How to make a tutu

This past week has been Spirit Week for the nursing staff at Children’s National.  One of our nurses flagged me down in the hallway, excitedly shouting, “you have to come see what we’re doing!”  She then led me into a large conference room that was filled with nurses making tutus.  I’m a little ashamed to admit that in all of my time working as an art therapist at Children’s, I’ve never learned to make a tutu – until now! Making tutus was incredibly easy and I can’t wait to share my new skills with the children; I’m sure they’ll love dancing around clinic in sparkly tutus and the nurses have already promised us the leftover tulle.

 To make a tutu:





Start by measuring a piece of ribbon around your waist.  Be sure to leave enough space at the ends of the ribbon to be able to tie it comfortably.  Then, cut strips of tulle into rectangles about 3 inches wide and 16 inches long.  They don’t all have to be perfectly equal, a little size variation just makes the tutu poofy and fun.  Then, just start tying the tulle onto the ribbon using a simple knot like so:

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Continue all the way around ribbon and voila!

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The Duck Tape Fix

When I was a kid duck tape only came in one color: grey.   Back then duck tape was only used for boring things like household repairs and maybe if you were really desperate, holding part of your car’s bumper in place.  These days duck tape comes in every color and pattern imaginable, from tie-dye to penguins to camouflage and purple zebra stripes.  Here in the art room we use duck tape for projects that are light years away from its boring repair origins.

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I worked extensively with one young lady who had been in the hospital for an extended period of time and at times was hard to reach with our “traditional” art materials.  She was hungry for challenge and a new material choice. Bring on the duck tape! We made duck tape purses, hair bows, wallets and flowers.  She even sold some of her creations to staff on the unit!  So add one more thing to the list of things that duck tape can fix: hospital boredom.

Alligators In Cages


I think that sometimes we all wish that we could lock our fears and anxieties away in a place where we could feel safe from them.  Recently, I was working with a little girl who reminded me of the amazing power of art therapy to provide comfort and security in a scary place like the hospital.  This little girl asked me to work with her to make a picture using colored tape.  When I asked what I should make she answered immediately, “an alligator!!” When I made my masking tape alligator on the page she gasped, “oh no! He is going to bite us!”  I then asked this little girl if there was any thing we could do to keep this alligator from harming us.  After thinking for a second she responded, “Let’s put him in a cage!” We spent the remainder of the session making alligators and snakes and putting them inside of cages so we could be protected from their sharp teeth.  The next time I saw that little girl she replayed the same scenario with creating more scary creatures and putting them into cages.  This little girl became quite energetic while putting her scary animals into cages and seemed to feel incredibly empowered by that simple act.  For her, all it took was a roll of masking tape and she was able to keep her fears at bay and feel tough and in control over all the scary things happening around her in the hospital.   

Virtual Penpals


A hospital stay can be lonely and scary for many of the children that we work with.  These feelings are especially strong for the patients who are placed on isolation precautions.  When a child is placed under isolation they cannot leave their room at all and can have no contact with any of the other children staying on the unit.  You can imagine how difficult this type of seclusion would be for anyone, much less a child.

 Recently, we found a way to help three little girls who were on isolation connect by using visual media so that these little girls could become virtual pen pals.  Using an App on our IPad, we had one of the girls write a story.  She chose to write a story about how her doll helps her when she’s in the hospital.  The story included pictures which she had drawn and inserted into the story.  We then emailed the story to another little girl who replied with her own illustrated story.  These girls were able to make contact with each other and share their feelings about what it’s like to be lonely and stuck in a hospital room.  Through their “virtual exchange” they were able to express themselves and ease their feelings of lonesomeness.  There’s nothing virtual about the value of their friendship.

Another art therapist is born

 I loved art as a little kid and I have many happy memories of standing at the easel painting outside on my front lawn.  My mother had found that parking me on the lawn was an easy way to lessen the amount of clean-up from my painting projects.  Streaks of paint are actually still visible on some of the rocks on my parents’ hill from those warm summer days.

 I was however, educated in a public school setting where I got to attend art class once a week throughout elementary school.  After the age of ten, you had to choose what your elective arts class would be and you only got one; because I played the flute I always ended up taking band.  After I left the 5th grade I never got to take another art class again and art kind of fell to the wayside and became a hobby that I loved and enjoyed, but rarely had time for. 

