*Update: This spring (2015) I completed a pre-K quilt using the same drawing method but allowing the kids to help with piecing. (I brought my sewing machine to them!) For more on this much smaller and quicker project, go here.
In the fall of 2013, I proposed a community project for my son’s kindergarten class: Create a quilt made out of the children’s drawings to brighten up a hallway at our local hospital. Many emails, class drawing sessions, and late sewing nights later, the quilt made its debut and was donated to the hospital’s special care nursery.
I’ve written about the quilt here and here but have been asked by several people for more information, which I’m happy to share. Read on for my notes on how to go about creating your own kindergarten quilt project. Maybe we can make this a “thing”! If you have questions, send me a note. And please, if you make a similar project yourself, come back and share it here and on my Kindergarten Quilt Flickr page! I’d love to see what you make.
Scope of the Project
First, consider how big a quilt you can manage and how much time you can put into the project. How many kids will you be working with? Plan on an 8″ square of fabric for each child to draw on, plus any sashing between the squares. My quilt had 64 panels, 1″ sashing, and was just under 6′ by 6′ when finished.
Think about organizational time as well as actual quilting time! I spent a lot of time contacting teachers, parents, donors, recipients, and PTO members before I sewed a single stitch. I proposed my project in October, started sewing in late February, and we donated the quilt in May.
Proposing the project
Depending on how your school is run, you may need the ok of the principal, the teachers, and the room parents. If your school has an active PTO, keeping them in the loop can be helpful for organizing resources and getting good feedback on organizational challenges within your particular school. In my case, I proposed my project as part of our PTO’s Give Back initiative and the room parents and teachers played an important role in coordinating drawings and class activities. Be sure to explain what you have in mind, the materials required, the time required, if anyone else needs to help, and some ideas for where the quilt might be donated.
Find a place for the quilt to go
Think about the organizations in your area that would appreciate a colorful quilt on the wall. Our quilt went to a hospital with a special care nursery but there are plenty of other places that might be interested in a project like this, including a library, senior center, special needs housing, shelter, kids and family resource group, daycare, town hall, etc. Don’t forget about your school!
Target a few of these places and call the director or community outreach coordinator. Explain the project, including the probable finished size of the quilt, and ask if they’re interested. It takes a fair amount of wall space to hang a quilt, so you may need to contact a few organizations before you find the right fit for your project.
Materials and contacting donors
Yardage and batting requirements will vary greatly depending on how many children you are working with and the design you have in mind. My quilt required 4 yards of white cotton and 2 yards (combined) of various prints for the quilt top, 4 yards of backing fabric, 3/4 yard of binding fabric, 3 large spools of quilting thread, and a queen-size package of batting.
If your classrooms have budgets for class parties and gifts, consider asking if a small amount might be allocated for this project. If that’s not available, you’ll need to solicit donations of cash and materials. We used a combination of donations and class funds:
- Fabric for quilt top, quilt back, and binding: DONATED
- Batting, thread, and fabric markers: PURCHASED
- Tools and misc: From my supplies
Since our budget was very small, I contacted fabric stores to see if they would donate fabric or batting. Be sure to explain the project, where it’s going, and if your project has any specific requirements. (I needed lots of white but could be flexible on the prints.) Some stores will say no; don’t take it personally and just keep trying. I contacted four stores before anyone said yes. If you buy from online stores regularly, don’t forget to include them in your list of potential donors.
I hoarded coupons for local fabric and craft stores so I could buy batting, thread, and fabric markers at 40% – 50% off, which really helped stretch the budget.
Pre-wash, iron, and then pre-cut the fabric squares to make sure everyone is working with the same size and type of material. I cut 80 8″ white squares so each classroom had a handful of extras. Use large zip-lock bags to keep the fabric clean and organized going to and from school.
Pre-wash and iron the fabric for the sashing. Cut as many strips as you think you need and then cut a few more so you can swap out strips to make your design work.
Read the marker directions! Some need to be heat set.
We decided to have the kids create drawings as a class holiday party activity because parents would already be on hand to help. Before the party we sent a note home in backpacks explaining the project. Parents weren’t asked to do anything but it was a good way to get the project on their radar. During the class parties, the room parents gave each child a fabric square, set out fabric markers, and explained that we were drawing on fabric today and that the drawings would become a quilt that would go to the local hospital to brighten up their space.
Keep the instructions simple and then let the kids go to work! We just asked the kids to draw something that made them happy, be it an activity, a toy, a pet, a person, a food, etc. The results were priceless and varied from penguins to basketballs to grandparents to cupcakes to movie characters.
At the end of the party, the squares were collected in ziplock bags and sent home in my son’s backpack to me.
I worked out my design by laying out everything on the living room floor and putting it together like a puzzle. Once I had the sashing colors moving the way I wanted, I pinned the sashing strips to the drawings and put each row’s worth of blocks in a ziplock bag labeled with the row number. I pieced one row at a time, joining them together as I went.
If you end up an oddball number of drawings, as I did (63), you can fill the extra space or two with the school name and date or a school motto.
Before you finish the quilt, talk to the recipient to see where the quilt will go and what will be needed to hang or display it. If it’s going to hang, you can make a sleeve for the back so the weight is distributed evenly. If it’s going to be used, you can provide instructions for care and washing. In our case, the hospital decided to have a display case made.
Keep it simple. You want the drawings to shine, so plan on quilting around their edges and not over their centers. I did straight line quilting 3/8″ on either side of the seams, framing the kids’ work.
Once the quilt is done, set aside a time to donate the quilt. Don’t just drop if off in a bag! You all put a lot of work into it; celebrate what you’ve created. Let the kids get an up-close view of the finished quilt. Seeing it in person is a lot of fun for them. Take the kids on a tour of the place the quilt is going, if appropriate, or invite representatives of the organization to a brief assembly at your school. Because we had 60+ kids, a tour wouldn’t work, so one Friday morning we walked the quilt from class to class so the kids could get a good look. Right after that, we had a short assembly with three representatives from the local hospital who thanked the children and told them why the quilt was important to them.
If someone wants to help when the kids make their drawings or pick up a yard of white quilting cotton, say yes. If there’s another quilter among the parents, can you divide up the piecing? Buying things and supervising classrooms of kids takes time and effort that can be shared. And, most importantly, letting people help allows it to be more of a community effort.
Remember to stop and take photos along the way: as the kids draw, as you piece things together, of the finished product, and at the donation itself. I took pictures of each individual square and put them on Tumblr so parents could see their children’s work.
Call your local paper! This is a fun and feel-good project to share with your community. If they want to send a photographer, make sure you check with the principal in advance so you don’t violate your school’s policy on photos of the kids.
Create a brief press release with photos of the quilt and information about the project. We distributed a one-page flyer with a brief description and a photo to let parents and newspapers know what we were doing. This is also a really good way to give credit to fabric donors, parents who supervised drawing sessions, etc.