Blast from the Past: Using Quilts in Homeschooling

An Amish Pieced & Quilted Cotton Coverlet, Indiana or Ohio, Circa 1910
An Amish Pieced & Quilted Cotton Coverlet, Indiana or Ohio, Circa 1910

When I was in college, I bought an old sofa for my dorm room for $10. It was so ugly, it needed a covering, so I took fabric scraps left over from clothes I’d made and pieced a quilt to throw over it. After that, I was hooked on quilting.

At that time, quilting was mostly something you did with scraps. But it soon blossomed into a huge industry, with fabrics designed specifically for quilters and an explosion of shops to promote those fabrics. Since then, most quilts begin when the quilter purposely buys fabric to make a quilt. You can easily spend a few hundred dollars doing so.

But that’s the pricey way to make a quilt. Making a quilt from scraps is still an inexpensive way to have fun while making something useful. This is what our foremothers did during the Great Depression, when money was tight and re-using things was the wisest thing you could do.

For homeschoolers, learning about quilting is a way to study both history and math. The math part is best learned by doing: calculating the size of the blocks of your quilt and the most efficient way to cut each piece of fabric can challenge the math skills of adults, much less kids. Even if you use a pattern, there will be some calculations involved.

And who knew there were quilt math books for kids? Wish they’d been around when my kids were younger!

Studying the historical aspects of quilting can be a lot of fun. Quilting is an integral part of American history. The different patterns and fabrics used help researchers determine the age of an antique quilt, and quilt historians are almost like detectives as they research the background of a given quilt.

The patterns used to make quilts are a major clue to their histories. Long before there were quilt magazines, patterns were passed between quilters of a given time period. Here’s a link to many patterns popular in recent American history.

The fabrics used over time have very distinctive looks. Today, textile companies reproduce such fabrics for quilters who want to make new quilts that look historically accurate for a given time period. Looking at such fabrics give you an idea of what kind of fabrics people used for clothing in that time period. Here’s one site with a group of links for fabrics of different time periods.

The 1930s were particularly good years for quilts because the financial difficulties of the times forced people to be very creative with the materials on hand. As a result, many quilters created incredible quilts. The World’s Fair of 1933 included a quilt contest sponsored by Sears. It received thousands of entries. See some of the best of these quilts here (scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on thumbnails.

There was a resurgence of quilting in the mid-1970s as the U.S. Bicentennial approached. Bicentennial quilts became all the rage. Since then, quilting has remained quite popular.

One of the best ways to learn about history through quilts is to visit a museum that displays them. Many history museums do show a few quilts along with other artifacts, but to see a wide variety of them, you need to go to a quilt museum. Perhaps the best-known in the country is the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society in Paducah, Kentucky.

You can also “tour” quilt museums while online. Here’s a page of links to such museums. While there’s nothing like seeing a quilt in person, this is the next best thing to being there.

Ready to make a quilt with your kids as a homeschooling project? If you already know how to sew, you’ll find it to be quite easy. Quilts can be hand-sewn, machine-sewn, or made with a mix of both techniques.

There are great how-to-quilt books at your local library. You can also find a friend who can teach you or take a class at a local quilt shop. You can also learn from online tutorials. You’ll find many web pages with basic quilting information like this one. Also, here’s the first of a thirteen-part series by expertvillage on how to make a baby quilt as a first quilting project.

It’s fun to quilt with your children, and who knows? It could become a lifelong hobby for you and for them.

(Originally posted 2/9/09.)

Blast from the Past: Make Sewing Part of Homeschooling

 The Sewing Class by Carl Frederick Aagaard
The Sewing Class

Many homeschooling moms want their children to learn to sew, but they can’t teach them because they themselves don’t know how to sew.

Yes, you can all learn together, but I think the process will go easier if Mom learns first!

There are several steps involved in learning how to sew. First, you need to learn to sew by hand. Stitching on a button by hand is easier for me than setting up the sewing machine, so I’m glad I can sew by hand. I was taught by my mother and grandmother. If you have neither of those, or (more likely) they don’t know how to sew by hand, you might want to inquire at your local fabric store to see if they offer lessons. Another good way is to find an online instructional video, like this one.

