Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Quilting with Kids

Today I saw a Facebook posting inquiring why the applicant number for the Quilting With Kids was down this year.  MQX has a wonderful category for children/teens, and I cannot imagine, with cash to be earned, why more kids are not jumping at the opportunity to make and enter a quilt.   We are looking for suggestions for what to do to increase this number, and to make the process of getting your child or another person's interested in quilting.  While there are plenty of people my age or older quilting, it would seem that those of the youthful age may be dwindling.  Is it cost?  Is it lack of interest?  Are parents too busy?  Thoughs?...

I came from a different background.  My mother sewed.  She made clothes, and she even made a few quilts.  She'll be the first to be humble and say that they weren't great, but that is just her.  I learned at a fairly young age if I wanted more clothes, they were going to be made.  By the time I was middle school age, I was setting zippers and making shorts.  By high school, I was making suits and skirts. In college, I got my first sewing machine, but I had been sewing a decade by then.  Most kids today cannot say that. 

So what do we do to entice them to even want to partake of this craft?  Clothes are all knits nowadays; nobody needs to make their clothes because there are discount stores around every corner. I have made a dozen or so vintage-style smocked (see here and here)  dresses over the last 10 years for Miss Sophie and her cousins, but few other clothing items.  It is true -  it is not just quilting that we want to entice the youth to try, but sewing in general.   As we all know, sewing can lead to quilting!  

As a youth, I took Home Ec in middle school, as did most people my age or older.  We made things like pillows, book bags and placemats, and I even remember a wrap-around skirt.  What I'd do to see that skirt today!  I have a hoard of clothes I made in high school packed away in my basement that I will show her one day...maybe even use the fabrics on some type of special memory quilt.  My son's middle school, though, does not even teach Home Ec.  They do one week of cooking as a part of a Health class, but sewing - HA!  not a chance.

Several years ago, when  my neice was 10 I believe, I got her a basic sewing machine for Christmas. She was pretty excited.  It has gotten some use, mostly when my mom visits, but what I gather most is that when a parent at home does not actively engage you to sew, you don't do much of it.  She's made a couple costume dresses and a couple quilts, but what isn't present is the motivation or a consistent mentor.  Kids need that mentor more than anything.  Mentors give the kids positive reinforcement, suggestions, and have samples of things that they can see and hold so that they can visualize making such a thing too.    And mentors don't have to be moms (or dads).  Grandparents and friends work too.  I'd love to know how to go about doing a community class for kids (and their moms) to learn to sew.  Lord knows my community/Rec program does not have their own sewing machines for these classes.

Years ago, when my son was in kindergarten, he had a teacher that we adored.  She was new to teaching, and was such a fabulous start to his education.  I decided in the winter, I'd coordinate getting 16 kids to help make her a quilt.  Though this was a project taken on my me, it was clear then that none of these kids had sewing or quilting parents -- not one out of 16.  Kids drew self-portraits, which I scanned and printed onto fabric.  It was beautiful when finished.
Two years later, my son's 2nd grade teacher invited me into her class room to talk about quilting patterns and the Underground railroad (She knew I was a quilter).  I brought in a couple current quilts that the very curious and touchy kids could see (aka fondle!).  They were very curious, and inquisitive, which was good to see -- even the boys.  We did some "quilting" activities where they designed their quilt blocks using precut pieces of construction paper.  Later in the day, they used fabric pens and colored their self portraits (below) on fabric.  This was a perfect age (2nd grade) to introduce the kids to quilting.  It was new to them, but many of them had the control to listen and sit long enough to complete the tasks.  I actually did the quilting and sewing, but they got the exposure and got  to see the finished quilt.
That summer or maybe the next summer (it all blurs together now!...but it was while my younger two were still napping, so it was that approximate age), I started sewing with my oldest at the DSM.  He pieced a couple very simple "placemats".  He did just straight seams.  I did the rotary cutting and ironing, while he manned the machine.  We put the foot pedal on a stool because he's as short as me! It was fun, he was interested, but it was somewhat short-lived.  Sports were more interesting.  My lesson learned here...Sewing can be just as interesting for boys, but you have to tailor the project for their innate inability to sit still.  They are wired differently than girls.  Needless to say, he hasn't stitched any since then, but my daughter has.

I ask myself, did I do something wrong to make him not want to sew?  I don't know.  I have heard from other moms of boys that inability to focus and sit still is an issue.

