August 20, 2013

Ancient History Quilting Project : Phase 1

The kids requested that we do more art projects this year, and I've been pretty good about making sure they get some art time ever day.  But the effort to do daily art has translated into a LOT of water coloring.  Don't get me wrong.  I love, love, love  wet on wet water coloring, but it's starting to get old.  We needed to mix tings up.  Right now we're pouring our art time into building a model Abrahamic Tabernacle, which is a nice change of pace.  But last week, as we were waving goodbye to Egypt and Sumeria and beginning to wade a little deeper into Mosaic Law, I had the idea to scrapbook their history studies with quilting.  

The plan is for them each to make an appliqued square for every third unit, and at the end of the year, we should have a full quilt's worth of squares to make a large and pretty outline of our year's studies.  Maybe we'll hang it on the school room wall, or something like that.  The kids wanted to donate it to CAPSA when it's done because our dear friend Gail has recently given many of her gorgeous, hand made quilts to them.  But there's a big enough learning curve involved here that I think we should hold off until the Renaissance year to even consider blessing someone with our handiwork.  Right now they are lovely, but in that way that only a mother can appreciate :)  

So I designed and divvied up the applique patterns for the first 3 major units.  I did a simple pyramid on the Nile for Egypt, a Sumerian temple, and then a much more complex burning bush.  Hunter got the pyramis because it was mostly straight lines and I didn't anticipate this would be his cup of tea.  Haven is somewhat obsessed with Sumerian temples, so he was happy with his assignment, and Hannah Jane has done a fair share of machine sewing, so I felt comfortable giving her something that would require a little more planning and sewing.  

Machine applique takes more one on one time and instruction than water coloring, to be sure, but it's a different skill that can be applied to all sorts of other more useful household tasks, so it's totally worth it.  Right now our daily schedule is set up so that the kids rotate through their 3 independent math activities each day in a round robin fashion, but while the kids are in a quilt square art phase, we replace the algebra twice a week with supervised sewing machine time.  3 maths a day is pretty intense anyway, so it ends up being a practical substitution.  

Haven was the most eager to make his square and he got started on his on a non-school day because he just couldn't wait.  Turns out that he is gifted with the pedal.  I never realized how much teaching machine sewing is like teaching driving.  Your turns are gentle and subtle, you have to get comfortable with using the pedal so that you're not going too fast or too slow, and finding an even rhythm.  Haven has the pedal thing down, but he fights the feed dogs and tried to force the fabric through or restrain it.  For a 6 year old boy, though, I'd say he did pretty darn well.  And he really, really enjoyed himself!

Hannah Jane...poor Hannah Jane.  She's accustomed to straight stitch machine piecing, rarely having appliqued, and the wide zig-zag that we used really shows inconsistency in pedal pressure and fighting the feed dogs.  I made the mistake of getting the ultra hold interfacing, so the needle got all gummed up and if you went too fast, the threads would fray in the needle with all of the gunk and you'd have to stop and rethread the needle every minute.  Sweet Hannah Jane is going to have a hard time learning to drive (like her momma.  Sorry Pa!) because she can't find the comfort zone with the pedal.  It's all out and all the way down, or it's so barely down that you can hear the motor running but the needle doesn't move.  She alternates between those two extremes and can't seem to ever land in the middle.  It frustrates her like crazy!  At one point, as I was rethreading the machine for her for the billionth time, she said, "My baby brother is better at sewing than I am!  This is so embarrassing!"  But she got through it with a lot of help from mom.  She's begging to go back to straight line stitches or be allowed to hand applique her next square, but I think this is good for her.  By the time she's 16, she'll know how to find the sweet spot with the pedal.  Who would have ever thought of sewing and driving as having such overlap?

Hunter did his today, and you know what?  He's a master.  I couldn't believe it.  Joe and I always say that he's "uncoachable" because he always thinks he knows how to do everything already and hates being told what to do, so I was kind of dreading his turn at the machine.  But he sat down and watched, then sat in my lap and guided the fabric with such a delicate touch that his stitches were perfectly even and looked as good or better than my own.  Then I gave him a piece of practice fabric for learning the pedal on, and he immediately found the sweet middle ground and still, his stitches were even and fine.  So, with a little trepidation, I gave him back his square and he outlined his entire Nile River all on his own.  I didn't guide the fabric or pedal at all.  He was just slow and steady and again, lightly guiding the fabric.  It was a thing of beauty.  Who knew that during all the time I spent fretting over his complete inability to hand stitch even the most simple things, he could machine sew like a Jedi master?   In one sitting he completed his entire square, outlining a 3D pyramid in gold and a Nile River in blue, only once needing his needle rethreaded.  When he finished, he lifted the presser foot, clipped the threads, and held up his square with the biggest smile ever.  

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