Kids Art Quilts

Kids can make art quilts! I suggested a marker dying technique to my son's kindergarten teacher, and she was enthusiastic! I became nervous when she referred me to the principal and I was soon heading a school-wide community building exercise where each class made their own quilt for display in the hallways.

Kid made quilt top!Some of the class quilt tops made by students!

Materials Needed

  • white cotton fabric squares - I used hotel quality flat sheets
  • permanent markers (preferably Sharpie brand)
  • 1lb plastic containers
  • elastic bands
  • eye dropper
  • 70% rubbing alcohol
  • newspaper or paper towels
  • plastic drop cloth
  • drying area

The technique is very simple.

  1. Draw on fabric using permanent markers. I found that Sharpie brand worked the best. The colours are more vivid, the ink runs well and after setting the colours do not wash out.
  2. Drop rubbing alcohol on the drawing to make the ink run.
  3. Dry block and assemble into quilt or other project.

That's it! Easy, right?!

So I gave these instructions a trial run with my son. In about an hour, we had 16 blocks done! Whoo-hoo!!

Prepare Ahead

Marker dying techniqueUsing permanent markers to draw on fabric squares

You'll need to have the fabric squares ready for the drawing stage. I cut these squares at 6.5 inches (because that's how wide my ruler is) and this is a great size to fit over a 1 lb plastic container.

Sharpie markers work best. I know there are lots of websites that say you can use any permanent marker - but the colours wash out more than the Sharpie did in my test. Also, we found the dollarstore markers dried out after about 2 classes of use.  Kids love colour, so it's worth the extra $$.

Cover the tables with newspaper. We used photocopier paper at school, and 1 sheet wasn't enough - Oops! Sorry to the custodial staff! 2 sheets work well though :)

Drop Station

Adding AlcoholUse an eye dropper to add rubbing alcohol to the design

This area will get a bit messy. First lay down a plastic bag, then layer paper towels on top. We worked beside the sink to have access to the paper towel dispenser and garbage can as we needed to replace the absorbent layer under the margarine containers often.

Lay the fabric with its drawing face up over the plastic container and secure with an elastic band.

Using an eye dropper, soak the square with rubbing alcohol. Everywhere you drop will cause the ink to run.

I like dropping from a few spots (3 or 4 points) and letting the alcohol run into each other. That creates more of a starburst effect from the ink. Others liked working from the centre out - do whatever looks good to you! Get creative!

Drying Station

drying blocksDrying the blocks on the floor - don't forget to protect the surface with plastic!

You can either let the blocks dry by hanging on a line or laying flat. Make sure you have a plastic sheet under the blocks if drying indoors! We cut open large garbage bags and spread them on the classroom floor and lay the blocks on top to dry. When you hang the blocks, the alcohol will continue to run the ink to the bottom of the block. Some students chose to hold their block by one corner and let the design smear on the angle.

Let completely dry before handling. blocks should be dry in about an hour.

Develop a layout plan

sample layoutsSome sample layouts with different sashing configurations to make each quilt a little more unique!

For this project, I wanted each class to have their own look. Using only 3 fabrics, I changed the colours of the sashing and cornerstones to make each top unique. I came up with lots of ideas - and I'm hoping to use more of them in other sampler style quilts in the future!

It took me 15 hours to sew the tops. I pin basted and bound the quilts because the students were to hand "quilt" the layers together.

Working with small groups from each class, it took about a day for each class to quilt their quilt. Each student quilted their two blocks (time permitting - some didn't finish 1 block in the 45 time limit) some were fast, others needed lots of assistance. They could tie knots or use a running stitch, with more experienced students trying other embroidery stitches as well. The youngest and oldest grades had most success with sewing, the middle grades more success tying knots.


Kindergarten quiltingPart of the kindergarten quilt, with their excellent sewing skills!

The less co-ordinated students would pull the needle from the top of the quilt and set the needle to the down position and I would pass the needle from the back to the front. There are no rules about stitch length, colour combinations, or tension. The idea is to make something the student is proud to show off.

The kindergarten class LOVED this step! Huge smiles were enjoyed as they sewed by themselves! Awesome!

In one week, I threaded at least 700 needles - but the results were worth it!

If I were to do this again (and I would!) I'd make quilt sandwiches with each block so the students could handle a smaller piece to quilt rather than the full quilt. I think this way, more students could stitch at once, speeding up the process, especially for older grades (3-8). I estimate 8-10 students could sew under the guidance of one capable adult. (On the full quilt only 4 students could sew at once due to space). Some of the kindergarten to grade 2 students needed one-on-one help, but many could be paired or tripled up.

The youngest grades were fastest at sewing - some kindergarten students could stitch both blocks in under 10 minutes! The older grades were slower - and more detailed - with some embroidering their name on a block or in the sashing. The average was 20 minutes per block.

The colours in the blocks, the variation in the sashing layout, and the creativity of the students' quilting created a beautiful set of quilts that will hang in the hallways for many years to come!

School quilts 2014School quilts - the students drew on the blocks, then quilted them
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