Quilting with Children

Jennilyn Landbeck's quilt presentations

Jennilyn, from Havre de Grace, Maryland, writes:

"I do my presentations at Maryland Days at the elementary schools (our quilt guild does this as a service to the community, along with other artisans-butter churning, basket making, other skills from history), and bring aalong with lots of block examples, my levi quilt, tie-dyed whole cloth, some traditional Amish ones, and anything I am currently working on (the bugs in jars quilt was a BIG HIT). The kids love it. Three to five of us from our guild volunteer each year, coordinated through the Steppingstone Museum at Susquehanna State Park. They do all the arranging with the schools, times etc. I have done 4 presentations in a row, classes rotating from my quilts to the other presentations. I don't have a set script, it is very discussion-based. I ask lots of questions and have wall-hangings and works in progress pinned up covering all the blackboards.

When I give my demo at the schools I bring scrap squares and give them out as "prizes" to correct answers. Keeps their attention, increases participation. As I show the block designs and ask them to guess the names of the blocks it is fascinating hearing their ideas about old blocks, and what they think traditional blocks should be named. I understand many of the blocks have several names, and sometimes wonder if we manage to pass on quilting skills successfully to the next generation, what new quilt technology will develop, and how the names will be reflected by their changing culture?

I bring some batting for them to pass around and touch, and a sandwiched block with a double-threaded needle (so the needle doesn't come off and get lost) and a thimble for them to take a stitch and pass around. I ask them to try and guess what was used for batting, and they come up with lots of great guesses, including cotton balls, grass, bunny fur... I also bring a huge book from the guild-with a great index of block names for them to try and find their "name" block, and if they can't find one with their name encourage them to invent their own block and give it their name.

My husband designed a quilt using colored cubes, transfered it to the computer for a screen saver, and I have posters showing the original cube-block design, then how he multiplyed it, turned it into a quilt, showing the geometry and the excitement of repetition and variation that turns it into a great design.

I also have posters with Drunkard's Path variations (but I have it labeled "Road to Rehabiliation" and we talk about names in history, good names and ones that can be changed, since Alcoholism is a disease,etc. tie it in with Say No to Drugs-plug). To go along with the posters I have blocks, one small one, then several sewn together to show variations. It gives me a good use for practice blocks, ones I thought I wanted to try, but didn't want a whole quilt out of, or were too hard, or bad color choices. I tell the kids sometimes why I haven't finished a quilt, if the colors are too similar, or not enough contrast.

For a handout, I give them black and white quilt blocks (9 on page) to color-in, labeled with the block names. Also the fabric! Kids love little scraps, well, they are squares, but even a 3x3 is very exciting for them. I talk about recycling, using left-over fabrics, or clothes that don't fit that they have permission to cut up...and encourage them to start their fabric collection, and compare it to getting all the crayon colors. I have quilts I have painted on, or used one color-way and dyed it to make more, and show them the reverse side of fabric as another fabric color to use. I also have a poster on how to take care of a quilt, keeping it out of direct sunlight, how to wash it carefully. I have an old quilt block rag that has grease stains on it I bought for a quarter at a flea market, and use that as the example at the end, of how to not use quilts. Also a quilt I made that is sun-damaged and the colors ran when I washed it and didn't pre-wash the fabrics before I cut and sewed.

The whole time they are sitting on my levi quilt, with the pockets and overall suspenders intact-so it is okay to sit on them, use them kindly, but not abuse them, or give them to someone who will love it and take care of it if you don't want the quilt...

I show them the first quilt I ever made, before I understood what a quilt was: lime green solid fabric with cut out squares of fabric machine stitched on top leaving blank squares for the green to show through. That was me at 7 years old trying to make it look like a patchwork quilt for my doll. I have crayon lines on it for "stitching" and it is pretty funny looking, but it puts what I have learned since then in perspective and makes the kids feel like they can try it, too.

My goal is to open their eyes to possibilities, expose them to current quilt trends and see the history of where it came from. It is very exciting and exhilitrating, feeling like I am passing on some of the love I feel for this art form and craft. Kids love to learn, and I know the schools will accept volunteers for demos like this, all you have to do is ask! I am amazed each time at the kid's resonse and eagerness.

If one corner isn't perfect, not a problem. Kids are less critical than a lot of quilters I know!"

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

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