Next, you need to know how to use a sewing machine. Once again, you can ask a relative or a friend. My father actually taught me how to use a sewing machine. Being a mechanic, he could figure out any machine pretty quickly. And since he restored cars as a hobby, he had an old industrial sewing machine in his workshop that he used to make new roofs and seats for antique automobiles.

If you buy a sewing machine from a reputable dealer, free sewing machine lessons should be included in the deal. This is the best way to learn, because you’ll learn about your particular machine. This is important. The main reason people give up on sewing is that they get fed up fighting with their machine and trying to figure out why it isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work. It takes time to learn the idiosyncrasies of a given machine, but lessons from the place where you bought it can shorten that learning time.

Finally, you need to learn about using patterns and fabric. I learned from a sewing class I took at my local park district, and followed that up with Home Ec in junior high. (They don’t even offer sewing in most schools these days—what a shame!) Today, there may be classes at your local fabric, craft or quilt shop. You can also ask a friend who sews to teach you. You might even barter one of your skills for sewing lessons from someone you know in your neighborhood, church or social group.

The price of clothes has been cheap, relatively speaking, for the past several years. But as the standard of living in countries that manufacture those clothes rises, the prices will go up. Learning how to make and repair clothing is a skill that you’ll be glad to have in the future. Your kids may need that skill, too….learn to sew, then teach your children. Make sewing lessons part of your homeschooling routine, and you won’t be sorry!

(Originally posted 1/30/09.)

Blast from the Past: Another Milestone

Happy 2009! It’s a banner year for us, as we will be graduating our third child from homeschooling this year.

It’s a bittersweet time, of course, because I have so enjoyed the years dd17 and I have spent learning together. It’s been quite a ride, too.

She officially began homeschooling at age 4, when I bought her a set of preschool workbooks from Rod and Staff. This was her idea, not mine, of course. She had seen her older siblings doing school and wanted to be just like them. I acquiesced, but we never worked together formally until she got a bit older. The main reason for this was that I had a hard time juggling her, our toddler with special needs (and many medical and therapy appointments) and our older kids, 10 and 12, who were also homeschooled.

Around that time, my husband came home to work, and my own workload lightened up with his help. As the chaos lessened, I found that working with my daughter was a nice daily respite from Algebra and other challenges that come with homeschooling pre-teens.

The years flew by, and before I knew it, our two older kids had graduated from high school and homeschooling. Now my daughter and I could work together interrupted only by her little brother; the big kids were at work or college.

These were fun years. She was in a homeschoolers’ Girl Scout troop, and we baked and sewed together, too.

At age 11, she decided to study the violin (she still does). Soon she asked me to teach her to make quilts, and she helped make them for a mission project with our church. She made and sold crafts, and began writing novels.

Before long, she was the favorite babysitter of our neighborhood (as her elder sister had once been). And through it all she was her younger brother’s favorite playmate, and his primary translator (he’s speech-delayed).

This past year she began driving, and started her first and second jobs, both in the tourist town in which we now live. She’s working on her second novel, and is thinking she may go to college to major in criminal justice, but not right away. She’d like a year off first.

She’s a joy to live with: generous, loving and kind. She’s not as eager to live on her own as our eldest was, and for that I’m grateful, because we’re really not ready to let her go yet.

So this year will be her last as a homeschooler. I will miss “doing school” with her. Over the past few years, we’ve slowly weaned ourselves off of our daily work together by increasing her independent work. Ideally, that should make it easier for me to let go. But it’s still going to be hard, come May.

(Originally posted 1/2/09. Our daughter did end up going to college and earned an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. She worked for a couple of different local law enforcement agencies before deciding it wasn’t for her. She now works as a nanny, runs her own sewing business, and is married to a young man she met in college who was also homeschooled. And she is still a joy to be around  :)   .)

Blast from the Past: What Does a Degree from Harvard Get You?

