|Boys' Fabric Picks of the Day|
My son Lars, who is now twelve years old, has intermittently asked to make a quilt many times over the last five years. The first time he asked, the memory of him pouring glue down the needle hole of my sewing machine's throat plate was a bit too fresh in my mind, and he was unilaterally banned from the sewing room entirely. (I am eternally grateful to the tech who painstakingly removed every speck of glue from the bobbin case and hook race of that sewing machine -- and grateful that the glue was of the Elmer's School variety that peels off when dry, rather than super glue or Gorilla Glue). But both of my sons are artistically inclined, and they have seen me having great fun playing with fabric and thread over the years, so they kept asking. They want to play, too!
At first, I looked into some of the Beginning Quilter or Kids Sew type classes offered by my local quilt stores, but the class descriptions were a big turn-off. In the classes designed to introduce kids to basic sewing, the projects always seem to be skirts, aprons, and little purselike tote bags. Then there's a footnote about how, if any boys want to take the class, they can make something called a "Do Rag." I didn't even know what a Do Rag was, so I turned to my trusty search engine and found a slew of delightful images like this one:
|Do Rag, or Du-Rag, image from NikeTalk What IS a Du-Rag|
Then there were the beginning quilting classes, but they didn't seem like a good fit for Lars and Anders, either. First of all, Lars and Anders have LOTS OF ENERGY. They bounce in their seats, get up and run around the table to smack one another, and are prone to fits of uncontrollable giggling. I don't feel like they would be very welcome in an introductory quilting class of mostly retired ladies who have been sewing for years and are new to quilting only, not entirely new to sewing. My sons have never threaded a sewing machine or used an iron, for instance, and most beginning quilting classes at least require students to be familiar with how to operate their sewing machines.
|Typical Beginner Quilting Class, photo courtesy Bernina Chattanooga|
I am pretty sure that my boisterous boys would be highly disruptive in a class like that, and it would be a negative experience for everyone involved!
Occasionally I will see a shop offering a beginning quilting class geared specifically toward kids, but again, reading through the class description, I was underimpressed. Why do so many adults think that everything needs to be dumbed down so much for children? Cutting up novelty prints into huge squares, or worse, starting a with a bundle of 10" "layer cake" squares to avoid teaching kids to cut accurately, and allowing the kids to sew them together crooked, with wobbly, mismatched seam allowances just to complete an entire quilt project in an afternoon sounds like a terrible idea to me. I think adults too often underestimate what kids are capable of learning. At school, my kids are studying subjects like Chinese, algebra, music theory, and chemistry. Anders, my rising 5th grader, has memorized the first 18 digits of Pi and half of Hamlet's "To be, or not to be" soliloquy -- just for fun. Both boys even learned some basic embroidery stitches in art class at school (love that art teacher!). There's no reason these kids can't learn about textiles, sewing, and quilting at the same level it would be presented if this was a class offered by their school.
|Quilter's Academy Vol. 1, available from Amazon here|
When my mother and I took a class with Harriet a few months ago at the North Carolina Quilt Symposium, she talked to the class about a disturbing trend away from beginner classes that teach fundamentals in favor of project-based, "quilt in a day" type classes. This approach gives new quilters the satisfaction of making a quilt right away, but can leave them ignorant of the basics of precision cutting, accurate piecing, color and design theory, and drafting. After several classes, the student may have made several entire quilts, but is unable to apply what they have learned to other projects and completely unable to design an original quilt. Even worse, by rushing through the process to finish by the end of class, many new quilters develop bad habits that result in small inaccuracies. If your seam allowance is off by 1/16" to 1/8" in a simple quilt with few pieces, it's not a big deal -- but when that "minor" inaccuracy is multiplied by all of the pieces in a more advanced block, it results in units that don't fit together at all. For this reason, many younger quilters especially, who typically have no prior sewing experience, find themselves stuck at the beginner level and believe that intermediate and advanced quilts are just "too hard."
What I love about the Quilter's Academy format is the way that in-depth academic information and advice for selecting equipment and setting up your workspace is interspersed with the hands-on exercises and projects, and that each "class" in the book builds on the knowledge and experience gained in previous "classes." It's exactly the way a good science textbook would be laid out, so students can read the chapter and understand what they are doing before they get out their little goggles and do the lab exercise. I also love that, even in this very first "Freshman" book in the series, Harriet teaches the basics of understanding base block grids and beginning drafting and design. The math involved really isn't difficult, and I seize any opportunity to reinforce what they're learning at school by making everyday connections. (In other words, YES -- you really DO need to know that stuff!)
I purchased a paperback workbook for myself and also downloaded the digital version from Amazon so the boys could read this on their kindles. I had them read the first 26 pages on their own, through Lesson Four of Class 130, and then gave them a multiple choice quiz on the material to make sure they were paying attention. Then Lars had to go back and reread to find the CORRECT answers, because he INcorrectly assumed that Mom's quiz would be so easy that he could just skim... Hah!
Once I was satisfied that they both understood fabric grain, thread weight, fiber content, and ply, the pros and cons of prewashing their fabric, and the basics of rotary cutting and pressing with starch, we headed off to Mary Jo's Cloth Store in Gastonia, North Carolina for our first field trip!
|Quilting Fabrics at Mary Jo's Cloth Store, photo courtesy Mary Jo's Cloth Design Blog|
|Sampler Quilt from Academy of Quilting Vol. 1|
|Lars's Color Theory: Everything Goes with Orange!|
|Anders Had Starbucks Cake Pops On his Brain...|
First they will do the exercise in the book where they learn how to straighten their fabrics, which will be their first experience using an iron.
Another day, they will take the length of fabric they straightened and do the exercise from the book where they learn how to cut straight strips of fabric with a rotary cutter and acrylic ruler. Again, neither of them has used a rotary cutter or done any kind of fabric cutting before, and we might waste a bit of fabric before they get the knack of how to hold the ruler in place so it doesn't slip when they are cutting. Hopefully this can be learned without sacrificing any digits, but we do have an Urgent Care facility within 5 minutes of our home, so we should be good either way.
After that, I think I'll need to create my own Meet-the-Sewing-Machine exercise, because neither one of them knows anything about how to thread a sewing machine or how it works. They will be learning to sew with Judy, my 1951 Singer Featherweight, because it's the perfect size, it sews beautifully for piecing, won't give them any trouble, and doesn't have a gazillion distracting buttons across the front. Once they are good with how to thread and operate the sewing machine, THEN we can move on to the next exercise in the Quilter's Academy book, learning to sew with an accurate seam allowance so that their pieced units finish the correct size. Again, since they haven't used a sewing machine at all before, I'll start them off with "disposable" fabric instead of their good stuff.
So that's four hands-on lessons before they actually start working on their sampler quilts. Again, I'm really glad that I found this book, because without it I wouldn't have realized that a complete beginner would need to spend so much time on the basics before starting their first project, but I feel confident that this is the best way to ensure that they both have a good time AND that they gain the skills they will need to be successful. Once they both have the basics down, I MIGHT let them work on their projects at the same time (which is why I needed that second Featherweight!). I'll play that by ear.
Wish us luck!