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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Remains of the Quilting Classes

About four years ago, I was away from my job due to a severe depression. While I was recovering, I started quilting. One day I decided it would be a good idea to try and interest teenagers or pre-teens in quilting.

A girlfriend of mine happened to be a teacher in an elementary school around the corner from me. Budgets for the arts had of course been slashed, but for most of one year I got to take my friend's class once a week for an hour and try to get them interested in quilting. I had time, I had a friend to help me, I was chock full of ideas and enthusiasm.

Here in Quebec the curriculum is what they call "integrated" - has nothing to do with the color of the students... It means that in English class you learn your science vocabulary, in social studies you do mathematical trends, basically you try to integrate every subject into every other subject. The way life is.

We decided the quilts the children would make would be related to their social studies curriculum. That year the children were learning about the Inuit, so they made little 8x8 quilts with scenes depicting Inuit life.

I showed overheads and slides and movies to them, going back to the earliest know examples of quilting (ancient Egypt). I taught them "guy" stuff - like quilted armor. They learned to convert centimeters to inches, because the biggest quilt suppliers are in the States and you have to work in inches or at least know what they are - that meant they learned about market size. Once, when I was handing out small frames they needed to assemble, one girl asked me how did you know which part of the frame went into which part, and we even had a quick discussion of "male" and "female" adaptors. Half the class giggled, half the class shrieked "EEEEEW!" So I shook my head in amazement that one could even integrate sex education into the quilting class!

I had a friend come in and show off neat stuff. I brought samples in for them to see. I made them kits... oh, those kits nearly killed me!

Every student received a personalized bag with:

a piece of cloth with pre-marked half-inch lines for them to practise basting on
a piece of cloth with pre-marked quarter-inch lines for them to practise their actual quilting stitiches on
pre-cut backing, batting, and top pieces
a piece of paper with a basting needle, a quilting needle, and ten pins inserted
enough binding to finish the piece
a needle threader and cutter
floss holders wound with basting thread and quilting thread

They'd come up and select which appliqu├ęs they wanted to put in their scene. While they struggled to thread their needles, I'd hand around samples for them to look at, I'd talk about the different types of quilts and show pictures. Some of the children were faster at picking it up, because they had more developed motor skills. So we talked about how people develop at different rates, and those who finished early turned and helped the ones who were having difficulty - that's called "peer teaching."

At the end of each class they would receive a vocabulary sheet with the words they had heard in that particular session, and would give the definition in their own words. "Resolution, knit, abstract, mosaic, optical illusion, tessellation, fibre, sinew, stippling, half-square triangles... These are just a few of the terms we got through, and you can see we drew on science, photography, and math, among other subjects, to help them understand quilting.

One boy was a holy terror most of the time because he was mildly autistic, for which reason my teacher friend had a class helper. Another friend used to come with me some days, so were were usually 4 adults amongst these 30 children. But I could have kissed that annoying autistic boy the day I showed pictures of Sashiko work on Japanese Fishermen's coats. I talked about the utilitarian practicality of sewing layers of cloth together, how it came from having to spin and weave every piece of cloth you owned. And this young boy put up his hand and asked "Did they know it would come out so beautiful?" I could have cried.

Some of the funny things we adults noticed over the course of this year, and the next when I took on two classes, was that the boys seemed more interested than the girls! It also helped that one class was doing the Vikings - so there were lots of swords and armor in those scenes!

It was fun. It was exhausting! I'd walk out of each class totally drained, shaking my head and proclaiming teachers are worth every penny of their salaries, and then some!

All this comes to mind today because I'm cleaning out my "extra" bedroom, and the children's pieces and the remnants of their kits were there, waiting for me to take the pins and needles out of the papers and put their 8x8 squares together on a background so the school can hang them up for other children to see. Yes, I'm a little late! I had to return to work, then I left my husband and moved twice... I'm just getting around to it now.

But I still had a few laughs as I took the kits apart and salvaged what I could. You'd be amazed how bent a tiny quilting needle can get in the hands of an eleven-year-old! And they were always losing their needles - it averaged out to five per child. Yet I came across one paper with nine needles in it! Whatever was that child doing, I wondered - just trying to be annoying by stealing the other kid's needles?!

I can't take up a task like that again, but I'm glad I did those three classes. I think my proudest moment came when a young boy showed me how he had repaired his torn jeans by himself. He had asked his mother to fix them, and she had replied that she didn't know how to sew. Then he realized he had learned how to sew - so he fixed them himself. It was atrocious, but he was pleased with the results, and I was so proud I could have popped!

I don't know if any of those children will grow up to be quilters, but they all seemed to have more or less a good time making their pieces, and I have wonderful memories.

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