The Friendship Quilt by Mrs Kath Garner

As a teacher, I am always looking for new ways to inspire the children I am working with.  Sometimes ideas come from colleagues, books or websites, whilst at other times inspiration strikes from the most unlikely of sources.

Tasked with organising an activity relating to Anti- Bullying week for a mixed class of children aged 5 to 7, I spent quite some time racking my brains. I work part time at Linton on Ouse Primary in North Yorkshire, a small village school with a lovely friendly family atmosphere. The school has a high proportion of children from military families which means that people come and go throughout the school year, but the children have learned to deal with the constant changes and are both welcoming and accommodating to newcomers, eager to support and help them to settle in quickly. Bullying is not an issue – the children respect and care for each other – but the Anti-Bullying message is still promoted in line with schools throughout the country.

It was whilst flicking through an old copy of ‘British Patchwork and Quilting’ that inspiration struck!  I’m not an expert quilter but after looking at various photographs, I had the idea that the children might enjoy making their own patchwork quilt, a ‘friendship quilt’ that would promote ideas of how we could make people feel happy and welcome in our school. With less than two hours available to complete the activity, a stitched quilt was out of the question. Picking up a piece of squared paper I began to doodle and after about 20 minutes sat back to survey my ‘work.’ Unwittingly, I had produced a paper patch, decorated with crayoned patterns and framing the simple statement ‘Be gentle to each other.’ The idea to create a paper patchwork quilt was forming.

On my next visit to the class I was surprised to find that the children weren’t clear on what a patchwork quilt was. They were familiar with the stories of Elmer, the brightly coloured patchwork elephant but that was as far as their knowledge went. Armed with a quilt for them to look at, we discussed how patches of material were cut and sewn together to make a wonderful, warm, comforting bed cover. The children were intrigued, discussing the different materials, colours and patterns used. ‘Can we make one?’ they clamoured and were disappointed to find that we had too little time, but when I showed the children my paper patch and asked for suggestions as to what it was and what I could do with it, eager hands waved enthusiastically. ‘It’s a message,’ said one, ‘It tells people how to be nice,’ said another, ‘It’s telling people how to be a good friend,’ said a third.

Throughout the week, the children had participated in a wide variety of activities to promote anti bullying, so my suggestion to make a Friendship Quilt was met with enthusiasm. ‘Is that to remind us how to make friends?’ asked one child. ‘Does it tell everyone what we do in our school to make sure everyone is happy?’ asked another. We all agreed that this was so, and when I asked the children if they would like to make their own paper patch promoting this message, the squared paper pieces were seized eagerly. Boys and girls sat in deep thought whilst they devised their own message and worked on their patterns. Equally engrossed, they worked hard to make an individual paper patch that they could be proud of.  Messages varied but were all linked to how we could continue to keep our school a place where every child felt happy and comfortable, with all ages and abilities settling to the task equally. I was fascinated by their focus and listened in when they chattered to their friends, heartened to hear them discuss their choice of statements, what it felt like to be new to the school and how friends helped each other.

With the lesson coming to an end, the children asked to take their patches home to complete, returning them the following week so that we could ‘stitch’ our ‘quilt’ together. The children took turns to stick their patches onto the background paper, forming a traditional rectangular quilt shape – each taking great care to glue their piece the correct way round and in the correct place. The final quilt was greeted with a round of applause as every child felt justly proud of their part in completing the project. 

I was amazed that this simple idea had been tackled so enthusiastically by all members of the class, uniting the children in their aim of producing a complete paper quilt. During our two sessions the children took part in discussions tackling serious subjects such as: how to ensure Linton school remained a welcoming place, how everyone could help sad children feel happy and how to make certain that all members of the school felt included. Boys and girls alike took considerable time and care over their patches, colouring a wide variety of patterns and shapes. It was a joy to see the entire class fully participating in the idea and eager to share it with their parents and others within the school. It was also wonderful to see each child thinking carefully about their patch statement - their comments revealing great sensitivity and empathy in children so young.

I wish I were an expert patch worker as the children are desperate to produce ‘a proper friendship quilt made from material,’ but I am sure there are many dedicated patch-workers who could follow the children’s example and produce something similar in material form. For the moment, Class 3 will have to make do with a paper version of a friendship quilt, but how wonderful to think that colouring squares of paper has drawn the class together, supporting existing friendships and encouraging new ones. Not only that, the activity has introduced a new generation to a wonderful art form and perhaps inspired them to discover more. Maybe one day, they will make a quilt of their very own!