Family and Friendship in Quilts

In addition to their function as bedding, quilts also served as records of family or community history, observations of surrounding landscape, and documentation of life cycle events such as births and marriages.
--From "Quilting Groups: Creating Through Camaradarie" in Collaborations: Drawn Together

Throughout history, women and sometimes men have used the art of quilting for many diverse purposes: to keep warm, to decorate their homes, to express their political views, to remember a loved one. Made by hand -- often collaboratively -- using familiar materials such as scraps of clothing, quilts are personal and communal, aesthetic and functional. The lessons in this unit are designed to help your students recognize how people of different cultures and time periods have used cloth-based art forms to pass down their traditions and history.

Quilting continues to be largely a home-based form of art engaged in primarily by women. Heighten your students' awareness of how quilts have reflected and continue to reflect the lives of the people who create them, and of how quilts record the cultural history of a particular place and time. This theme of Friendship Quilts and Family Record Quilts contains two separate lessons that can stand alone or be taught in conjunction with one another. For a related K-2 lesson on story quilts, see the EDSITEment lesson plan Stories in Quilts.

If your students explore the past through their own family history and ancestors, this unit could be used as a tool to focus on those aspects of your curriculum. You can also introduce your class to the idea of "theme" and help students recognize how quilts represent such themes as family love, passing down of memories from one generation to the next, and sharing among friends.

Guiding Questions

What is a quilt, a friendship quilt, a family record quilt?

What elements make up a quilt? How are family and community traditions represented in quilts?

How are art and history connected through quilts?

What are some of the purposes and uses that quilts have served in different places and cultures in the past?

What function do quilts have today?

Learning Objectives

After completing the Activities in this unit, students will be able to:

Explain what a quilt is and describe some of the historic purposes and uses of quilts, such as friendship and family record quilts.

Identify elements in quilts, such as colors, shapes, patterns, and symbols.

Discuss customs represented by the design and creation of quilts

Understand how quilts can be objects of both everyday use and artistic expression

Use quilts to discuss similarities and differences between contemporary and earlier generations and between different cultures