By Kristan Hutchison, club manager of Makin’ It
Sydney Murphy and Ksenia Medvedeva, both age 11, formed Team Folktails to create realistic mermaid tails. When they spoke at The Tech in March, the girls revealed just how deep their water dream runs.
“I remember when I was, like, 4, I got a bunch of Barbies for Christmas and they were all mermaid Barbies,” said Ksenia. “I would put them in the sink and try to make them swim, but it didn’t really work, so I always thought it would be cool to have my own mermaid tail.”
Sydney recalls always being entranced by mermaid stories and movies. She once tried to duct-tape two rubber fins together so she could swim like a mermaid, but the tape wouldn’t hold. She also had disappointing attempts with commercially made mermaid tails, which were all too floppy and fake.
Since January, Team Folktails has been testing tail shapes, materials and techniques to design a wearable tail that will look and behave in the water like a real mermaid. They based their tail shape on a combination of two fish tails that worked best in their small-scale tests. For a scaly skin they tried everything from liquid latex to bubble-wrap before settling on a combination of fabric and acrylic paint.
“We wanted something that would be a little more fishy,” Sydney explained during the panel discussion.
As their mentor, I’m amazed how many learning areas Ksenia and Sydney have been able to explore through this project, from the biomechanics of fish and humans, to the chemistry of epoxies and the properties of plastics. Participating in the Meet-The-Makers panel at The Tech also gave Sydney and Ksenia a chance to develop their public speaking and presentation skills.
Equally important, during the Open Make event Ksenia and Sydney learned new skills and advice from adult makers like Wearable Tech Designer Grace Kim. One of the future steps in the mermaid tail is to incorporate lights, and Kim taught Sydney and Ksenia how to work with LEDs and conductive thread during the Maker Workshop. Kim’s glowing, barnacle-like designs inspired the girls, who want to incorporate similar adornments into their tail and they were able to stay after, asking her specific questions.
Young Makers has given Sydney and Ksenia the opportunity to create something that does not fulfill a school assignment or fit within a science fair rubric. Where else would they be applauded for everything they tried that didn’t work and lauded for the process as much as the product? Where else would they be introduced to adults who combine artistry and technology like Grace Kim?
Ksenia and Sydney are learning how to approach a design problem, how to seek out and develop solutions, and how to see failure as a step toward success. But most importantly they have learned, in Sydney’s own words, “Never underestimate what you can do. Even if you don’t think you can do it, you can always at least try.”
I’m inspired by those words of wisdom to pursue my own watery dream…to see two young mermaids swimming in the Maker Faire pool between battleship rounds.