Quilting with Children

An Artist in Residence

Susan writes:

"As an artists resident, I was sent out to various public schools, by Young Audiences, in New York City, to work with 4th and 5th graders on making a quilt. "Since 1952, Young Audience/New York's professional artists have provided students with opportunities to learn in, through , and about all of the arts. One of the oldest and most respected arts-in-education organizations in the nation, Young Audiences/New York reaches more than 200,000 students in a typical year in over 300 schools with 4,000 workshops and performances in the performing, literary and visual arts." The programs are funded under grant programs.

I began my program by meeting with the teachers to find out what it was that they wanted to do, what theme they were proposing etc. The fourth graders were studying New York State and the fifth graders were studying immigration. With the fourth graders I had them vote on what aspect of New New York State they would like to focus in on. The topics chosen were monuments, flowers, animals, and Native Americans of New York State all of which they were studying in class. They voted on the colors they wanted in the quilt and what kind of batting and backing would be used. I read them different children's books about quilts: "The Keeping Quilt," Clara and the Freedom Quilt" and others.

I used the first session of ten, to describe what we were doing, to tell them what quilts were made of and to do hands on demonstrations of quilts. I brought quilts from my collection: Russian ones, antique tops and finished quilts, my own work, a Chinese quilted jacket (which they loved modeling),and fabrics from different countries. One of the quilts that I got in Russia depicts the nesting dolls so I brought in a nesting doll. Another quilt shows two ladies sipping tea by a samovar. I brought in a real samovar. They loved my demonstration of the rotary cutter and they couldn't get over the idea of the self healing mat.

Fabric crayons were used for this project. We talked and I demonstrated the idea of the mirror image. Since it is a transfer method the pictures and writing come out backwards. They needed to understand that with the crayons all the writing must be done backwards in order to come out correctly. We used mirrors to see what it would look like. During the designing part, where I had them first draw their pictures on paper, we discussed design elements, such as negative space and so on.

I picked the pattern Puss in the Corner, which was easy for them to do and when assembled made the sashing. I precut everything and I had them mark their seams with quarter inch rulers. Though it appeared to be a simple project it was complicated by the fact that there were anywhere from 25 - 33 in a class and some of the classes were more unruly then others! I certainly learned to tune out the noise and other distractions and to focus on the task at hand! I tried various scenarios in the development of this project. At first I gave each kid a small piece of fabric with needles and pins which they proceeded to lose, even though each kid was given a plastic zip lock bag to keep their stuff in. I then kept the pins and needles in boxes which I collected at the end of each class. Still I lost alot of needles and pins. I asked for parent participation and that ended up to NOT always be helpful. The parents needed as much instruction as the children!

After the blocks were made in some of the classes that were further advanced, they were able to decide on the layout of the quilt. I let them mark the quilt so that I would know what order the blocks would go in. In two classes where I had more time, the students started to assemble the quilts. I took whatever was unfinished home and I assembled the tops, made the backing, put on the binding and brought it back for the students to tie off. We invited the parents to participate in the tying. The Parents sent in drinks and snacks. It was a very proud day for the students. Parents took pictures and staff from Young Audiences came to admire the quilt along with the principal.

There was a hanging ceremony in some of the schools. Others were asked to write about their experiences. In one of the schools the project was covered by the student reporters. Many of the children were so thrilled with the finished project, with the fact that they had learned to sew and with all the kudos that came with the project.

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

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