Project 6: Tactile Exploration

By the second week of the Spring semester, I had conducted a few participatory workshops from which I had acquired sufficient data to support my research interests.

An overload of information coupled with a lack of motivation to read, prompted me to want to work with my hands. Inspired by the Pregnancy Studio class at ECUAD, taught by my supervisor, Sophie Gaur, my intent was to explore and understand the intricacies of the female anatomy through the act of making.

Foraging through the Soft Shop free fabric bins.
The materials and sewing equipment used.

“Each stage of a pregnancy event has its own complicated relationship to medicine, to society, to culture and to biology, she notes. Despite being as commonplace as experiences get, pregnancy and birth are very often misunderstood. So, how do you take this very natural body event and make meaning of it?” she asks. “How do you transcend a lot of the attitudinal frameworks — which are very often either medical or social — that are imposed on it?”

Excerpt from an interview of Sophie Gaur by Perrin Grauer 
Posted on February 22, 2021 | Updated February 22, 2021, 9:44am (ECUAD News)

Wanting to experiment with tactile manifestations of the female anatomy I decided to hand-sew a three-dimensional soft toy of a vulva using a variety of fabrics. 

Using the diagram of a vulva from the ‘Cunt Coloring Book’ by Tee Corinne as a reference to build the vulva plushie.
Cutting out the different organs from varying fabrics.

The idea was to create a scaled up, three-dimensional, tangible representation of a vulva as a way to arouse curiosity through touch. To add another layer of sensory experience, I used a bell for the clitoris, while the leaking menstrual blood became a piece of coarse maroon fabric.

Layering the organs onto the vulva base.
Sewing all the pieces together.
The completed Vulva Plushie.
Addition of coarse fabric to represent menstrual blood.

“To take multisensory forms of knowledge (like touch) seriously, we can’t only stay in the realm of reading and interpretative analysis. Analytic attention to touch reminds us that it is not a passive act. Every touch always touches back.”

Alvarez, A. P. (2015). Experimenting with Ethnography. Chapter 1: Tactile Analysis Touching as a Collective Act. p. 21.

I recorded my colleague Liyang Zia (aka Charlie) using his hands to touch, feel, and play with this vulva plushie while generating inquisitive questions and insightful commentary about the socio-economic, and political ideologies surrounding female sexual health, feminism, and gender discrimination.

Charlie playing with the Vulva Plushie.


Recalling the rich dialogue and observations that ensued from a simple act of tactile engagement, I evidenced how this method can benefit my research practice by providing an alternate way of acquiring qualitative knowledge and engaging an open discussion on a serious subject matter, which has made me excited about further exploring multi-sensory ways of researching.

Part 2: Not Your Average Vulva

In my previous post, I had mentioned wanting to create something using the coloured-in diagrams from the ‘Cunt Coloring Book’. I was keen on exploring a unique book format that would be interactive and fun. Guilia Borba, a senior in the MDes program, suggested an accordion book format that she had created for one of her research projects. It seemed quite interesting and easy to execute!

Scanned and edited coloured diagrams.
Testing out the folding technique.

I began by scanning the coloured pages, editing them to a square format and used a bunch of coloured papers as the binding pages in between. I used a thicker card stock from an old electronics box for the front and back cover pages to add some stability. The square papers required a specific folding technique that took a few tries to execute perfectly. They needed to be aligned as a diamond, with each end of the diamond page glued to the centre of the next page, which then folds into each other to form the accordion book.

Assembled accordion book.
Charlie demonstrating how the book is opened.
Fully opened Vulva Accordion Book. (Model – Liyang Zha).


One of the realizations I had while creating this book, is how much it emphasizes the uniqueness of each vulva. Each drawing is given its own space, while still being a part of the entire book – reflective of how there isn’t one standard vulva.

Some of the observations/comments made by my colleagues about this book (Thanks to Erik Asia for noting down my peer review critique):

  • Portrays process
  • Playful
  • Engages with a younger audience well
  • Images are different from those found in magazines and textbooks
  • Highlight the notion of “reveal” – revealing just enough until when you’re comfortable

What I also learned from these projects is the use of multiple educational tools in conjunction with each other. While the plushie toy can be used to teach children about the various parts of the female sexual anatomy, the accompanying accordion book can emphasize the existence of a diversity of vulvas, in a fun and interactive manner.

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