Story Quilts

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Background Information
Applique and other old quilting techniques were brought to the United States by slaves from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, and Angola, and were an influence on quilting in the American South. The Fon people of Benin, Africa, have a tradition of appliqued quilts or banners. These quilt blocks were often joined by multicolored, pieced narrow strips of cloth that were reminiscent of Kente cloth (traditionally woven in Africa for kings). Harriet Powers (1837-1911) was a famous African-American quilter who has inspired other artists with her applique in the manner of African artists. Your students might like to know that some African-American quilters purposely included a "mistake" in the quilt because they felt that only God could make something perfect. Contemporary artist Faith Ringgold continues in the tradition of the story quilt with her painted and sewn quilts. Her work is represented in many museum collections.

  • unity
  • variety
  • balance
  • emphasis
Your students will enjoy making a portion of a class quilt that tells a story. A quilt might have a single subject such as all birds, fish, pigs, or human forms; or each block might be different in order to tell a story. Involve students in making the decision whether to have a specific theme for the story quilt. They may prefer to tell a personal story. This is a good opportunity to use up scrap construction paper. A photograph of the mounted story quilt could be taken and photocopied so each student would have a souvenir of this special artwork.


  • Make copies of the Story Quilts student page.
  • Distribute them to all students.
  • Go over the directions with the students.
Interdisciplinary Connections

  • Muslin Quilt
    Small squares (6 x 6 inches) of muslin could be created by each student using fabric markers, crayons, paints, or pastels.
Language Arts
  • Write the Story of Your Quilt Block
    After students have created their individual blocks, have them write a story about the event they have depicted. These could be quite detailed and then compiled into a classroom book. When the quilt is displayed on the wall, have the students tell their story to the class, or invite parents for a special evening.

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