Quilts- A Cultural Arts Exchange



I’m always interested in how creativity crosses cultures and makes the world community just a little bit closer. A recent project with high school students, those people who that can’t function without a cell phone in hand,  really allowed them to be seen as individuals just finding their way in life.

I was asked by a Social Studies teacher to work on an art exchange with the local school and a school in Iraq. Wow. Just thinking of the possibilities I got excited. What on earth do American kids have in common with Iraqi kids? I wanted to select a project that showed how individuals can express themselves and still contribute to a common goal. I also wanted to show that common design in American art could also be seen in art familiar to Iraq.     The geometric designs of the American Patchwork Quilt stood out in my mind as the essential art that we would share. I invited one of our Math teachers to come in and discuss how Math connects to quilt design. His mother was a quilter and he is a collector. I also invited Patti Biller, a member of the community who is a quilt restorer, though she prefers the term ‘rescuer’. Patti talked to the kids about symbolism in historic designs and a storytelling tradition. Did you know that quilts were important communication tools for the Underground Railroad?

The students then went to work, each designing a block to include traditional references to new designs and storytelling. The blocks were then hung together as a group quilt to show a community effort.  They did not use the traditional fabric patches, but instead used cut paper and mixed media. Each block is an amazing personal reflection of each student. I learned more about each kid because of this project than I did talking to them all term.

I learned how close a mother – daughter bond is because her star quilt is about her mother singing “When you wish upon a star” when she tucked her in every night. One girl with anxiety issues works with horses to soothe her fears. Another girl lives with chaos in her life and strives to keep her feet on the ground and her head above the clatter. And then there is another who is mending a broken heart.

   I am very proud to be sending these creative expressions of art to another teacher, thousands of miles away in a country where children probably know as many fears and are more unsettled in their daily lives. I hope as they look around their own environment they will see geometric designs that might remind them of their friends here. Maybe not quilts, but the decorative tiles or architecture and explore design to express their ideas and tell stories about who they are and what they want in life.

   I’m really proud of my students. They take ownership of who they are (yes, cell phones and texting are here to stay until the next great “idea” we didn’t know we couldn’t live without is born). Keep in mind, it will come from one of them.

Study quilt patterns and the history of specific designs, like Log Cabin, Drunken Pathway, Flying Geese. Think of how simple symbols can add meaning to any image. Create a cut paper collage in a single quilt block using whatever cool papers you can find. It’s an awesome way to recycle shopping bags, greeting cards, cereal boxes, etc. Then embellish with stitching, buttons, sequins, glitter , whatever you’ve got. Make a bold statement encrypted in the design code of quilts.



Filed under Uncategorized

5 responses to “Quilts- A Cultural Arts Exchange

  1. This is great to hear about this interchange of ideas between these students. One of my neighbors was a quilter, and I’d go sit and watch now & then, learn the traditional designs & ideas behind them. I went to see National Quilt Exhibit in Williamsburg, VA one year – it was truly fascination the ‘new designs’ that were shown there- I truly came to appreciate the artistry after seeing that show. Great to see the kids begin to have an appreciation for the art form at this age!

  2. What an inspirational project! Using quilts as a representation of American art ties in with the tiles and carpets from that region. And I love that the students were able to use their individual squares as a means of self-expression, contributing to the whole.
    I’ve been asked to help put together an art show for the children of our church, and the idea of using greeting cards, cereal boxes and the like as “fabric” is great. Thanks!

    • cherylkling

      Angie, Go for it. Even just working with squares and triangles of cut up papers to create a pattern is wonderful puzzle to solve.

  3. Cant wait to read about the art your receive from Iraq’s students.

  4. Merrilyn McNatt

    What a great idea for your students, Cheryl. I have always admired quilters and how precise and measured their patterns are. Although some of the most beautiful quilts I have seen were truly a work of art, fabric paintings I called them. My personal favorite though is the crazy quilt my grandmother made with bits and pieces of fabric from clothes my mother had made my sister and I. I can see an Easter outfit here, a skirt there…you get the picture. I think lots of memories and lots of love goes into all quilts…a cloth diary of sorts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s