I get back to the initial question posed...Why are fewer youths interested in submitting a quilt to a quilt show?...One obvious thought is that maybe these youths have no real comprehension of what a quit show is like.  How many moms actually take their kids?...not so many usually.  I would think that this is a good first step.  Learning to sew and quilt is one thing, but visiting the very place you want to enter the quilt helps a child to visualize what it is for (besides cuddling under of course!).

The summer Sophie turned 7, we decided she might like to try learning to sew.  By we, I really mean "me", but she was game.  A year or so before, she too had done a "placemat" -- this one I pieced on machine and she hand stitched the quilting with embroidery floss.  At that age, the hand stitching is challenging because hand dexterity is not great.  She was ready to try something bigger by age 7 though.  The difference in Sophie and my oldest son is that by that age, she had been immersed in my love of quilting (more so than just seeing mom's quilts on the walls of the house).  She had been taken to several shows.  She had probably been to 2 Maine Quilt shows, VQF, and the Lowell Quilt Festival twice by then!  She had seen thousands of quilts.  She knew what quilt shows were like.  She loves to go to the vendors and see if they have candies, and inevitably to buy something.   She knows the excitement of seeing my quilts with ribbons and the pleasure of telling me which quilts are her favorite.  Even as a very young girl, that kid loved to handle my fabric.  It may be my demise someday!

The first quilt Sophie made (below) was actually pieced by me.  At barely age 7, I wasn't sure she was ready for my DSM.  OK, truth be told, I knew she only needed to quilt it to enter it at MQX anyhow.  BUT - I did make her accountable to learning the quilting process from the start.  She chose 4-5 fat quarters, and ensured that they went together (or as well as a 7yr old thought they matched!)..Then, rather than breaking mom's budget, she went shopping in my stash for another 4-5 fabrics that worked nicely.  I cut these fabrics into as many 4.5" squares as they'd yield.  She was given a piece of graph paper and 8-10 crayons, one representing each fabric, and told how many of each color she had.  She was to color the graph paper in the pattern she wanted the quilt to be.  To this day, I wish I still had this first design <>.  We layed out the squares on the hall floor one afternoon that I knew the boys (aka distractors) were off elsewhere, and row by row they were sewed together.  She gathered each row up IN ORDER and brought them to me at the machine.  I wasn't friendly with out of order rows, but joyfully she was really good at this!

(Sophie's Beautiful Butterflies quilt at MQX 2014)
Within 2 hours the top was together.  She didn't actually sew it, but she witnessed the processes, and contributed a reasonable amount to it.  Two hours is truthfully about the limit she will do at once.  

A few months later, when the business had a break, I told her we needed to get the quilt on the longarm.  I had perused my patterns and found what I thought to be the simplest.  It was a simple butterfly panto.  Let me say that, despite her doing this pattern with grace and happiness, pantos are not necessarily the simplest choice for a child.  Following long straight lines is challenging.  It is a very open pattern (seriously, I'd have done this in about an hour at most), so it did quilt up quickly - maybe 3-4 hours over a couple days.  Despite my short stature, the machine is still quite high for her, and a panto is not necessarily the most practical pattern for a child on a stool either! 
She was tickled with her quilt when it was done.  Many a butterfly looked like  it had been sat on by a giant, but she was pleased, and that is all that mattered.  I worried how her quilt would do at the show, as any mother would.  Her choice of fabrics, which included many solids (and a contrasting aqua thread chosen by her!), showed the butterflies really well.  I did block it for her, so at least it would hang proudly, and it did with its 2nd place ribbon.
Her brothers were very envious when she came home with $75! (never mind that she spent half of it at MQX!).  Sophie was so very pleased with the show experience that she took both her quilt and the lanyard (name badge w/ "winner" sticker) to school on Monday for show and tell!  A week later, there was an article in the paper.  I may have won 2 firsts and a best machine quilting, but it was her photo that the paper wanted!! Proud mama moment.

While this was really a very good first experience quilting with her, it left me knowing that there were areas we could do differently the next time.  These changes could make the quilting easier, hide the blunders of inexperience, etc - and provide new teachings.  Unfortunately, one of these (use more patterned fabrics) was destined not to happen...

While at MQX, I left Sophie hanging out with the great folks at Old City Quilts.  Rob was helping me load a couple rolls of batting, and she was sitting under strict direction to not touch if she ate anything (yes, they had chocolates).  I returned from my van to find her with a brown mouthful, and 3 stacks of lovely Cotton Couture FQs, and the newly earned cash to buy them!  Solids it would be (and they are gorgeous)!  The challenge would be mine to help her quilt it in a way that does not accentuate every mis-stitch.  This mom loves a challenge.