Back when I was fairly new to homeschooling, a California family whose homeschooled son was accepted to Harvard made it big in the news (see links for their books below). Homeschooling was pretty much unknown at that time, so the idea that a child who did not attend school could get into a university, much less Harvard, created quite a stir.

Since that time, some homeschooling parents made it their goal to raise children who could gain acceptance into the best colleges, and they’ve done quite a job of achieving that goal. Many homeschooled kids have since graduated from college with honors, including one of mine.

But that wasn’t the reason we homeschooled him. His academic achievements were spurred by his own motivation. Our goal was to raise Christian kids who had a good basic education, could think for themselves, and who had developed the ability to teach themselves whatever they might need to know.

There’s nothing wrong with homeschooling children so that they can get into Harvard, but I hope it’s not the only reason a parent chooses to homeschool, because a degree from Harvard doesn’t guarantee learning as much as it does “a good student,” as college professor Joseph Epstein describes here:

I have come to distrust the type I think of as “the good student”–that is, the student who sails through school and is easily admitted into the top colleges and professional schools. The good student is the kid who works hard in high school, piles up lots of activities, and scores high on his SATs, and for his efforts gets into one of the 20 or so schools in the country that ring the gong of success. While there he gets a preponderance of A’s. This allows him to move on to the next good, or even slightly better, graduate, business, or professional school, where he will get more A’s still, and move onward and ever upward. His perfect résumé in hand, he runs only one risk–that of catching cold from the draft created by all the doors opening for him wherever he goes, as he piles up scads of money, honors, and finally ends up being offered a job at a high level of government. He has, in a sense Spike Lee never intended, done the right thing.

What’s wrong with this? Am I describing anything worse than effort and virtue richly rewarded? I believe I am. My sense of the good student is that, while in class, he really has only one pertinent question, which is, What does this guy, his professor at the moment, want? Whatever it is–a good dose of liberalism, libertarianism, feminism, conservatism–he gives it to him, in exchange for another A to slip into his backpack alongside all the others on his long trudge to the Harvard, Yale, Stanford law or business schools, and thence into the empyrean.

Just what the world needs…another Yes Man (or Woman), someone who goes with the party line in order to gain approval. In his essay, Epstein points out that there are some students who are willing to stick with their beliefs, no matter what belief system their professor professes. His own son is one of them. But they know they may be punished at grade time.

Epstein also suggests that those who do not attend high-brow colleges and universities like Harvard have a better chance of real success in the world:

Universities are of course the last bastion of snobbery in America. The problem is that the snobbery works. Nor is this snobbery likely to be seriously eroded in our lifetime. No parent whose child has the choice of going to Princeton or Arizona State is likely to advise the kid to become a Sun Devil. Go to one of the supposedly better schools and your chances for success in the great world increase, flat-out, no doubt about it. To have been accepted at one of the top schools means that a child has done what he was told, followed instructions, kept his eye on the prize, played the game, and won. But does it mean much more?

Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan were two of the greatest presidents of the twentieth century. Truman didn’t go to college at all, and Reagan, one strains to remember, went to Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois. Each was his own man, each, in his different way, without the least trace of conformity or hostage to received opinion or conventional wisdom. Schooling, even what passes for the best schooling, would, one feels, have made either man less himself and thereby probably worse.

Epstein taught at Northwestern University for over thirty years, so he’s had some time to develop this theory. What do you think?

(Originally posted 12/8/08.)

Blast from the Past: Fix the Real Problem First

Lately I’m hearing from people who might stop homeschooling because something unrelated to homeschooling is making it too hard for them to teach their children.

For example, a woman is grieving the loss of her mom, and is taking it so hard that she’s just not up to working with the kids. So she’s wondering if she should just put them in school.

I’m not sure the answer is to stop homeschooling. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time off of homeschooling and even her normal routine if she’s too upset to do those things. Grieving is a natural part of life, and her kids are grieving, too, I’m sure. The whole family could benefit from a break. When they’re up to it, they can pick up their studies again. (Here’s more about grief and homeschooling.)

The bottom line: if you figure out the real problem, you may not have to give up on homeschooling after all.

(Originally posted 10/31/08)