Ball recalls quilt work with busy-bee studentsHer table on the sidewalk Sunday.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:47 PM
"On the Sunday Arts Walk, artists and artisans will sell a wide variety of items, but quilter Maggie Ball's offering will be the written record of a project.She will be in front of Esther's Fabrics, signing copies of Creative Quilting With Children, the new book that documents Ball's years quilting with 900 Bainbridge students.I would never have thought, when I saw my first quilts in the Ozarks 15 years ago, that this book would be the result, Ball said, and it started because I couldn't afford to buy a quilt myself.Born and raised in England, Ball had not lived in Arkansas long before she noticed the colorful quilts on clotheslines. The quilts were a sideline for local farmers' wives, a way to make extra money. I thought they were really wonderful, the colors and the patterns. I couldn't afford to buy one so I decided I'd make one, she said. I started on my own, hand-piecing these blocks. After nine months I discovered the local quilt group and they took me in.Quilting, according to Ball, has always been a social activity. The quilting bee has been a form of entertainment since pre-revolutionary days, as well as a way to make a beautiful object bearing the imprint of many hands.The quilt has more often been the concern of adult crafters than it has been a pedagogic tool for children, however. In 1993, Ball had the notion of quilting with Bainbridge elementary students. She worked at Wilkes Elementary School, involving all 503 students. Helped by quilting partner Wendy Simon, Wilkes teachers - and many parent volunteers - Ball made 20 quilts with the students, raising $14,000 for the school when the quilts were auctioned off.Ball subsequently worked with several other island schools, making about 50 quilts in all, teaching the children such techniques as applique, block printing, and resist stenciling.The children made sepia-toned quilts of Bainbridge history, thematic quilts, such as the save the rain forest quilt and the self-portrait quilt, as well as quilts composed of variations of a basic shape, like the heart quilt.All sorts of disciplines were integrated, Ball wrote. Math, library research, writing and the social skills required to work as a team were utilized. Making all the pieces of her book fit together proved to be rather like a complicated quilting project for Ball.She found a publisher - who went bankrupt just before the book was due out. Krause Publications, which ultimately did put out the book, wanted better photographs. So Ball started from scratch with another group of children. Assembling the components of history, technique, materials lists and step-by-step instruction for each page proved challenging, but the result is an impressive guide for would-be quilting teachers.I hope adults will be inspired and motivated to pass on the heritage and fun of quilting to the next generation, Ball said. I'd like to encourage quilters to work with kids.Examples of Ball's students' quilts are on view at the Bainbridge Library, in the hallways of Blakely Elementary School and in the Odyssey multi-age classroom. There will also be several quilts hanging in Esther's Fabrics during Arts Walk. "