Friday, March 30, 2012

Finished Quilt: Myself, as a Teacher (photo-heavy, epically long post)

It was finished on Tuesday afternoon so it would be ready to show after class on Wednesday.  I roped a couple of the tallest boys on the Education Students' Society council into helping hold it outside in the building.  It was sunny so there are shadows. We were in a hurry.
The one on the left is Kyle.  We had the following conversation:
        Kyle:  Am I going to be in this photo?
        Me: No.
        Kyle:  Then I'm not doing it.
        Me: Oh. Ok.  You can be in the photo if you want.
        Kyle:  Will I be tagged?
        Me: No.
        Kyle:  Then I'm not doing it. 
I love my friends.  Jon, by the way, didn't really care if he was featured or not. (Thanks for your help, gents!)
I've discussed part of the symbolism of the quilt in past posts, all tagged with Teacher Identity Project, but I'll go into detail here.  The quilt represents who I am as an antiracist, anti-oppressive educator. Why did I pick a quilt? Well, for starters, like teaching, quilting is something I love doing. There's also a rich history of quilting bringing people together. It represents community, sharing of knowledge and skill, collectiveness.  Quilts are practical, keeping people warm, and beautiful, showing craft and art. I hope that my work as a teacher keeps my students warm and empowers them to keep themselves and others warm with what we learn together.  Quilts are also used for activism.  I remember the profound experience of viewing the AIDS quilt when I was in high school.  I am inspired by the Quilt of Belonging which represents all the different peoples of Canada.  So much hope and togetherness. And above all, love.
The Love block is in the corner, as a cornerstone of my practice.  I hid love in the stitching three or four times because love isn't always obvious or overt, but my actions as a teacher come out of love and a belief that it's one of the most powerful forces on earth.
Can you see the love?
The quilt is made almost entirely of cotton, long associated with racism, from the deep south and slavery, to the modern textile industry and ecological racism.  I point it out because we always have to be aware of the human cost of what we have and what we do.  I chose a beautiful batik from my stash for the binding, something I wouldn't normally do, as a sign of venturing beyond my comfort zone.  
Teachers work with very limited resources.  I bought only batting. Everything else came from what I had on hand, and from what was so kindly sent to me by the women who answered my call for help.  Their work, time, resources and generosity represent community, and values I want my students to understand. Life is a group project. We work together, we ask for help when we need it and we recognize that everyone has something to contribute.  The people around us are the most important resources we can have.  There are many scraps leftover from things I've done, and a set of sheets, no longer usable as such.  Things can be transformed into other things entirely.
Several of the blocks are improvised.  I have done improv comedy for years and much of what is taught in drama classes has a basis in improvisation. We make incredible things from little or nothing.  We make what is given to us fit our purpose. We innovate and rise to challenges.
This block pattern can be purchased from BubbleStitch
Other blocks were made to specifically reference parts of my own life. The deer is respect for nature.
The medicine wheel represents my understanding of First Nations and Indigenous ways of knowing. It is small now but there is room to grow and explore. 
The darts that I turned into feathers also related to the same. Indigenous knowledge doesn't have to appear in terms of content all the time but in how learning is approached.  Perspective can change the way we view things and grow from them.

The rainbow is to show that I am a "safe" person for those students who need an adult to turn to. It's subtle but there.
I have finally sewn curves; they represent pushing myself past my comfort zone. They still scare me but I'm getting comfortable with fear and testing limits.
The hexagons are an homage to the Quilt of Belonging, as we all fit together and make each other stronger.
The maple leaf block pattern found here
The maple leaf is both an obvious and subtle symbol.  I'm a Canadian and tremendously proud to be one, but the fabrics that make up my identity are unique from everyone else's. Canada is not free of racism, though I'd love it to be, and our history is not pristine and utopian.  The legacy of residential schools and colonization is fraught with ugliness and social injustice.  There's a lot of work to do.  The leaf also represents my love of hockey, which I will fully admit makes me a little racist when I start ranting about the Swedish style of play... I'm working hard on that one. Really, really hard. :-)
The tiniest pieces are about attention to detail and the unseen amount of time and effort that goes into being a fully invested teacher. The job isn't 8-4, five days a week, ten months a year. I am always a teacher, and a student, for that matter. They also speak to the idea that no contribution is too small to be considered or valued.
The vintage hand-pieced blocks represent tradition and old ways of doing things.  Not all knowledge needs to be replaced or improved upon.  Learning is passed on through generations and while we no longer embrace everything from the past, there are a great many things that have value.