In the summer just before her 8th birthday, I got out my old DSM.  When my oldest was learning to piece, we did it at a normal height table using a stool, but this was far from perfect.  For Sophie, I put the DSM on the kids' small craft table, which is mostly outgrown.  This is ideal because she sits at the table at a good viewing height, and her feet sit flat on the floor.  The size of the table does not leave much room on the sides when the quilt starts getting heavy, but it is a step in the right direction to making it better for a child.
(fabrics she chose - from MQX and her 1st trip to Paducah)
One thing that was necessary was to come up with a design that she could stitch.  I asked her which fabrics she wanted on the blocks.  When she chose the zebra print beside the Eiffel towers, I just swallowed my better design sense and cut those.  It is her quilt, and her flair will make it perfect.  At this age, I allow her to use the dull scissors, but not my rotary!  The fat quarters of solids were randomly cut up in a modern/scrappy fashion.  I knew that straight lines would be hard, and they were.  Keeping piecing on random angles helped.  We called it "stained glass" piecing.  When it came time to sew on the borders to the blocks, I marked a 1/4" line in pencil where the seam should go. Stitching on a line was much easier than following the fabric along the side of the foot at 1/4" (I don't use a quarter inch foot).  Learning how to make the process easier for the child is imperative.
One small bugger came in December.  Sophie was hoping and planning to enter this also at VQF this June.  She set her sights on the sewing machines that the kids win.  VQF requires that the child do all the work.  That was why she was learning and doing the piecing of the top herself.   In December, though, VQF declared that kid quilts could not exceed 40"!  Aw crap - this is 68".  The wind left her sails.  I added the two long borders for her, hoping that she'd come back to this project and want to still finish it for MQX.  Fortunately she decided she'd make something else and smaller for VQF, so we planned a date to quilt.  I love her perseverance.

After much thought, I came up with how the quilt could be quilted.  I wanted to avoid doing a panto again, and was hesitant to have her on a stool on the frontside just stitching away.  Those solids would not be forgiving.  And, until the day she actually started quilting, there had been talk of her using this hot pink thread Jim Smith of YLI gave her at MQX.   It all sounded like a recipe for disaster to me (and she was clearly blinded by her total love of pink!)!  Fortunately she finally settled on a soft lavender which blended nicely.   

I decided (if she agreed) that we'd try quilting straight lines in a grid.  To allow for natural variations and imperfections, the lines would be intentionally spaced at different intervals.  This would give her a LOT of start and stop experience, because she'd start on the left, run the machine to the right, and tie off on the right side.  Now I really hoped that her blocks were square!  She learned about the channel locks.  It turned out to be a good quilting plan, and I would highly recommend it for another beginner quilter.
It is a better experience for the quilter to be on the frontside where she can see what she is quilting. This type of quilting is not ideal for all quilts, but worked for her's.  It is graphic, and looks good on the solids.  It is doable for a kid too.  And as they say, done is always better than perfect.
("Pretty in Paris", 2015...BTW, I am taking her to Paris in July too!)

Mentoring a child and teaching her/him to quilt is so much more than just quilting.  It's allowing her to be immersed in the life and the process that we love so much.  She is allowed sometimes to chat with my clients as the drop off or pick up.  As I said earlier, I do not hesitate to take her to shows.  2-3 years ago, I had to say "no touching" a lot, but now she's just delightful.  She likes to take my camera and photograph the show her way.  An extra battery is all I must remember.   Many of my sets of show pictures have a skewed upward angle!

Last April, I bit the bullet and took her to Paducah with me.  The kids' spring vacation was a week later, and coincided with the show.  I decided to take her partly because I felt guilty flying off while she was home, but partly because I thought she'd get a good education there -- my kind of schooling! And she did!  Paducah was a total blast with her, from the awards ceremony to seeing her mother on a truck, to all joys of a Southern spring.
She's a long way from making a quilt like this one, but she sees that with hard work and wild dreams, anything is possible.  Courage and imagination will take her everywhere.  My only job is to teach her good fundamentals.
After winning this award, I got the usual AQS taped interview which I dread so much!...Bonnie Browning was so nice, talking to Sophie, asking if she liked quilting (or was she dragged to this massive show when she'd rather be off with kids!!)...Sophie was very quick to proudly tell her she'd just won a ribbon at MQX.  After that, they filmed a short (and VERY nervous) segment with her.  I look like a goon, and she is visibly rattled, but it's more of the complete immersion she is getting. She realized that she was one of only a handfull of children at the show, but she's poised and happy to be there.  It makes me proud.
Yes, of course Flat Stanley came too... She was seven, afterall!  Part of mentoring the child is allowing the child to be in the child's natural way, and to learn in a way that is comfortable.

