Quilting to teach Elementary History

lucy with doll blanket

For the younger kids, we are still using The Story of the World series as a basis for world history studies.  We own both the book and the accompanying activity guide, and enjoy finding additional reading suggestions and project ideas, as well as coloring pages and maps to study in the guide book.  This week, we read about abolitionists and slavery in our history chapter.  One of the ideas in the activity guide was to make a log cabin quilt block, because not only was quilting a very important part of pioneer life, it was a way houses on the Underground Railroad could carry messages to others who helped slaves to escape.  The pattern of the quilt hanging on the clothesline could convey a specific message.

While I am not aware of any specific message conveyed by the log cabin block, it is an easy and fun block for kids to make.  This was not Lucy’s first time quilting.  In fact, she completed an entire rail fence quilt last year.  I was hoping to involve Max in this project, but he decided he would rather build with Legos instead.  I decided to let him follow his interests as Lucy and I worked on this project together.

The Log Cabin block is traditionally built around a red or yellow square.  If the square is yellow, it means the light in the window of home, while red means the fire in the hearth.  We used a 2 1/2 inch square, pink, because we had strips of various colors which would match this square.  The strips were cut 2 1/2 inches wide, but of various lengths.  We did not cut the strips to length before we sewed.

Lucy sewed the strips to the square in order.  Remember — Log Cabining means going around the square in order adding strips, so that the strips are dependent on each other to make a square.  Afterwards, she ironed the seam to one side and trimmed the strip even with the edge of the square.

lucy using sewing machine lucy ironingUsing a sewing machine and iron are both important skills for kids to learn.  They can improve on these skills later by their own practice, but it’s good to have the first try under the watchful eye of an adult.

We continued adding strips until the block was finished.

lucy with blockWhen the block was complete, I explained to Lucy how to cut the batting (the filling inside the quilt), the back, and how to finish the block, and she was able to turn this block into the little doll blanket you see her holding at the top of the post with no further help.  It was an excellent project for a wintery afternoon.  Imagining making a whole quilt by hand, and usually with much tinier pieces than we used today, helped us to know what pioneer life was like.

As a side note, Eden’s English curriculum contained a page of information about quilting and log cabin quilts this week as well.  In a short story she will study this week, the woman was making log cabin quilt blocks and canning cherries when she was taken away on suspicion of murder.  The curriculum felt like they needed to explain what quilting was and why it was important to pioneer women, and how the canning process worked.  It made me smile to think that not only does Eden know what both of those things are, she has personally done both of those things!  We love canned cherries, and Eden is working on finishing her fourth quilt.

This was a great project for us, and I hope it gives you an idea you could use for your history curriculum.  Do you like to “experience” history?  What do you do for your historical studies?  Please leave me a comment below.

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