What children know about quilts (and we should too)…

The other day, in honor of Q week in Bee’s pre-K class, I was asked to come by and show a few of my quilts to the kids and maybe tell them a little about quilts. I don’t think the teachers quite knew what they were getting themselves into. No, no, I didn’t launch into an academic lecture on Modernism for four-year-olds; I just brought just about every quilt in the house (except the book quilts).

We started off with Bee explaining the origins of the U.R.N.H. quilt, the one I made after Bee and I took a walk and she pointed out that our shadow, when we held hands, made an H. Kids and adults alike seemed amazed by the depth of meaning and understanding that was evident in Bee’s eyes and smile. And with the realization that things can matter came another realization for Bee, that sharing, then, is a profoundly meaningful act and not just a social nicety.


Bee wanted to share the love she has for her H quilt, and the love that flows through that quilt, and then she invited every kid to come sit on her quilt, her very most favorite thing. After that the rest of the quilts came out: play mats for Baby Rabbit, queen-sized quilts from our bed, and magazine-cover quilts alike. The teachers were horror-stricken at first, seeing dozens of kids crawling all over some of more intricate quilts, but that is precisely the point for me: quilts are meant to be loved, and that is what Bee understands so well. In fact she spent much of her time making sure each of her classmates had the chance to be fully wrapped-up in a quilt–what we call a quilt hug. In those first moments, Bee intuited that quilts are about so much more than being warm.


This is why I find it so offensive when anyone denigrates the motive or meanings of another quilter, when someone dismisses the practice of another maker. Such acts, whether they are based on the belief that one person’s stylistic choices are existentially superior to another’s or the assumption that certain processes, approaches, or perspectives are appropriate or not, simply ignore the fundamental humanity of each and every maker–and in doing so, they forget the essence of quilts themselves. I am still feeling rather wounded by some of the recent events surrounding a controversial quilt (I shan’t rehash that here), but Bee’s intuitive grasp of the essential meaning and value of quilts, and her generosity in sharing that understanding, has gone a long way towards healing some of that hurt.

For all of these reasons and more, the choice to make is fundamentally a political act to me; it is a choice to not buy, to step outside the space of commodity and disposability. Making is an investment of self, of emotion and intellect, belief and perspective. It is an explicit decision to fill my life with things that matter symbolically and materially, and as such it seems only natural to imbue them with my most deeply felt views.

This is why I find it hard to separate my quilts from my political and social views. Quilting is a part of my world and a reflection of my worldview; I do not see them just as pretty things. It is not simply something I do, a job or a hobby; it is a profound form of meaning-making. The quilts, in myriad ways and to greater and lesser degrees, map my aspirations and beliefs; writ large, they present a world for Bee, one that on this day I truly was able to share.

Quilts matter; I truly believe that, but there is nothing better than seeing that fact dawn upon your four-year-old daughter in front of gaggle of children, and for that realization to then spread across the room. This day is the epitome of the future I hope to build; it is the essence of why I make quilts.


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11 Responses to What children know about quilts (and we should too)…

  1. 1
    Colleen says:

    I love that you let the kids touch the quilts! I still have to two quilts my grandmother made me and I was always allowed to drag them everywhere(still do!) and they are loe to me! Grandma’s hug!

  2. 2
    Wendy says:

    I LOVE this post, Thomas – it brought tears to my eyes. Yes, this is why I make quilts too. I have made quilts for others and they say “Oh, I don’t want to use it” as if a quilt is breakable. And I tell them – please, use it…quilts are functional art filled with love…they are made to be used. Seeing these kids crawling around on the quilts, reading Bea’s very mature insight into these quilts and why they are so important – well, I guess the best thing to say is “Out of the mouths of babes…” Kids always seem to “get it.”

  3. 3
    Leslie says:

    When I first started making and giving baby quilts someone described them as heirloom quilts. That’s the last thing I want. I love when someone posts a candid photo and there’s my quilt in the background on the floor. A well used quilt is the best compliment!

  4. 4

    What a fantastic day. I also make quilts to be touched and used and don’t understand why someone wouldn’t want to use them. I think that every quilt I’ve given to someone is used and that is a nice thought.

  5. 5
    Jane B says:

    What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing this. We can often learn the true meaning of what we do through the eyes of another. It’s great when the children can teach us.

  6. 6
    audrey says:

    This was an incredible post for me to read. I’m a hand quilter and sometimes I won’t hand quilt a baby quilt because I’m sure that particular mom won’t use it if I do. Quilts are meant to be used and loved.

  7. 7
    jill says:

    I agree totally. As I have continued making quilts and bits and bobs for my house, it has become such a wonderful part of our every day life. I love getting the coasters I made out of the storage basket I made, or wrapping my kids in one of my quilts when they are sick.

    In the summer I take my quilts to the park for us to sit on and I’ve had a lot of people gasp – “You’re not going put THAT on the ground and sit on it, are you?” Well, yes, actually, I am. Because I made it for sitting on and eating on and building forts out of and snuggling in. And yes, it is mostly OOP Heather Ross fabric which is now worth about $25/m, but I don’t care – its pretty and we like it.

    I love that you caught the teacher trying to pull the quilts off the floor while all the kids are running around playing on them. Hilarious.

  8. 8
    Theresa says:

    Lovely article, T. Hope you and Clare are staying warm under all those quilts!

  9. 9

    I LOVE this! That is so fantastic that you brought them to her class and let the kids crawl all over them. The white-glove ladies would roll over in their graves 🙂 That is the best thing I have seen in awhile.

    Truly – this post makes my day!

  10. 10
    Sue G says:

    A quilt hug, that’s why I do it. Oh, and for forts!

  11. 11
    Jennifer says:

    What a beautiful post — and a wonderful experience for the kids! I have been teaching 3 classes of gr 9 (14-year-old) girls to do EPP, and in our first class together I brought in a few of my quilts. They were circulated around the room and I was ecstatic to see the girls rub them on their cheeks, wrap them around their shoulders — acts of pure instinct, it was lovely. And I was also interested to see their powerful responses to wild, crazy, scrappy quilts as compared to some others that happened to be more technical…. Anyway, thanks for your wonderful blog posts! I don’t comment often, but I love your perspective.

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