 When I went to college I majored in Literature because I love to read and I have always enjoyed writing creatively.  While I was there I was required to take an arts class for one of my core education class requirements.  I enthusiastically signed up for a painting class.  Right before I started the class my boyfriend of the time, who I had been with for the past 3 years, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  I remember tearing up on the first day of class when we did a round-robin introduction and had to mention something that was important in our lives.  That painting class became a wonderful relaxing refuge for me.  I could go there and just enjoy the feeling of the brush on the canvas or re-working a certain portion of the piece again and again.  I remembered the joy that I had experienced as a small child painting on my front lawn and once again I became enamored with making art.  I signed up for another art class every semester after that and I ended up minoring in art.        

 Then I graduated from college and came to the shocking realization that I would actually have to somehow support my self with a degree in Literature.  I began doing temp work, where they actually made me sit in the supply closet and do data entry because there were not enough desks in the office.  I actually used to beg to be given stapling and filing assignments.  Anyways, after only a few months I snagged a job working as a behavioral therapist with preschoolers with autism. 

 I loved a lot about the time I spent at work and I found the children to be truly enjoyable to be around.  But I didn’t really like the strictness of behavioral therapy and I kept wondering if there was a way that I could be doing something more creative with the kids.  Maybe I should be an art teacher at a special education school I thought.  One of the kids I worked with was a very high functioning little boy who was terrified of hair cuts.  He would scream and tantrum in the chair until it was nearly impossible to go anywhere near him with scissors.  I worked with him and we made a little puppet version of himself with long hair.  Then, he got to cut the puppet’s hair again and again.  When his mom took him in to get his hair cut at the end of the week, he didn’t cry or fuss at all.  He remembered from his puppet that everything would be ok. 

 After this experience I was talking on the phone to my mother and she began telling me that she had read this really interesting article on a thing called art therapy and that she thought it would be a really good fit for me.  I got off the phone and started looking into art therapy schools and the rest is history. 

 I went to school for art therapy inNew York Cityat Pratt Institute and worked in the city for another year afterwards in preventive services for child welfare.  But the home visits and numerous hours of documentation took a heavy toll on me and after 6 months I started looking around for other job opportunities.  When I came to Children’sNationalMedicalCenterin the spring of 2008 and interviewed for the art therapy position withTracy’s Kids, I immediately felt at ease and I knew that I had finally found a position that was a good fit for me.  I never cease to be amazed by the kids here and I am grateful every day to have found this job that I find both enjoyable and extremely rewarding.

Six Days A Week

I joined Tracy’s Kids Art Therapy Program at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in May of 2008.  I worked Monday through Friday during traditional daytime 9-5 hours.  Then in January of this year I had a baby.  I transitioned into working part time after my return from maternity leave and requested that one of the days I work be Saturdays.  I knew that this would make it possible for a family member to watch my son, but what I didn’t know was how different, and wonderful, it would be to work at the hospital on a Saturday.

 During the weekdays at CNMC there is an incredible wealth of services and activities available to patients and their families.  When I came in to work on my first Saturday I was shocked at how incredibly quiet the unit was.  There were no activities for the kids to participate in and most of the children spent the weekends sitting bored in their rooms.  When I first started going into patients’ rooms on Saturdays they would become incredibly excited and almost always one of their first questions to me was, “is the art room open?!!”  Now the children are frequently waiting at the art room door for me when I arrive on Saturday morning.  I even had one child who, upon entering her room at 8:45 in the morning, greeted me by saying, “you’re here! Finally! I’ve been waiting.  These are the things I need for my project.” 

 Another especially rewarding aspect of having the art room open on Saturdays has been that it has enabled so many more families to be together in the art room.  Many children only get to see their siblings in the evenings and on weekends.  Being present on Saturdays has enabled the art therapy program to really reach more children who are in need of services.  And shockingly, Saturdays have actually become my favorite day to work.  I did not previously realize that there was such a void on the weekends, but I’m so happy to get to be able to bring a little more enjoyment to our patients outside of the usual weekday hours.