A couple of years ago now, I had the privilege of taking a quilting class taught by my good friend, Wanda. In addition to being a talented writer, a college instructor, and an avid reader, Wanda is a quilter. She is active in the Alabama Folklife Association, and as a part of this, she has been a community scholar. I, along with several other women and girls, benefited from her involvement through the string quilting class she taught. Wanda chose this particular quilting method because this is the way her own grandmoter taught her to quilt. It uses up leftover fabric in a very efficient way, and we even recycled old newspapers for our blocks. I found this website which provides both written and visual instructions, if you’re interested in learning more about string quilting. Anyway, that’s my quilt you see up there, and I’m very proud of it.
Wanda is really great at a whole lot of things, and one of them is being a very generous friend. She presented me with a couple of books with a common theme of quilts and quilting to share with my girls, and when I realized that one of the Five in a Row books is about sewing and quilting, too, I saw the makings of a thematic unit. 🙂 The FIAR title is The Rag Coat. Written and illustrated by Lauren Mills, it is the story of a poor Appalachian girl named Minna whose father dies of “miner’s cough” and leaves her, her mother, and her little brother all but destitute. The desire of Minna’s heart is to go to school, but after her father’s death, she must stay home and help her mother. When she finally does have a chance to attend school, she has no coat to keep her warm as she walks to and from school. The Quilting Mothers of the community come to her rescue and make her her own “coat of many colors” out of their scraps. The children at school make fun of her, of course, until she teaches them a lesson in kindness and community. My girls enjoyed this story a lot, although they tend to have a morbid fascination with any story that involves death in any way. Still, it’s a good story with beautiful illustrations and a not-too-heavy-handed moral.
The Rag Coat made me think of Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, of course. I am not a fan of country music, but I knew this book would be a perfect companion to The Rag Coat, and I was right. Coat of Many Colors is just a book of illustrated song lyrics , really, so The Rag Coat fleshes the very similar story out better. Still, it’s a nice pairing.
One of the books Wanda gave us is The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco, one of our favorite author/illustrators. (I’ve written about her here and here.) The Keeping Quilt is all about traditions and the passing down of heirlooms. Of course, in this case, the heirloom is a quilt. The quilt is constructed from the narrator’s great grandmother’s dress and babushka (shawl) and bits of other family member’s clothing from back home in Russia. The quilt serves as a tablecloth, a picnic blanket, a wedding huppa, and a baby blanket for several generations. Of course, the beautiful illustrations make this book a feast for the eyes, as well. This book would make a great supplement for so many different studies: Jewish traditions, the immigrant experience, etc.
The girls’ favorite quilt book by far, though, is The Quiltmaker’s Gift, another gift from dear Wanda. We’ve enjoyed Jeff Brumbeau’s work before, thanks to a recommendation by Wanda, and The Quiltmaker’s Gift is every bit as delightful. It’s the story of an old woman, a quiltmaker, who “kept a house in the blue misty mountains up high.” Her quilts are extraordinary; the colors in them rival those found in nature. She will not take money for her quilts; she only gives them to the poor and homeless. A greedy king wants one of her quilts for his own, since one of her quilts is one of the few things he doesn’t possess. Of course, the quiltmaker won’t just give him one–he has to “earn” it by fulfilling some tasks which require him to put others before himself. The king slowly begins to change, thanks to the quiltmaker’s demands. By the end of the story, the king has learned what has true value. My girls really like this one, and I think part of the reason is because of its gorgeous illustrations. Gail deMarcken’s watercolor illustrations are bright and so very detailed. I love the fact that the text box on every page of the story is adorned with a unique quilt square. The inside covers of the book are covered with different quilt squares, too. This is another book that is a feast for the eyes!
As far as what we actually did with these books (besides read them, I mean), I started out at Homeschool Share, looking for activities for the FIAR title, The Rag Coat. However, after realizing that The Quiltmaker’s Gift was more of a hit than The Rag Coat, I decided to go in that direction. Homeschool Share offers an abundance of resources for this book, but in the end, I ended up utilizing EQuiltBlocks.com a lot and calling it done with a few math activities and an art project or two. Lulu, my child who really doesn’t like to color very much (who knew?), requested different quilt blocks on several occasions simply to color. I’m still somewhat torn between simply reading the stories to the girls and talking about them and actually doing something with them. I can definitely see our homeschool moving more in that direction as the girls get older, but right now, I think I like to take things easy and just do the reading and talking, and maybe a little bit of art. In that vein, we did a hastily-prepared art activity in which I allowed the girls to pick out a quilt pattern from The Quiltmaker’s Gift. I then drew the pattern on a piece of watercolor paper with a Sharpie, and we got out our watercolors and went to work.
Lulu chose the King’s Crown pattern:
Louise chose the Spool pattern:
I chose the Log Cabin pattern:
I think these brighten up our school room quite a bit!
I can’t close this post without mentioning again a fabulous book with quilting as its theme that I read a few months back. Leaving Gee’s Bend is a beautifully written juvenile fiction selection. I won’t rehash my review of it again here, but I will say that it’s worth a look if you enjoy well-written juvenile literature!
I had fun with this theme, and so did my girls!