The 9th grade high school student ministry team at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was searching for a service project to engage students at a weekend D-Now retreat. Our goal was to build relationships with the students while engaging in authentic service. One of our adult leaders, an avid quilter, came up with the idea of holding a quilting bee, where we would teach our girls the basic skill of sewing and introduce them to quilting.
We selected a simple Rail Fence pattern (also called a Jelly Roll or Coin design), because it required only straight-line sewing, no pattern matching, and was forgiving if the students failed to sew even seam allowances or straight seams.
We enlisted the help of women in the church who had an interest in quilting and/or sewing, asking them for donations of scrap fabric and the use of their machines. In an early planning session, we divided the donated fabrics into coordinating color groups. Volunteers took the scraps home and cut long 2.5″ strips. Large pieces of fabric were saved, uncut, for framing strips or backing.
On Quilting Bee day, we had the use of a large open room at the church, where we organized four sewing stations, each with: two long tables, two sewing machines, ironing board, iron, cutting mat, quilting ruler and rotary cutter. Each station also had scissors and basic sewing supplies. We placed one coordinated group of fabric strips at each station. We also had plenty of snacks and water on hand, far away from the sewing stations.
To begin, we talked about the art of quilting. Volunteer instructors taught students the most basic machine sewing technique–how to sew a 1/4″ allowance straight seam. Students selected their strips and sewed 4 strips together. After sewing four strips of varying length together, the students used a rotary cutter to cut the sections of strips into 8″ blocks and pressed the seams to one side, all going in the same direction.
There were several positive outcomes to our quilting project. The students learned basic machine sewing techniques and how to use an iron. They gained a sense of accomplishment when they saw the lovely blocks that resulted from just a few hours of sewing. Relationships were built among multiple generations of women, as older women taught the younger generation a beautiful handicraft. There were many smiles and words of encouragement spoken as these young girls learned a craft that was out of their comfort zone.
Our experienced quilters took all the building blocks home and sewed them into attractive twin-size quilts. The quilts were machine-pieced and machine-quilted. Volunteers shopped big-box stores to find reasonably priced high-quality sheets to use for the backing or used the remaining scraps to create a pieced backing. We labeled each quilt to let the recipients know it was made with love by Dawson Student Ministry. Each label also included an encouraging Bible verse.
The students elected to donate our quilts to the local Department of Human Resources. These will be enjoyed by young adults graduating out of social services and beginning a new independent life. Whether a young person in state care is starting college or getting his or her first job and apartment, the quilts will be useful and appreciated.
Posted by: Kimberly Cook