A view to a quilt: storytelling that kept the P3s in stitches

11th February 2011 at 00:00
Photography, mess and `global happy wishes' were all part of the journey when one class created a quilt over five weeks

When you can't sew a straight line, how can you expect to make a quilt with a class of P3s? Well, throw together a rag-bag of creativity, enthusiasm, a bit of technology, not to mention 23 young people, and out comes something extraordinary.

I have always loved quilts and the stories behind them. As a writer I enjoy it when stories come to us in unusual ways, so story quilts are a weakness of mine. The finished quilt is enough, but when you understand the process and story behind it, the pleasure is even greater.

It was the P3 class from my local school in Strathblane who were willing to accompany me on this stitching journey into the unknown.

Week one started with some fabric fun, alternative alphabets and sharing some of my own story quilts with the class. Starting with the first quilt I made for my son, we heard about some of the comfort blankets and quilts the class had when they were younger.

Then it was time to work out how different fabrics made us feel - for example, what it was about satin that makes you feel sleepy. Many of my quilts have rhymes and poems as part of them, so there was lots of time for talking and listening as the class found alternatives for the choices on the alphabet quilt.

With only five sessions to spend with the children, I decided a key to making the quilt happen would be to leave the class with "a challenge" every week. Week one's task was to draw a picture of something which made us happy - but there had to be a story in the picture which would be revealed at a later date.

Week two and we started with my shopping list. Would I have to buy extra material? I knew how many rectangles of fabric would be needed for each child, but did I have enough? I handed three bits of previously used fabric to the kids and asked them to work it out for me. They split into groups and, with a few paper templates, did the maths. I took them at their word and no, I didn't have to buy any extra material.

Next up, photography! In pairs, it was time to get some portraits done on the laptop and, using a few special effects, spectacular results were achieved and transformed into fabric.

It was up to each child to decide how they wanted to be seen on their panel, so some quite unusual photos were taken. I only had to explain a couple of times how to use the equipment before the P3s were able to share their new-found photographic talents with each other.

This week's challenge was to write an acrostic poem, describing themselves using their name as a starting point. This was written on fusible fabric and attached to the final panel.

I prepared some of the stages of the quilt in advance, as they involved very hot irons, so transferring of photos and pictures to fabric was done by me. However, the joy of revealing the new fabric was shared by each child in the class.

In week three, it was time to get messy - perhaps my favourite week. Are you a straight line or a wavy line person? Well, it's a personal thing and no doubt deeply meaningful psychologically but, with fabrics to print, it was on to recycling polystyrene pizza bases into stamps and getting down with the paints.

The great thing about this part of the process is that you don't have to be a good artist to be an amazing fabric designer. Some of the most successful prints were quite unexpected. Almost up there with the mess was the excitement about drying the fabric with hairdryers.

Again away from the class, I attached the pictures to the printed fabric and sewed the panels into individual fabric sandwiches. On week four, I rounded up some sewing help and headed into the classroom. Two friends who are fellow fabric lovers agreed to come along and do a bit of sewing supervision.

Next came a particular favourite for me. It was time to think globally, write a wish for the world on a scrap of fabric and put it inside the quilt. I once heard a quilter talk about how eventually all quilts fall apart and how her quilts are filled with scraps of stories and thoughts which will only be revealed when the whole quilt disintegrates - and another story is revealed.

So "secret global happy wishes" were deposited into the panels of the quilt, pinned and sewed. Under close supervision, each child sewed their own panel up to finish it.

Curtis, one of the P3s, then led the rest of the children to put the quilt together in its finished pattern. Quite a bit of maths talk ensued at this point and trying things out. Then we pinned our marvellous quilt together. Yes, pinned - so each child could take their own panel home at the end of term.

In week five, the P3s morphed into film-makers to video a "show and tell" about what had made them happy and been the centrepiece of their panel.

So what had we all learned at the end? Teamwork counts, P3s are super- creative, quilts are fun and some headteachers have faith in an idea (allowing members of their communities to share their skills).

Some of the mums have spoken to me since about how delighted they are that their kids tried sewing, as their grannies are quilters or sewers. The P3s love their quilt - in fact, Laura told me: "It's fantastic. it's the best quilt in the universe!"

I also loved the end result but the journey of making our quilt was the exciting part for me.

Johanna Hall is a quilter and writer who used to write for the BBC's `Balamory' series.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today