The cathedral windows are a reminder that my Catholic upbringing has a huge influence on how I have viewed the world and how it still colours my perspectives and interpretations of things. Some of it is to be embraced fully, some of it needs to be constantly challenged.  There is much to be said about being proud of who you are and a need to be proud in a way that doesn't oppress other people. I hope that I am always proud in a way that empowers others to be proud of who they are, too.
What would Batman do?  I have to recognize the impact of popular culture on my life and the lives of my students.  Teenagers are just as likely these days to look to Batman or Britney for moral guidance as they are Jesus, Gandhi, or a teacher.  We have a duty as teachers to unpack the messages in the media, in books and movies, music and more.  The Apple is partly for the teacher but also the influence of technology and Steve Jobs on my life and how I do things, and that a traditional thing like quilting aren't as prominent a skill as speed-texting without looking. There's also the human cost, again, of what we own and use, and that technology moves those that can afford it farther ahead while the socioeconomic divide widens. While I want to use technology and help my students learn to use it, I also want to make sure that I'm never putting some of my students at a disadvantage by how I use it to teach.
The back is more of a statement on one way that we learn.  We have stacks of books and a framework.  We are tentative with new skills, doing everything according to the model and still inside the box. Next, we experiment a bit, tweaking and playing with the rules, still in the box, until we're ready to break free and make those ideas our own.  The purple and orange blocks were perfect for this fabric metaphor and I was grateful to receive them.  The red strip is red tape - we have to be watchful that it doesn't extend beyond where it's useful. It needs to be contained as much as it seeks to contain.
I tried so many things that I'd always wanted to learn and thought this was the perfect project for.  I free-motioned quilted. I paper-pieced. I appliquéd.  There are so many different styles and techniques that were used and I am a better quilter because of it.  I am also a better teacher. There is more here to explain but this post is already beyond long.
I need to thank again those people that contributed directly to the project. The wonderful women from Hello, my name is Quilt, materials&method, Evidently, Dresden Quilter, and Cafe Jabbaccino were so generous that I am overwhelmed.  I could not have done this without you.  Expect a token of my thanks soon!  To everyone else who was so supportive of this project, I thank you, too. The positivity you sent was the encouragement that carried me through the blood, sweat and tears, and mitigated the curse words that preceded seam ripping and followed burned finger tips and pin sticks. And to all those people that share their ideas, knowledge, advice, experience and themselves through books, blogs, and emails, I thank you, too.  You've made the world a little better and it's grand.
I showed the quilt after class on Wednesday to my prof and a handful of my fellow new teachers. Everyone had positive things to say about it, which was really nice to hear, and I have converted a few people into quilting fans.  I was asked to bring it back on Monday to show the rest of the class.  I plan to keep it in my own classroom someday. As a reminder of who I am in this moment.  

If you're reading this, I'm impressed you stuck through to the end.  WOW. :-)

Much love, 
A teacher


  1. What an amazing quilt! Thanks for sharing the meaning behind each block. As a fellow teacher and quilter, I really appreciate it!

  2. Oh my gosh!! This is fantastic!!! I just love the way it all came together to tell the story of you! This is going to be a great teaching tool in your classroom too!!

  3. This is unbelievably awesome. I adore how you've managed to put all of the different facets of yourself into the form of a quilt. Simply amazing!!!

  4. First off...great quilt! I love all the different blocks and colors. I immediately recognized your curve blocks ;o)...they look fantastic!

  5. Wow, I mean WOW. If I was there, I could literally spend hours going over every single detail and fabric and stitch and want to ask you the meaning and story behind every bit of this quilt.
    It's gorgeous and I absolutely LOVE all the meaning behind everything. I especially love all the secret hidden messages. The amount of work is staggering!!
    I'm so honoured to have been a part of it - it's fantastic picking out my fabrics!!
    I really like the idea of hanging a quilt on a wall of a classroom.

  6. Amazing, Carly. I love every bit of it and all the thought and connections you have within that fabulous quilt.

  7. Carly, this post made me cry. You are going to be such an amazing teacher---your students are so lucky to have you. This quilt is stunning... so like its creator. And I just want to say, you better get an A++ in this class or I might have to have words! :D

  8. As a fellow teacher and quilter I am in awe of what you made that quilt represent. You are the kind of role model teaching needs when we hear the negative voices , who have never stood in front of a room of teenaged students (or little kids)put us down. Your flawless execution of the ideas has me gobsmacked . Thank you so very much for sharing this quilt in all it's glory. (OK so maybe I got a little teary-eyed too, it's been known too happen)

  9. Ann (and everyone), thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement. It means a lot, more than I can express with words. And yes, there are tears on my end, too. :-)

  10. It is a beautiful and extremely generous quilt, containing a much love of creation and also so much of your self. Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing it with us and I hope you will be able to share this quilt with LOTS of students.

    ; )

  11. Thank you so much for posting this and for explaining the meaning behind all the symbolism in your quilt. As many have said, this is very inspiring, and I like that you're going to hang this in your classroom as a standard (in the old time sense--a sign) to remind you of your teaching philosophy. I've been grading all morning, cursing a bit too much over what I'm seeing, feeling quite discouraged. But I took a break when I saw your comment on my Nebraska post, and came over to check up on you. Good decision. I'll now go back to grading, renewed.

    That quilt--and your work--is so wonderful!
    Elizabeth E.

  12. Great job! I had no idea that you quilted. I must admit that while I love the finished product, I have no patience to actually learn how to do it myself.

  13. What a beautiful post! It brought tears to my eyes. As someone who works in education, I know the importance of what a caring individual can be to students. Your students will be very lucky. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your project.

  14. This. Is. AMAZING! I'm just stopping by from Cafe Jabbaccino-- I can't believe that you made this quilt so quickly! It would have taken me FOREVER to conceptualize, let alone to make. Kudos to you for a glorious quilt with such rich meanings embedded in it. I love it!

  15. Wow Carly! Joanne and I were just wondering how things were going and where you were at in your teaching. This quilt is absolutely stunning. I love how you have put it together and it is indeed a work of art. You are an amazing teacher and I am so proud to be your aunt. Can't wait to see it in person:)

  16. This quilt is just simply stunning, and I was sorry when the post came to an end. Really. Reading the symbolism, so well written, was just fascinating. I'm just sorry I dropped the ball and didn't realize you were doing this. More later...

  17. I love your quilt! I love the design, colors & most of all the significance ~ thoughts & explanations! Thank you so much for sharing your special quilt! You've made my day!

  18. Thanks, Penny! I appreciate you stopping by and your nice comments. :-)

  19. From one teacher to another ... I love your spirit and know you will make an outstanding teacher. I loved reading this whole post.