Bethany Reynolds

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Students of Mrs. McGraw's Fourth Grade Class at the Gen. Bryant E. Moore School, Ellsworth, ME
June 10, 2002
In mid-May my son's fourth grade teacher mentioned my long-forgotten offer to work on a quilt project with the class. With only four weeks to go in the school year, we needed something fast, easy, fun, and of course, educational! Since the kids had been studying symmetry in math, we wanted to use a design that would help them see the possibilities for symmetrical patternmaking. The class had also been studying the pioneers of the 1800's. We decided that a modern-day version of the 19th century signature friendship quilts would be fun.
The block I drafted for the project has just three pieces and two seams. There are lots of ways to arrange this simple block. Here are two other options. Prior to the sewing day, the students used one math period to try different quilt designs using paper squares and a grid. You can download this paper exercise from the project page. The students decided on the final arrangement after playing with the pieced blocks on a design wall.

Our goal was to have each student in the class of 17 make 4 squares. This would give us enough squares so that each of the 66 fourth graders in the school could sign a block. Making several squares also gave each child a chance to improve skills by repetition.

Quilting Day

Previous experience had shown that pinning is one of the more difficult skills for children to master, and with only one day available for the quilt project, we wanted to keep frustrations (and seam ripping!) to a minimum. Glue stick and sticky office labels were an effective substitute for pins. Before the quilting day, I precut the fabrics and attached the first piece (the white signature strip) to the paper foundations with glue stick.

We had four adult volunteers (including the classroom teacher) to work with the 17 children. This ratio worked out well for this age group. We had two sewing machines, with an adult stationed at each one. We've also found that it's best if most of the kids have another activity to keep them occupied, so that each child can have focused, one-on-one attention during the actual sewing. When kids are lined up waiting, things can get chaotic!

We met our goal of 4 blocks per student, and finished the project just under the wire at the end of the day! We left the blocks up on a design wall in the classroom so that students could try different arrangements in another class session. I pieced their arrangement together, adding a few extra blocks to complete the border. Lynn O'Kane, a longarm quilter whose son is a student in the class, did the quilting using a variegated cotton thread in a swirly, looping pattern. You can visit Lynn's website,, to see more of her work. She has pictures of this quilt as it was being quilted.

This was a fun project for everyone involved. If you've never worked with kids on a quilting project, give it a try!

Adult Helpers: Kathleen Cravens, Pat Easa, Eleanor Guthrie, Lynn O'Kane, Nancy McGraw, Bethany Reynolds. Student Quilters: Jordan Babcock, Sabrina DeBeck, Sage Dyer, Stacie Francis, Marissa Garwood, Alexander Homer, Katherine Jordan, Amada Klug, Joseph O'Kane, Brandon Ouellette, Abigail Piacentini, Derek Potter, Cheyenne Ranco, Samuel Reynolds, Brianna Smith, Sarah Stanley, Kaleb Travers.

   ©2002 Bethany S. Reynolds
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