Stitches in Time

By Shelley Wong, San Felipe de Austin Visitor Services Manager

Stephen F. Austin quilt squareIn 2007, Shelly Zaruba, then a 7th grade Texas history teacher at Sealy Junior High School, came up with an idea that has literally materialized into a unique storytelling opportunity. Shelly was looking for a special hands-on project that her students could manage in a limited amount of time. She wanted to provide students with an opportunity to share the Texas history they were learning about and include a creative component that would be fun!

The idea began to take shape almost immediately. Grace Holtkamp, a retired educator who serves as chairwoman of the Austin County Historical Commission, had taught Shelly’s mother in school, and the two women shared an interest in quilt-making. Grace and Shelly were able to piece together a plan for making a quilt with the students.

Full view of quiltThe class chose a theme for the quilt related to Texas history. Each student was given a square of their own to create a picture in line with their chosen theme using wax crayons. Once completed, the blocks were heat-set in a process using freezer paper and an iron. Next, the students used permanent pens to outline some of the details on their quilt blocks. Grace offered to stitch coordinating fabric to the blocks and set them in rows to complete their quilt top. The quilt top, quilt batting, and quilt backing fabric were then layered together. Once that was accomplished, the students provided the “quilting” work to hold the batting in place; lastly, binding strips were sewn along the edges of the quilt.

The first quilting project was themed “Texas Symbols.” Imagine a brightly colored quilt with blocks depicting the Alamo, longhorns, and bluebonnets, to name only a few. The quilt also included a square featuring a class photo. On this project, the students quickly discovered that the “tying” technique of holding the quilt layers together was really hard work. They also learned that the end result was well worth their efforts.

Replica log cabin quilt squareBut, what to do with one finished quilt that an entire class had worked so hard and learned so much creating? The answer: display the quilt until the 7th graders were nearing the end of their high school years and contribute the quilt as a silent auction item for Project Graduation when the students were seniors! The Texas history class quilts are proudly displayed in the school library and gym until they are auctioned away.

In 2012, San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site was presented with its own Texas history quilt made by 7th grade students in honor of the 175th anniversary of Texas independence. We are very pleased to have the quilt on display in our visitors center. The quilt has been titled “Stitches in Time,” and we hope it inspires our visitors to think of other creative ways to share their own unique Texas history stories.

San Felipe de Austin is located in south-central Texas, approximately 50 miles west of Houston. The site is part of the Texas Independence Trail Region.

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