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PIECING FAMILIES TOGETHERUsing Heirloom Quilts in Kids' Rooms to Teach Family History

Jeanette Simpson

June 28, 2012
Hand-stitched quilts from three generations—grandmother, mother, and me.

Kids’ rooms and heirloom quilts—for some people the two seem to mix about as well as oil and water, and the thought of displaying precious heirloom quilts in a kid’s room can seem like condemning the quilts to certain destruction.

To relieve your anxiety, consider that the word “heirloom” doesn’t necessarily mean “really old”; in fact, one generation is enough to call a quilt “vintage,” so there’s no need to use your priceless antiques in a younger kid’s room.

But mixing kids and quilts is not only easier than it seems, it’s also important. Keeping heirloom quilts where your kids will see them can help them recognize the richness of their family heritage.

Why Use Heirloom Quilts in a Kid’s Room?
An heirloom of any kind adds life to a kid’s room, but there’s something special about the warmth and softness of a hand-stitched quilt.

How do you feel when you see a quilt draped across the foot of a bed or hanging on a wall? For me, an heirloom quilt elicits fond memories of my grandmother, who was a professional seamstress and an avid quilter.

The year before she died (at age seventy-eight), she cut, pieced, and quilted fifteen full-size quilts, one for each of her three surviving children and eleven grandchildren, plus one extra. She even hand embroidered her signature and date on the back.

Each time I finger the quilt, I think of her devotion to family, and a wave of love flows over me as I marvel at the tiny stitches worked by her aged hands.

Teaching Family History with Quilts
As cherished links to the past carefully handed down from generation to generation, heirloom quilts teach children about their family history. Each piece of fabric within a quilt has its own story to tell.
I have precious memories of the time my mother and her sisters sat with my quilt stretched across their laps, laughing and telling stories as they pointed to each little piece. “That was a dress I wore to school.” “Mother made me a skirt from this one.” “This piece was from a flour sack she made into a dress for me.”
I once received twenty-six finished but un-pieced “Dutch Doll” quilt squares, which also tell the family history of a time when every piece of fabric was saved for re-use, and hand stitching was an art.

When a child sees an heirloom quilt every day, they’re reminded of people who play a special part in their lives. These quilts reinforce the bonds between generations.

For the Next Generation
There’s something very satisfying about using family heirlooms to decorate our homes, especially in our kids’ rooms.  Want your kids to feel the love from family members they never knew? Display your quilts, then share your stories about each piece of fabric and how it intertwines with your family history. That way, the heirloom will become more than just another blanket in the room. It will represent the unbreakable bond they share with their family.

Guess it’s time to dig out the box of fabric scraps I saved from clothes I made for my kids, and create a few quilts for the next generation to drape across their beds. Hopefully they’ll listen as their parents describe their memories of each scrap of fabric and piece together the story of their childhood.

Photo via House & Home

(For more ideas on how to display family heirlooms in kids’ rooms, see the series Teaching Kids Family History with Heirloom Accessories.)

Jeanette Simpson is an interior designer and owner of KidSpace Interiors, specializing in commercial and residential design of children’s spaces. Prior to opening KidSpace, she was part of award-winning design teams within architectural firms in Atlanta and Sarasota, Florida. Jeanette is graduate of Brigham Young University, author of a guidebook for interior design interns, and furniture designer for a high-end children’s furniture company (the pirate ship bed is her favorite). A former fast-pitch softball coach, she is a mother of six and grandmother of eighteen (at last count!), and loves family history and teaching kids. Jeanette blogs at: