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Student-Designed Quilts: Learning About Fabric

Carol Fenley and Sue Simpson, San Antonio Urban Systemic Initiative, San Antonio, Texas
September 05, 2000 | FOSS in Schools

"Look, this one is mine!"

"See, I made this one!"

"Here's mine!"

Voices call for attention, fingers squash the fabric pointing to artists' squares, and little eyes attract a visitor to gaze at each unique area of the class quilt.

Four teachers at The Howard Early Childhood Center were using the FOSS kindergarten module, Fabric, which consists of two big activities, each with many parts—Activity 1: Fabric All Around and Activity 2: Fabric Interactions. The teachers chose student-designed quilts as a culminating experience to the Fabric All Around investigation. This Alamo Heights Independent School District kindergarten center is located in San Antonio, Texas. Last January, when Carol Fenley, Lisa Susan, Holly Siskovic, and Janet Weatherston collaborated on planning a language arts theme of studies, they realized how naturally the FOSS Fabric Module integrates science and mathematics into their Winter Unit.

The first activities in Fabric All Around involve students in discovering and describing fabrics, hunting for fabrics, making a fabric collage, pulling fabric apart, weaving, and sewing. Before launching into these activities, Howard students use math pattern blocks and manipulatives to explore, build, discuss, and draw patterns.

"What I love about the Fabric Module is that it starts with the properties of fabric and observations about how fabrics are different," Carol comments. Students observe different kinds of fabrics by matching cloth squares placed inside feely boxes. Then they discuss the various textures and fabrics. "You would not think they would like taking fabric apart and looking at the parts and fibers with a magnifying glass, but students love it! They also enjoy weaving and sewing in small center groups. Some students love sewing so much and feel so successful, they want to do more and more."

Parent involvement weaves throughout the fabric investigations. Families donate scraps of material. A parent assists with small groups during sewing activities. Parents become involved at home during the quilt-designing process. In the Fabric Interactions activities "another parent came to class one day who had never had the opportunity to visit before. She stayed and helped students when they washed the cloth."


"Students feel proud of a quilt that they work together to design," states one teacher. Creating the class quilt as a culminating activity means students are becoming more and more like experts about fabrics. Students do most of the designing and making of the individual quilt piece at home. They sew, paint, or glue. With so much creativity involved, students take ownership of each unique square. An interesting aspect of the quilt-making process is the discussion and "Aha" that happens when working together on a common project. Each person does a little piece. Students see that combining all these pieces into a larger quilt means something big and beautiful can come from the small efforts of individual students. If one person had to make all of the squares, the task would be more difficult. Students recognize and discuss teamwork.

What about the students whose parents don't get involved at home? Who sews all of the pieces together into the final product? Howard students can create a square at center time during the regular school day if necessary. Most families and students participate enthusiastically in this engaging activity. Lisa, Holly, Janet, and Carol constructed the quilts this first year. Teachers could request parent volunteers to help with the final quilt assembly and sewing. Adding each block with the young designer watching during the actual process of assembling the quilt pieces can enhance the understanding of how finished cloth products are made.

Highlights of the integration of the fabric study with the winter unit include rich discussions about fabrics and textures. What fabric would be appropriate for certain types of clothing? What fabric would make the best winter jacket? What do you wear if you snow ski or live in the north? Students think about applications, some obvious and others not so obvious. Some students noted how boys and girls might wear different fabrics. For example, boys' shirts are not commonly made out of satin.

Classes shared books from the FOSS recommendations and others to enhance discussions about cold weather and appropriate clothing. Some of the books that were shared include The Hat by Jan Brett, The Mitten by Jan Brett, and Coat of Many Colors by Dolly Parton.


Experiencing the complete Fabric Module really takes children to a deeper level of understanding. The study of fabrics leads to asking questions that encourage children to engage, enjoy, think, create, and communicate. In the section on how certain elements and fabrics interact, the class moves tubs outside to work in small groups. Doing this activity during recess worked well. A group of four to five students could stain and then wash the cloth while others played. When they finished, another group took their turn. Student response to this activity? "It was fun. We got fabric dirty. We put ketchup, grass, dirt, mustard, and dressing on pieces of white fabric. After we got them dirty, we washed them. My mom changed the water."

Howard teachers came up with several ideas to extend the Fabric Module.

  • During the washing investigation, students washed with dishwashing liquid and with laundry soap powder. They discovered, discussed, recorded, and charted their results to find out which cleanser worked best. Students could also find out which cleanser makes the most suds.

  • To integrate technology into the Fabric Module, students could search the Internet on the topic of quilts. They can find other colorful designs to view as they consider their own quilt-design ideas.

    Some sites to check out are:

  • Students can place their own fabric samples in a portfolio book and include captions. Captions might include: I can sew. I can weave. I can take fabric apart. I can make a fabric collage. Our class learned about fabric. We made a quilt.

Students and teachers both were quite satisfied with the outcome of their efforts with the Fabric Module. One teacher commented that it was her favorite activity of the year. Another is looking for additional ways to integrate technology into the fabric study. When the quilting project ended, students had these comments:

"I wish we could take turns sleeping with it at home."

"It's big!"

"If I was sleeping with this quilt, it would make me think of so many things: trucks, airplanes, clouds. I would imagine I was an airplane flying."

"My baby brother would like to sleep with this quilt. It would keep him warm."