Sew up the year’s knowledge in fabric and paper quilts

Throughout the ages, people the world over – from China to Russia, the South Pacific to Alaska – have fashioned quilts. In American history, the craft has a rich tradition: Colonists, pioneers, Confederate and Union women on the home front, and immigrant groups have all pieced together scraps of fabric into colorful tapestries. Because quilts are often symbolic – recalling a person, retelling a story, or commemorating an event – quilting projects provide a perfect way to end a unit of study or a school term.



To recapture memories of the year.


fine-tip markers, colored pencils or crayons, large sheets of construction paper


45 minutes to set up; up to 5 hours of intermittent time to complete


1 After I read to students at least one book about quilts (see Resources, opposite page, for suggestions), we discuss how quilts are cloth representations of people and events. Then We brainstorm a list of the year’s academic, social, athletic, and artistic highlights.

2 Pass out 12-by-18-inch sheets of construction paper and have each student draw a 1-inch grid over his or her whole sheet. (For primary students, have them draw larger grids themselves, or make the grid yourself and photocopy one sheet for each child.)

3 Ask students to draw designs and symbols of the year’s memorable moments for each 1-inch square of their piece of the class quilt. I encourage kids to frame each square with a color border to create a repetitive pattern.

4 We laminate students’ finished quilts to enhance the color and protect their hard work, then we patch them all together to form a whole-class year-in-review wall hanging.

Try This Quilting Activity with All Grade Levels

Have students brainstorm events, people, and accomplishments of a period in history you’ve studied. Then ask them to draw their ideas on pieces of cloth (15-inch square or bigger) using fabric color crayons (available at most craft stores). Set the color with a hot iron and then use liquid thread to piece the square together.

Carole Tye, a first-grade teacher in my school, has kids create a quilt illustrating their appreciation of one culture. For the Inuits, each student painted designs about the culture on a whale template and she mounted them on a sheet of butcher paper.

YOUR Resources


The Josefina Story Quilt by Eleanor Coerr (Harper Audio, 1995)

Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt by Lisa C. Ernst (Lothrop, 1983)

Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson (Knopf, 1993)

The Quilt Story by Susan T. Johnston (Putnam, 1984)

The Quilt by Ann JOnes (Greenwillow, 1984)

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco (Simon & Schuster, 1988)

Patchwork Tales by Susan L. Roth and Ruth Phang (Atheneum, 1984)

Eight Hands Round by Ann W. Paul (HarperCollins, 1991)


Quilting Activities Across the Curriculum by Wendy Buchberg (Scholastic Professional Books, 1996). To order, call (800) 325-6149.

GoodYearBoks publishes stencil books, such as Alaskan Eskimos and Aleuts by Mira and Christine Ronan, that feature patterns from ancient and living cultures. Other cultures include: Ancient Celts, Ancient Japan, Ancient Mexico, The Incas and Their Ancestors, Indians of the Great Plains, Northwest Coast Indias, Pueblo Indians of the Southwest, West Africa: Ghana, and West Africa: Nigeria. Each books costs about $10. Call (800) 552-2259.

TARRY LINDQUIST, a National Elementary Social Studies Teacher of the Year, teaches on Mercer Island, Washington. An internationally acclaimed presenter, Tarry is also the author of Seeing the Whole Through Social Studies (Heinemann, 1995). She is currently working on Ways that Work, a book about standards and engaging strategies in social studies.