Quilts, Kids and MLK
Kids at the Women's Shelter
Each year I use a quilt theme with the Shelter kids around MLK Day. There are so many ways to use the idea of a quilt to focus on the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Belle, the Last Mule at Gee's Bend", by Calvin Alexander Ramsey & Bettye Stroud, was the perfect book to help get us started.
Quilts and Dr. King
This colorful book not only spoke of the beautiful quilts that have been made in this small Alabama community, since the days of slavery... But the book focused on Dr. King's long ago visit to Gee's Bend, to encourage voter registration.
The story ends with 2 mules from Gee's Bend pulling the wagon that carried Dr. King's casket on April 9, 1968.
I sat on the quilt outside with the kids, since our January day was warm and sunny. I could hardly get through a page with all the questions from the kids. "Is it a wedding!"
A 6 year old asked when she saw the crowds and flowers in John Holyfield's final illustration. It was sad to have these kids, all African American, pondering about who this man was and why he died. But as kids will do, they found the positive. "Dr. King got his wish! He got to have Belle pull his wagon when he died!" "I think that one is Belle for sure!" Said another child, pointing to the mule in full view.
Visiting Gee's Bend
I told the kids how I once visited Gee's Bend where the women still make quilts from scraps, like their great, great, grandma's did.
We talked about how Dr. King liked it when people worked together and how quilts are often made by the cooperation of a few people. They liked seeing how many different shapes were in this old quilt of Mary Anne's. Different shapes and colors, like all the different people who helped make the quilt.
Little Quilts for Little Kids
I pulled out some tiny fabric pieces and some poster board squares to let the kids work on designing their own little quilts.
What Would MLK Do?
This mini project didnt have kids cooperating on one large quilt, but they still had to share materials... which for kids, is sometimes a big enough challenge. "Hey she's copying me!!" That was another problem, that required a reminder about how Dr. King would expect us to listen to each other and not shout.
Working together is a wonderful thing. But sometimes it's not a bad idea to find our own space and just work alone. Even if that means finding a patch of sidewalk... with bugs. "Miss Beth! There are ants over here!"
What Did I Learn?
I was a little surprised at how little these children (ages 4 to 9) knew about Dr. King. I was glad I was able to use this wonderful book as a tool. I'm guessing they will remember 2 things about what we discussed. They'll remember Belle, the Mule. They loved her. And I think they'll remember that I am very, very old!! They could hardly believe it when I told them "Yes I was alive when Dr. King lived. His funeral was on my 11th birthday."
The Kitchen Quilt
Where the Cooking Happens!
I've done cooking themes before. But we focused more on kitchen than food memories this time!
My group at the Center had fun modeling a few! Many had memories of moms in aprons... and grandmothers.
We thought about kitchen drawers, especially the one that usually gets packed with all the oddball stuff.
I brought in some things from one of my drawers that few people recognized. They liked the odd ice cream scoop and many recognized the corn holders and butter spreader.
No one could guess what the green plastic, 3-pronged device was. It's a popcorn eater! It even has a tiny salt shaker built into the handle.
Cooking and Kitchen Music!
When do people sing or whistle in the kitchen? I laughed about singing rounds while doing dishes with my sister. "Does anyone dance in the kitchen?" I asked. We ended up using kitchen "tools" as percussive instruments as we moved to the Bluesy rhythms of "Last Meal". (Which is actually an amusing song about a prisnoner's last meal)
Cookbooks and Stories
Lots of kitchens have a shelf for cookbooks. We talked about our favorite books and recipes. Then we created our own ridiculous recipe with an "Ad-Lib", kind of game. After the group came up with the needed adjectives, nouns etc. we had an amazing recipe for "Obama's favorite... dish of oranges and green beans...served in a jar... after sitting in a corner for 3 hours... On and on.. you get the idea.
It's funny how just seeing an egg beater or a rolling pin can bring back memories. We had some demonstrations filled with good humor! The most amusing thing to me was the fact that our twenty-something Ron, who was visiting one of my groups hardly recognized any of our stuff! I showed him one of the uses for the rolling pin by raising it over my head... and pretending to chase him out of my kitchen!
I had fun sharing an antique salesmen sample ice box and stove. I also had some dollhouse furniture to share.
