For the past several months, I have been teaching a Quilting elective for middle school students. The class began with two extremely quiet 6th grade girls. They were not experienced sewers, and we practiced straight lines and pivoting by making a little honey bear bag for Rosh Hashona. I told them briefly about the history of quilting…and I mean very briefly.
The next week we began sewing jewel colored log cabin blocks. Each block took 2-3 sessions to complete. We loved our quiet sewing time, and the 45 minutes would often stretch into nearly 2 hours, as we kept going after school ended. The girls’ skills improved very quickly into sewing increasingly even stitches, with less seam rippers needed to remove work that we didn’t like. We continued this for several months.
Then, several more students joined our classes, and the 6th grade girls were upset. They complained to me about the class being too loud and about the awful color choices of blocks that the new students were making. It was as though their private club had now been interrupted. Me, the teacher/ art therapist empathized and listened to their complaints. Change is hard, and private sewing time is precious. I explained that historically, quilts were often made by a group of people. It was gratifying for me to see that these formerly very shy and quiet students were now opening up to me.
The process of making art never ceases to amaze me. Even while making something as grand as a quilt, I kept focused on the “process” rather than the product of our art making. I would comment when someone had clearly reached a new height with their sewing. When someone had a rough day, where every stitch sewn would need to be undone, I would pat them on the back. It wouldn’t be long before someone else would comment, “that was me last class!” The group became more unified as time went by. Then, the original two 5th graders left and new 8th grade students arrived. We were now up to 8 students (including one boy) with only 3 sewing machines, but of course, we managed to make it work.
Eventually, we maxed out on the original quilt blocks and I then introduced a new quilt, with a string quilt design. We talked about the way to construct the block and discussed different color options. They wanted blues, greens with a little purple and a little yellow. The kids asked for fabrics with lots of animals, and luckily there were many available for me to purchase. The class worked as a studio and everyone pitched in by threading a machine, sharing ironing tips, taking turns with equipment, showing off a favorite fabric, giving commentary and cherishing the process of working together. When we had completed several blocks with half dark fabrics, a unifying stripe down the middle and half light fabrics, we had to decide on a layout. The kids loved playing with various arrangements, but quickly determined that this first photo on the left would be the winner!
Finally, the work was done. I assembled and quilted the projects, with one just needing a border. I printed the school logo on fabric and made it into a label for the back of each quilt. Last week, each student signed his/her name on the back of the quilt and then we walked downstairs.
In an private ceremony in her office, we presented the quilts to the Headmaster of the school. Soon, the room was filled with teachers, administrators, photographers, front office staff and anyone who was lucky enough to walk by. I loved seeing the huge smiles on the faces of these proud and talented young quilters. They answered questions about how each design was made, what was the hardest part and which block was their own contribution. Finally, back in our classroom, I brought cookies and sparkling apple cider for us to celebrate (a siyum) our completion of such a huge task. It was the perfect end to a wonderful journey.
These quilters, along with their fellow 8th grade students, will be going on a school trip to Israel in a few weeks. The two quilts, and a third quilt made by younger students (which I will explain at another time) will all be going on the trip. The kids will be visiting many amazing places, including S.A.C.H.*, where the quilts will be donated. The sick kids at SACH can come from anywhere in the world, even from the Palestinian territories. Only if age 5 or under, will they be with a parent. Otherwise, children over 5 will be unaccompanied, will have a translator and a local host family to be there for them. I can imagine how scary this experience must be for those kids, let alone, their families. We hope that our quilts can ease even some of the inevitable trauma or pain.
*Save A Child’s Heart is an Israeli-based international, non profit organization https:www.saveachildsheart.com. They are known worldwide for their commitment to saving lives by improving the quality of cardiac care for children from developing countries and creating centers of medical competence in these countries. Look them up and you will be amazed at what they accomplish!