“Make sure you have your materials for today! Scissors, white paper, glue or tape, colored paper…” said Middle School teacher June Anderson to the group of Class 4 students. “We have an exciting project for you today and it has to do with quilting.”
To kick off the class, Ms. Anderson posed a simple question: What is a quilt?
Students offered a variety of answers: “Something you sew,” “A blanket that usually makes a pattern,” “It’s thick,” “There are patches in it” among them.
Ms. Anderson nodded, encouraging their thoughts which continued to pop up in the chat feature. “Quilting is an ancient art and craft,” she said, displaying some examples on her shared screen. “These are colonial quilts from the 17-1800s.”
An array of colorful designs appeared with most, to a student’s earlier point, displaying a pattern. “Fabric was very expensive in America at this time,” noted Ms. Anderson. “What do you notice about colonial quilts? Raise your digital hands!”
“There are a lot of shapes in them. Mostly triangles,” noted one scholar. “Symmetrical,” “Colorful,” “Precise,” and “Patterned” were among other distinguished features.
After viewing these particular quilts, the students watched a short video introducing quiltmakers called “Gee’s Bend,” a group of Black women from rural Alabama. The video discussed how Gee’s Bend has been creating beautiful quilts, enlivened with “scraps” (old fabric, newspaper, etc.), since the early twentieth century. When Ms. Anderson asked the curious learners to consider what was different about these quilts, the students offered that they were asymmetrical, more artistic and vibrant.
Middle School Art teacher Marianne Brand then began to discuss the art of quilting, praising the improvisational skills of Gee’s Bend and their use of non-traditional items. Ms. Brand said sewing and quilting were, of course, not just an activity for women and noted that in Africa, it’s common for men to sew and weave.
The students were then introduced to a more contemporary quilter and artist, Sanford Biggers, who paints over quilts to transform them into unique works. After viewing a short video about him, students were asked to reflect on what they noticed about his art.
“Super creative,” said one student while another burst out, “Huge!” (as one example covered an entire wall).
Drawing on Mr. Biggers’ and Gee’s Bend’s work for inspiration, the students were tasked with making their own special “quilts” using only the referenced art supplies and their creativity. Ms. Brand held up a piece of white paper in front of her screen and folded it in half lengthwise and again widthwise. “This will help you find your center point,” she explained pointing to where the folds intersected.
Students then gathered colorful paper, newspapers and magazine clippings. “Look for colors or patterns that stand out to you,” Ms. Brand advised. “Start with some small pieces then take your glue stick and attach it to the center of your paper.”
They began to glue their cut-out pieces around their center point but then moved to an asymmetrical design, similar to the work of Gee’s Bend.
“If you don’t have certain materials at home, you can draw your shapes and patterns!” said Ms. Brand encouraging those joining in via Zoom.
Colorful creations began to emerge as students precisely cut and pasted pieces to their white paper. As their time came to an end, Ms. Brand revealed that they would share their finished projects during their next class.
With that, she bid farewell saying, “Enjoy your quilting, Class 4! I’ll see you on Thursday.