Most of the folks I meet with didn't grow up in a generation when little girls had toy kitchens like I did. My own children grew up in a time with colorful "Little Tykes" toy kitchens. We began to wonder if fewer kids will "play kitchen" in the the future. Maybe they'll just "play chef".
Remembering the Smells
I asked my friends at the Center to close their eyes and imagine a kitchen from long ago. Maybe it was in their home or a grandmother's home. "Imagine something delicious that you might have smelled in a kitchen long ago!" After a while we shared. Dorothy was excited, remembering the catfish every Friday night. That made me smile.
Not a smell I expected to hear. But Rosa looked sad when it was her turn to share. With a heavy accent she explained that her mother died when she was 3 and she had no memories of her mother's cooking. I had to work fast to shift the focus. "Did you ever cook for your own children?" Her eyes lit up as she described the tamales she made for her kids.
What Did I Learn?
There's a reason people often use comfort and food in the same sentence. Food can make us feel safe and loved. But even the talk of food (unless you are truly hungry) can bring comfort as well. I felt warmed by all the talk... and I didn't absorb any calories while enjoying!
Talking Quilts... Again
Quilts in January
This is the 5th year I've been doing Quilt Groups. I've done about 60 different themes, but I usually try to do a Quilt theme in January... when it's cold.
More and More and More
But with each year, there's more stuff, more to talk about and more to share.
The Growing Quilt
I had to share the colorful new quilt that is continuing to grow with each new square personalized by friends I've met around the old quilt. We read the messages and admired the drawings by kids and adults from different states and countries.
The other side of the quilt shows the printed fabrics. I've tried to find prints with images that spark memories and stories. I had some spare squares to pass around the table and everyone chose a square with a picture that related to them.
Cathy saw the chairs and was reminded of an artist who paints pictures of chairs. Marie picked the brown square with antique cars and told about the very first car she and her husband owned.
It was a hand-me-down model T that needed cranking to start the engine. Ken saw the colorful boats and instead of telling us a story about ships (I know he a few of those) he instead was reminded of the clothing of small children. Sweet.
Almost everyone in all my groups had quilting experience of their own, or at least a relative. But none had much desire or patience to take on quilting anymore. "Too much work!" Many laughed. Even the idea of quilting something small like the baby bib sounded overwhelming!
Who Else Quilts?
These miniature quilts reminded us of the Amish who chose bold colored fabric with no prints.
More Work of the Amish
Betty liked the simple design of the purple, black and blue potholder that I bought from a young Amish girl in Northern New York.
Margaret was eager to tell me about seeing Amish women selling quilts in Pennsylvania. "Oh must go and buy a quilt there!" I had to laugh at Margaret's eagerness. It doesn't take much to give me an excuse to hop in the car for a road trip. Chances are I'll end up taking Margaret's idea and dashing off on a quest for an Amish quilt!
Under the Table
Before I even shared the book, Stichin' and Pullin' by Patricia McKissack, Dot started sharing memories about being under her mother's quilt frame, "...just messing around, bumping into feet!" When she saw the illustration by Cozbi Cabrera, she laughed as if she remembered more.
More From Dot
Dot remembered how the quilt frame was set up near the fireplace, for warmth and light in her Louisana home. "Papa used to take my quilt and hold it up near the first, before bedtime. Then he'd wrap me up and carry me to bed!"
When I asked Dot if she learned to quilt from her mother, she shook her head vigorously. "Hoo no! I worked on one once and I got so mad, I just threw it in the fire!"
I showed the group a quilt I bought from a family in Mexico. The fabric in the quilt reminded many of the material in their old family quilts. "There were pieces of my old dresses in the quilts my mother made." Said Mary. "We never threw scraps away!" Donna added.
When I asked if there were any men who quilted, Ken said he didn't sew, but he had a special job when his mom and friends quilted. "I threaded the needle!" He laughed!
Quilts With the Kids
My 5th stop for Quilt Sharing was at the Shelter where we sat outside in the shade on top of the quilt. (The weather turned lovely that day) After a lot of discussion about how a quilt is different from a blanket and how many uses there are for quilts, the kids designed their own with tiny squares of fabric. It was a fun way to end our week.
What Did I Learn?
There's always something to be learned, around the quilt.
One child had a eureka moment, when she realized fabric and material were the same thing! I love it when I have eureka moments, but it's just as much fun to witness someone else having the experience!
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.