Fifteen-year-old Ayla McCullough pokes a needle upward through white fabric beside an eight-pointed star, careful to keep her other hand clear of stabbing range. A snip and a tying off, and she’s ready for the next series of stiches on the material draped over a table at South Umpqua High School.
This isn’t Ayla’s first exposure to the beauties of quilts. At home, she says, she has a green quilt in her bedroom. She said she likes the colors on the fabric in front of her – a collection of sapphire, aqua and lilac hues. Peacock colors. But if it were left totally up to her, she’d choose a different pattern.
“I’d pick bright green, orange, fluorescents,” she says. “All bright colors, with ninja turtles or hearts.”
They may not have picked out the quilt tops brought to them for tying, but Ayla and her classmates at SUHS’s Developmental Learning Center still approach the work table with enthusiasm and concentration. Since March, six of the eight students in Special Education teacher JoAnn Paselk’s Life Connections class have been stitching quilt tops under the supervision of Douglas Education Service District speech language pathologist Althea Lawhead and Kym Dickenson, a speech pathology assistant. Lawhead and Dickenson also happen to be quilting friends. Two other students lack the physical ability to help out, but are usually present during the sessions and able to watch the proceedings.
Across from Ayla, classmate Billy Thompson stands over a vivid patch of quilt. He isn’t able to articulate his favorite fabric colors or designs. But he laughs readily and points at a spot of material. His gesture is a clear question to Dickenson: Is this spot a good place to tie?
“Sure,” Dickenson says. Billy gives a broad smile and closes in, needle ready for piercing.
Daily activities that could be useful at home are part and parcel of the Life Connections curriculum, according to Paselk. The class features life and work skills. Some of its Special Education students are able to integrate into regular SUHS classes for several periods a day.
On this quilting day, cookies were baking in a nearby oven. Paselk said community members in fall sometimes bring produce, from which students have made juice, jelly and other edibles.
“Anybody who wants to come and share with us, we can probably put it to good use,” she said.
Lawhead said she got the quilting idea for the class from a visit a couple of years back. Someone had donated yarn and a hoop, from which students were making hats.
Between them, Lawhead and Dickenson were able to collect enough fabric to make four different quilt tops of varying colors and designs. A friend, Bonnie Durick, also pieced together four quilt tops, which she donated to the project. Lawhead and Dickenson arrive at the class with the finished tops, batting and backing. The students work singly, in pairs or small groups, tying the three parts together.
The work helps students on their fine motor skills, their ability to follow directions and to pull together as a team.
“The best part is watching them teach each other,” Dickenson said. “They also learn how to take a turn,” Paselk said.
Once the students have done their tasks, Lawhead and Dickenson take the quilts home to finish them and prepare them for use. When all eight are completed, the two women will bring them back to the students as gifts. All Life Connections students will get one before the end of the school year, even those unable to do the stitching.
Lawhead said it will be up to Paselk to decide how the quilts will be distributed. Whoever gets which one, all quilts are sure to impart color, warmth and memories of an absorbing pastime.