top level of his bunk bed at home, Justin is working through numerous iterations of knots. He’s even taken inspiration from the nets at the batting cages. Yay baseball!

Aurora is working out the details in her three dresses she’s designing and sewing. She’s been learning about the tools needed to create and sew a garment, as well as all the proper steps to successfully design and create one.

Viggo is definitely proud of the work he’s put into drawing out the tessellation that will become the pattern for his wooden blanket. His next steps are trying out multiple smaller scale iterations, testing out different backing materials and adhesives.

Jonah and Roman work from plans to create a materials and cut list for their Book Charkha transportable spinning wheel.

Natalie has already been to the Haas-Lilienthal House and ACT’s costume shop to take photos and record videos for her documentary on 19th century clothing and cloth.


We look forward to sharing more of our Cloth Arc Expression process.

BWX Scratchers in Action

Devlin recreates the song “Seven Nation Army” using Scratch code.

In After Care this year, we have been exploring different ways we can use computer code to create visual art, tell stories, invent new things, and share our passions with other people. One tool we’ve enjoyed using is the Scratch visual programming language. Developed at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch provides a safe, fun online community for programmers of all ages and ability levels to upload their projects and learn from each other’s work. Coding in Scratch requires users to snap color-coded blocks together so it feels familiar to anyone who has worked with Legos. Every project on Scratch can be opened up and remixed so users can iterate on each others’ ideas and learn new techniques. In his book Lifelong Kindergarten, Mitch Resnick writes about the genesis of Scratch and how its development was informed by what he calls “the Four P’s of Creative Learning.”

  1. PROJECTS. Creating projects is the central activity in the Scratch community.

  2. PASSION. When people work on projects they care about, they’re willing to work longer and harder. Because Scratch supports many different types of projects (games, stories, animations, and more), everyone can work on projects they care about.

  3. PEERS. Creativity is a social process with people collaborating, sharing, and building on another’s work.

  4. PLAY. Scratch is designed to support playful experimentation as a pathway to creativity, encouraging young people to take risks and try new things.

This framework maps perfectly to the educational environment we try to cultivate at Brightworks (which might be why our school was featured as a case study later in the book) so it’s no surprise that our kids have started developing a diverse range of impressive projects…

Romero began his Scratch journey re-designing a game called Nyan Cat Blast, adding new graphics inspired by his favorite internet memes. He has now developed a strong foundational skill set and helps his friends debug their programs during Scratch Club on Community Friday.

During the latest Scratch Club, Sakira created a beautiful intro animation that she can put at the beginning of her projects to personalize them.

During After Care, members of the Red and Yellow Band have enjoyed finding fun games and then “hacking” their code to make them easier. In Calvin’s apple-picking game, he has removed all of the obstacles from the original code and increased the size of an item so they were easier to collect.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Brightworks Scratch projects are developing, check out the new Brightworks Scratch Studio curated by Ronan Underwood.