Patchworks for personal reflection

In describing the following activity we have to make a confession: in the book the artefact we describe as a ‘quilt’ in Chapter 7, produced as part of a conference on Motivating Learning and Teaching, is not really a quilt at all. A quilt has layers and filling and is stitched together, while ours is made of up flat pieces of fabric, decorated with all kinds of ephemera, and tied together to form a whole. Somehow, the name ‘quilt’ stuck to our creation however, perhaps in an unconscious reference to the storytelling traditions of American quilt, and the associations of community, history and shared labour and intent these evoke. We were guided, however, in the course of making it, that what we were creating was – in fact – patchwork. You could compromise and call it a patchwork quilt. Whatever you decide to call yours, and how and why you decide to create one, here are thoughts from Clare Lomas, clothing historian and cultural and historical studies lecturer, on how she came to incorporate such three dimensional techniques into an ice breaker for students, which later became a staff collaboration on a chosen theme.

promotional poster for quilt activity
promotional poster for quilt activity

In the following audio interview, Clare talks to Alison about where her inspiration came for using patchworks as reflective spaces and how she felt about undertaking her patchwork activity with staff at a university learning and teaching conference to embody their views on what motivating learning and teaching meant to them.

How we included the patchwork activity in a staff event

quilt 2013

In planning a College Conference on Motivating Learning and Teaching our primary goal was to make the day as participative as possible. In exploring the theme we did not want to write or talk about our beliefs but embody them in something we would create collectively throughout the day and be able to display at our closing plenary. In creating and promoting the activity, and in the early stages of trying to sow seeds of enthusiasm we felt very apprehensive indeed – about how people might feel ( a few faces fell at the prospect, while others (unexpectedly) lit up), or if we would have enough squares to be able to produce anything at all, or if we did, what on earth would it look (and would anyone care?). On the day, we set out all materials and embellishments in a sunlit indoor terrace alongside some of our conference rooms, and there was a steady ebb and flow (even surges!) of staff throughout the day. People from every role took part, some en route to other sessions, and some just came and did not leave.  Not only was the creativity and imagination in their pieces inspiring, but the pride they took in them and their enjoyment of seeing them in the final ensemble surprising – photographing them and pointing them out to each other, reading the messages or mulling over the images, and trying to guess who had done what – was proof that taking the risk had been worth it. Not only had they enjoyed taking part, it emphasised the different ways that we come to know each other through shared, collaborative and creative activities, and that using these appraoches is not some childish ‘making and sticking’ but a means of unleashing different thought processes and tapping into undiscovered glints of imagination underneath the layers of more familiar engagement. To paraphrase Gauntlett, making really was connecting.

action shot quilting

Guidelines for a patchwork activity (Clare’s example)

Working with first year undergraduates students early on in their courses, I wanted to get them thinking about identity and themselves, and as a form of creative expression would give them a square of fabric (approx 20cms squared) and ask them to take it away for a week, say, and personalise it. This could be in all kinds of ways so it says something about themselves – who they are, what they are like, how they are feeling about their course or subject, expectations, experiences and histories – anything. They can draw it, cut it, stick or spray things on, applique and embroider it (this can act as a way of introducing key terms in a three dimensional glossary) – however they want to embellish it.

The following week they bring their individual squares back and (a little in “show and tell” style) tell the rest of the group what they have done to their square and what it means to them – it does not have to be long, provided everyone says something. And they talk about what they are happy to share, it’s not about coercing anyone.

From their initial explanation of their square, they can then write up what they have said about their own individual squares as a few sentences for the following week – or even carry on working on their square if they feel so inspired – and this can feed into any reflective record they may be producing, whether written or recorded – about their first experiences at College or University.  They can even produce additional squares in subsequent weeks and work as a group to join their individual squares together – squares can be loped or tied together with ribbons rather than stitched together, so as to create a wall hanging rather than a true patchwork per se (though see our disclaimer about terms above!): in this way the resulting artefact can provided a talking point, a shared (and even bonding?) outcome, a visual record of common themes and experiences and a means of reflecting together as well as individually.

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