The making of a quilt brings together beauty and practicality, as well as history, community and culture. Throughout history people have pursued the desire to create by putting together pieces of cloth for the purpose of bringing color and beauty into their lives as well as keeping their bodies warm.. The process of making a quilt traditionally involves skill, time, and patience on the part of an individual and the coming together of a community of people who share in the construction while sharing each others’ stories.
A curriculum unit on “The Art of the Quilt” designed for 4th grade elementary art class has broad potential for teaching many things: history—how quilts as blankets and mattresses came to be developed into pieces of art; math—in the putting together of geometrically fitting patterns; culture—the use of symbols in quilt designs, commemorating significant events in the life of a family or community; organizational structures of art—elements of art and principles of design and how they effect the overall beauty of a quilt; community—how quilts were traditionally put together by a whole group of people helping each other.
Quilts have been made from the beginning of time and in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes in most every culture. Quilted fabric has been found in the archeological findings in the ancient societies of Egypt, India and Mesopotamia. The type of quilts that this curriculum unit will focus upon can trace their origins to two areas of the world: 1. the quilted undergarments worn by returning crusaders to Europe where the concept was then turned into blankets used for warmth and decoration; 2. West African fabric designs which uses many different symbols which found their way into quilts made by African Americans.
A quilt brings together of many aspects of the makers’ life: scraps of new fabric saved from the making of clothes; good cloth taken from otherwise worn garments; symbols of good times and bad times. Some quilts record an event, portray a story or can be seen as realistic portrayals of important events or patterns of design symbolic of nature or human identity. Some quilts can be seen as the autobiography of someone’s life.
The children I teach at Lincoln Bassett Community School in New Haven are primarily of African American heritage. The focus this curriculum unit will take is to look at quilts made by persons of that heritage. In our review of the history and background behind the design of quilts, we will also study the appliquéed banners, flags and symbolically designed fabric made in West Africa, whose designs found their way into patchwork and story quilts made by people of African American heritage in this country.