Here is the little dresser quilt Sophie pieced to send to VQF.  We still need to quilt it before June.  It is a simple pattern.  Strip piecing builds the quilt quickly and efficiently.  Anytime the piecing is too encompassing, the kid will get tired, bored, and the process will no longer be fun.  She pieced this 14"x 40 top in barely an hour.
Sophie and I are making our 2nd trip to Paducah this April.  Last year was too much fun to make it a single occurrence.  She also has Pretty in Paris in the MQX show next month too.

I welcome any thoughts you might have on how we can get the next generation more interested and more active in quilting.  Is it lack of classes?  Is it the general decline of people of a younger age (aka 20-50) quilting?  Would your sewing child be more inclined to enter a quilt if she attended one to experience it?  Would he/she enter a show if You entered the show too?  I know many quilting moms love the escape of getting to go to a show (alone!), so it takes a special one to leave that "retreat" time behind so they can take their kid.   I'd love to hear what my readers think about this.  Do your kids quilt?  It is our lifestyle so I can't imagine us doing things differently.  It would be sad, though, if my daughter didn't show signs of loving quilting too though.


dagmar.eu said...

My girls don't quilt but they sew. I taught them young to use the sewing machine and during their school years they made party bags, teachers' gifts, presents for grandparents and that way all they made got very admired. Today they are both grown up; they make clothes and craft things always on a need-to basis BUT they enjoy taking time out from busy work and family and we meet up 4 times a year to sew together for a week-end and cyber-sew via Skype once a month. We can't always all of us make it for the cyber-sew but try to flexiable between Saturday and Sunday. I think the admiration aspect of what the shildren do is important and if the family the children grow up in doesn't have respect for or even look down their noses at something homemade then it is a lost course. Many parents simply don't think it's worth learning to sew. I think where schools take practical tasks (like quilt block design) into maths lessons for instance that can start an interest in a roundabout way. I personally think that more shows should have categories for cushions, tablerunners and home dec items which busy people will find easier to accomplish than making huge big quilts.

Sewing Junkie said...

My Granddaughter has learned to sew when she was about your daughter's age. She moved away and she has lost interest. My Mother and Grandmothers sewed all the time. I think children today don't have that exposure. Scouting was a good experience for some and also 4-H, but sports has taken over the kind of activities kids get involved in today. We have an Art Council in our area that has free sessions for kids during the Summer months that teach quilting for age appropriate kids. Communities need to see the need. Vintage sewing machines are bought at yard sales and the kids learn on them. They make rag quilts which is a quick project. I agree with you that we are missing out on mentoring our children. Local quilt stores need to have a session to entice kids, but they feel it doesn't make enough money for them. It is a problem. All we can do is try and promote the craft one child at a time. Chris

Quiltdivajulie said...

How wonderful that Sophie is going to Paducah again with you . . . worth every penny and SO much more!

I suspect the reason for low youth numbers is the tremendous variety of activities for children - church, sports, scouts, school groups, and on and on. Parents with young ones that I know spend more time in the car with their kids than just about anywhere else.

Education of the parents is the best way to open doors for the children - kids need their parents to mentor AND use their credit card for entry fees online, not to mention assist with filling out applications, taking them to/from the quilt shop (if needed), and taking them to museums and art shows to expand their universe.

In so many ways, it comes down to a function of time . . .

Joy said...

Perhaps approaching quilting as a form of art would be helpful to create interest. Landscapes, creating florals etc.

Susan Lawson said...

Out of my three sons, I have one who will sew. He likes giving quilts as presents and sees this as a "cheap" way to give an expensive gift. I've tried to reason time is money too, but that's another story.... It's their girlfriends that I find amazing...none of them had sewing in school, and even though they've received quilts and seen my quilting area vs my sewing area, they still don't grasp the concept of a quilt sandwich or the difference between a quilt top and quilting. I would love to have a "Sofie" to quilt with! count your blessings Margaret :)