Quilting with Children

Jean Power's High School Quilt Projects

Jean writes:

"Six or seven years ago, I taught a lesson on quilts and quilting to a high school class of all boys following a unit they had studied on colonial America. At first apprehensive about trying a women's art with a group of boys, I found this to be rewarding for me and the students. Using books from the public library ( we didn't have any in our school library at the time), and real quilts, including one that was in progress at the time, I showed them the anatomy of a quilt, and we looked at the various patterns and pattern names, placing them in the context of American history. My quilting club donated fabric scraps and batting from which each student made a simple 4 patch square potholder to take home. All sewing and quilting was done by hand.

Jean's quilt

"Two years ago, a freshman Tech Prep math teacher and I collaborated to plan a geometry lesson using quilts. I showed slides of quilts using the various geometric shapes, and then taught the students how to draft a pattern. They could choose a design from a quilt book or create one themselves. The clothing design class then constructed the quilt squares based on the math class's designs, after seeing the same slide show concentrating on color choices rather than shapes this time. The end product was 2 wall hangings, one for each classroom.

"This year, a U. S. History teacher came to me looking for ideas on and activity for her class. Again, quilts came to the rescue. I created a Powerpoint slide presentation which surveyed American history up to the Civil War through quilt patterns. The goal here was to help students understand that history is made by more than famous people and great events. Each of us has a part in making history, and this is best represented in the everyday objects made at a given time. Using quilts, I showed them that everyday objects (corn and beans, anvil, wild goose chase), religion (Jacob's Ladder, Joseph's Coat, Star of Bethlehem), political events (Burgoyne Surrounded, Clay's Choice, Whig Rose) and other concerns found their way into folk artistic expression. We first talked about the different functions of quilts (warmth, artistic outlet, storytelling, to carry on memories, to assuage grief, etc.). After the Powerpoint presentation, each student made a quilt square out of wallpaper samples for a wall quilt. I taught this lesson to Advanced Placement, College Prep and Tech Prep classes with great success.

"Soon, the art teacher and I will teach a lesson on tesselations using quilts.

"As Media Specialist, I love being able to use this hobby to enrich the curriculum in all areas."

More recently, she writes:

"I have just finished a lesson with 11th graders in U. S. history. Each student created his own square using wallpaper for "fabric." In a high school schedule, we could only devote 2 days to this; so gluing paper goes much faster than sewing.

"I'd also like to share here a summary of some of the students' comments (they were required to write a paragraph telling what they learned): Most were surprised that quilts had a history to them. They had only thought of them as just bed covers. Although I taught them about patterns that reflect American history from its beginnings (Lafayette Orange Peel, Burgoyne Surrounded, Rocky Road to Kansas, the Graveyard Quilt, etc.), what most of them remembered was the Charleston Code which may have guided some fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad.This may have been because they had just finished studying the Civil War. A few had never thought about dissecting a quilt pattern into its individual shapes and pieces. They were surprised at how hard it can be to make a quilt. Several have grandmothers and great grandmothers who quilt and developed a greater appreciation for what these women do. Although their grandmothers had made quilts, none had never seen one made. One boy said he enjoyed doing something that was a traditionally female pursuit (perhaps surprised he would enjoy it?) Many liked the chance to express their feelings, hobbies, and creative impulses. Although not all students got emotionally involved with this project, many did. Others made the connection that quilts can tell family stories. A few wanted to do it again.

Jean's quilt

"My own impressions of the project: it involves students in critical and creative thinking skills; it provides an artistic outlet for students and provides a cross curriculum connection with history, art, and math; it reveals U. S. history in a more personal way than total reliance on the textbook does."

Jean has offered to share copies of the lesson plans she used at the high school level and exchange ideas about working with high schoolers. She can be reached at: JPOWER@gh.gcsd.k12.sc.us.

If you'd like to share your story on these pages, please email Heddi at qwc@thecraftstudio.com.

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