Merging Science and Quilting

In her article ‘Inspiring Young Adults to Quilt: The Women in Science Quilt Project’, Laura Hopper shares the satisfaction that can be found in engaging young people in a meaningful quilt project. 

She uses personal experience to make her case, using the Women in Science Quilt Project, a collaborative quilt made by college students. The quilt features twenty blocks honoring historic and contemporary female scientific pioneers. Rather than writing a research paper for their final class project, the students made a quilt. 

Curated Quilts - Merging Science and Quilting

The project came about when Dr. Courtney Gallaher, Associate Professor of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences at Northern Illinois University approached Hopper with the idea of having her students from her ‘Women in Science’ course create a quilt for their final project. Gallaher saw similarities between the voices of women in science and of women quilters historically being overlooked and ignored. She felt the project would merge both voices in a meaningful and memorable project that would teach students more than a research paper would. 

Students created the quilt over four class periods. Rather than represent the women being featured in the quilt with portraits, students were encouraged to think outside the box in how to visually express the importance of the female scientist’s work. Some of the women featured in the quilt include Mae Jemison (engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut), Jane Goodall (primatologist and anthropologist), Hedy Lamarr (inventor), Shirley Ann Jackson (physicist), Beatrix Potter (writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist), Mayim Bialik (neuroscientist), and others. 

Curated Quilts - Merging Science and Quilting

Students designed their quilt blocks in teams of two as a homework assignment. They also were responsible for writing a brief artist’s statement about the subjects of their quilt blocks. 

Hopper said about the project, “During four years of college, students write countless amounts of research papers. But they rarely have the chance to work together to make a quilt that honors the memory of their research subjects. Our hope is that the students cherish the memory of this project for years to come and that they always look at quilts as more than bed coverings. Students learned important lessons about female scientists while making their quilt. They also learned that quilts can unlock creativity, potential, and confidence.”

Curated Quilts - Merging Science and Quilting

Through the project, Hopper learned valuable lessons about how to successfully engage young people in quilting, especially in a classroom setting. Some of her tips include: 

  • Never underestimate anyone’s capacity for creativity; especially young people or people who work in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.
  • Your enthusiasm for quilting can be contagious, so make sure to frame all phases of the project as exciting opportunities to learn and be creative. 
  • Be realistic about time--a project like this with high school or college-aged students can easily be a semester-long investment of time. 
  • Create as many opportunities as possible to celebrate everyone involved. Students can be timid about creativity, especially if they are not accustomed to creating in a classroom setting. Cheer them on every step of the way and let them know how much you admire their work. 

You can to watch the Women in Science Quilt Project short documentary film by Randy Caspersen to learn more and see student quilters in action. 

Read the full article,Inspiring Young Adults to Quilt: The Women in Science Quilt Project by Laura Hopper inCurated Quilts: Youth, issue no. 13 

Laura Hopper is a curator, writer, and quilter who makes quilts inspired by music. She is the Exhibits Director for the Social Justice Sewing Academy, a board member of the Quilt Alliance, and past President of the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild. She lives near Chicago with her spouse and daughter. She can be found online and on Instagram at @sonicstitches 

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