This year I have the honor of teaching art to the seventh grade girls at the school where I teach-The Willows Academy in Des Plaines, IL. The entire curriculum for the seventh grade year is based on geometry and fiber. We have covered knitting, hand sewing felt cuties, basic geometry and color theory and we are finally at the mountaintop--hand piecing! We are making pieced "mini quilts" that the girls can finish into a pillow, table topper or doll quilt.
So, I made a very professional looking lesson plan and tried to anticipate how many class periods I would need, what supplies we needed to buy, and what fabrics the girls should use. I also made a swanky power point and a work sheet to go along with it!
I decided that to take some of the pressure off of the process that we should all use solids to make hand-pieced 16-patch blocks. On the day before the lesson, I had some of the art students grab the fabric bins from storage so they could take out all of the solid fabrics (the only ones I had planned on using).
We have three bins of fabric in my art room. One is full of donations from unknown sources. The second and third are full of fabrics that I brought in from my sewing studio. The contents from the first bin is about what you would expect: fabrics that people didn't want to throw away but clearly didn't want to keep, either. There were pieces of burlap, denim, satin, scraps of clothing and weird novelty fabrics. Suffice it to say, the plan to use the solids was working on the girls after going through all of the odd (and ugly) fabrics in the first bin.
The very minute they opened the second and third bins, however, I knew I was going to have to change my mind. Their reaction to rifling through all of the pieces reminded me of the way I react to fabrics! They could not resist touching, turning over, scrunching, grabbing, squirreling away, squealing about and even smelling the various prints! One girl was walking around for so long with a half yard piece that she loved that I finally told her to take it home! Within moments, most of the fabrics were out of the bins and being closely examined. Everyone started making her own stacks of favorites. And then I remembered. I remembered that fabrics--their patterns and their colors--are one of the main reasons I wanted to start sewing in the first place. I began to think about the first scraps I hoarded in my nightstand as a ten year old ( I had 'stolen' them from my mother and grandmother--although I think they knew). I thought about the scraps of fabric my mother threw away when she was cutting out a quilt that I pulled out of her wicker waste basket in her studio (the one that she still uses and I still pick things out of). I thought about the scraps of fabric from various quilts I have completed that to this day I have in a bin because I just can. not. throw. them. away. And let's not even get into the fabrics I have that I know I will probably never use but just had to own because of the color combination, or pattern, or combination thereof. One of the reasons I love to sew is because I can work with pieces of fabric over and over and over again.
In the end, each of my students made a stack or two of fabrics that they thought would look good together (only one or two students decided to use some solids in their project). They raised some interesting questions for a group of people that have had limited experience with fabrics and color. Would different patterns in the same color family go together? Can you mix batiks with fabrics that "don't look like batiks?" Can you use only two fabrics in your quilt block? What happens if you use only one fabric? Can you still cut it up and sew it back together? How do you know if fabrics match? What happens if you can't decide? And, Can you use sixteen different fabrics?
Their questions forced me to go back to some of the basic lessons I learned when I first started to sew and to reflect on some of the principles I have formed because I have been sewing so long. It was a really great review. It was also very inspiring to see how excited some of them were about the possibility of beginning their project with the fabrics they have chosen. Of course some of them asked the inevitable question: "Can I take these home and sew them on my sewing machine?!" "No, I replied....the unit is on hand-sewing!"
As I locked my classroom that morning, I looked around the room at all of the fabric stacks and workspaces. Some of the girls had already started cutting their blocks out. I had that feeling that I get when I am up sewing late into the night and I don't want to go to bed. I was scheduled to teach a history class directly after art. But, I did't want to leave--instead, I wanted to dig in and start cutting some squares of my own. And then sit there and sew them all together! I can't wait until Monday's class. We are all going to sit in a circle and have a sewing bee. :)