Tuesday, February 5, 2013

American Quilting Lessons

Quilts have an amazing story and have played a role in recording the story of our American History.  This lesson is meant to share a bit of that history and the evolution of the American Quilt as treasured repository of stories as well as great pieces of art.  The idea of the quilt as a coded map to "Ride the Underground Railroad" is an idea that, though not corroborated or proven as truth, has taken hold in our minds and launched a heated debate over the validity of the idea.  True or not, it is an interesting idea, and adds to the romance of the history hidden in American Quilts.

Whether there was a quilt code or not, we do know that quilts were used sentimentally to tell stories and remember family during much of our past.  That is what this lesson is all about.  First, there are some wonderful picture books to share with your elementary or primary grade student that will introduce quilts as a medium for story telling.  I recommend reading both in the order given if you can find copies.

Learning About Why Quilts Mattered To the People that Made Them:

The Josefina Story Quilt by Eleanor Coerr.  

Use this "I Can Read Book" to introduce quilts as a way to record stories.  The story takes the reader on a wagon train and follows a little-girl as she builds patchwork squares to tell the tail of Josefina the Chicken, her favorite pet.

You may find this article about pioneer women and their traveling quilts helpful as background information to have for discussion with your young reader as you read and discuss the book.

Eight Hands Round a Patchwork Alphabet by Anne Whitford Paul:

In this non-fiction book, 26 different quilt patterns are described and the origins of their names are speculated over.  Along the way, kids will learn a little history and a little about quilt patterns.  Try this wonderful Geometry Lesson using the book from Mary Beth Martin's wonderful collection of Quilting Lesson Plans.

The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy.  

Grandma begins making a special quilt with bits of each family member's stories sewn in, but when Grandma becomes ill, Tanya has to keep the sewing going so Grandma's masterpiece can be finished.

To make the most out of a reading of this book, I suggest having kids find an old article of clothing in their closet that is meaningful to them.  If you are at home, your child can simply tell you why it is meaningful, but if your are in a classroom setting, this will turn into a show and tell opportunity. 

After everyone has shared their piece of clothing, have each child take a photo of some part of the clothing that is interesting.  Perhaps there is an insignia, a bit of embroidery or something cool in the pattern, or maybe there is a stain with a memorable story behind it.  If you are working with one child or a very small group of children, you might ask each child to choose two or three favorite articles of clothing and then take a few photos of the same piece of clothing, but different parts of it.

Get the photos printed. 

During a second lesson, take prints of the photos and paste them together in one large "patchwork collage."  Now you have a photo quilt that can act as a wonderfully sentimental piece of art in your home, or as a great display on "Open House Night" at your school the parents will love.  If you are a father looking at this, it might be a nice project for a Mother's Day Gift as well.

Of course, depending on your sewing aspirations and skills, you could also go ahead and make a real family patchwork quilt too.

View the Reading Rainbow Episode

Additionally, here is a link to a  math lesson using The Patchwork Quilt as a spring board into problem solving, patterning and combination problems.

Faith Ringold and Harriet Powers:

This link will take you to a wonderful lesson plan using Tar Beach by Faith Ringold as its inspiration.

The photos below, show Alice in the process of making her Ringold - inspired story quilt and her finished product.  As usual, we tweaked things a little to suit our needs.  Wallpaper samples can be difficult to come by, so we used one-inch squares of scrap-booking papers cut with a square hole-punch for the "quilting squares" because it was what we had on hand.  The squares were glued down using regular old "white glue."  Just a small dab and then a paint brush to spread the glue out avoids bubbling.

We also watched this short PBS Video of Faith Ringold talking about making Tar Beach while punching out the paper squares.  I thought it might be of additional interest to you as well.

Before having Alice start the "story square" I had her check out more of Faith Ringold's artwork with links from her website to view pieces reproduced online.  Whatever you do, don't miss, The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles.  I'd have to say it is definitely a favorite!

Alice decided she had four locations she'd like to fly over, so she did four "story pictures."  In the finished piece, she had The Zoo, The Chinese Bamboo Forests, Hogwarts and My Parent's Beach.  I helped her draw a dashed line to look like stitching between the four pictures.  She decided in the end, she didn't want to actually add herself into the "quilt story pictures." but they still provide a snapshot of her favorite things which is a kind of story about the things she has explored this year.

Faith Ringold on Quilting as an Art Form

Before Faith Ringold there was Harriet Powers Although she did not write a wonderful children's story, the two quilts history has of hers are beautiful examples of stories in a quilt.  Here is a lesson plan (I did not try) all about Harriot Powers for fourth and fifth grade.

More Books With Quilts

History Resources:

Why Quilts Matter
Quilt me a Story
Quilts and Quiltmaking in America
Womenfolk.com America's Quilting History

Video Resources:

Specifically Regarding the Railroad Quilt Code:

History of the idea of the Code by Wikipedia
Time Article regarding the idea
Brief National Geographic Article

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