How to make an English quilt

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Lucy Hodges watches children make patchwork as a memento - and to boost funds. Hermione, five, gazes lovingly at her little fabric cottage sewn on to a yellow square below her embroidered name. "My mum chose the picture," she explains. "But I hemmed it all round and I chose the colours for my name and wrote my name with a pencil."

Her square is one of 34 which have been carefully sewn together into a quilt, representing the joint effort of the children, staff and parents of yellow class - a reception class at the 260-pupil St Mary's Infants Church of England School in Haringey, north London. Every year each class makes a quilt. Every child is given a square to take home for decoration, and the results are an eclectic, and sometimes clashing, mix of colours, pictures and techniques - embroidery, painting, applique, and collage. In some cases whole dolls have been attached to squares. Batman, Spiderman and Wallace and Gromit are favourite motifs of boys.

A saintly mother with a sewing machine volunteers hours of her time to put the squares together, complete with padding, borders and corners, and the masterpiece is complete. The eight finished products are raffled at the school fete in the summer, raising Pounds 70 apiece for the school.

For headteacher Margaret Morgan each quilt is a little memorial to the class group. "It's associated with friendship between teachers and parents and children, and represents in a small way what has been achieved that year, " she says.

Although quilting - or, rather, patchwork - is an English tradition, little goes on in most primary schools, according to Penny Walsh, of the Quilters' Guild. One of the problems is that the national curriculum does not allow schools the time to do things such as patchwork quilting. But it can be taught under the heading of textiles or as part of maths, she says.

One teacher who has used patchwork in her classes is Carole Gardiner, who teaches Year 5 at Totley Primary School in Sheffield. She has used it in maths where patches are tessellations arranged together to form patterns, and in history as part of a study of the Victorians. She also runs a patchwork group for pupils after school in the first term of the school year. "I do it because the children enjoy it and it's not being done in school time," she explains.

The quilting at St Mary's Infants, which has been going on for nine years, serves a social rather than a curriculum function. It was introduced by Kay Caswell, a dinner lady at the school and former parent-staff association chairman, who got the idea from a visiting American at a local playgroup. Back in 1988 the squares were knitted by parents with the children's names embroidered on them. But it was difficult to sew knitted squares together because people knit at differing tensions. So material was introduced instead.

Over time the quilts have become more professional. Initially they were unfinished and unpadded. When Mari Phillips, a former fashion designer, began to chair the parent-staff association in 1993, padding was introduced and contrasting colours were used to match the class colours.

The perk for the mother who sews up the squares of her child's class is that her child gets to choose her square's position in the quilt, according to Cordelia Hall, mother of Hermione. "It has emotional significance for the child," says Ms Hall. "Hermione wanted to be at the top and to be surrounded by her friends."

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