Stitching memory quilts might sound old-fashioned for a generation of kids whose thumbs are more accustomed to using touch-screens than thimbles. But, June Bugbee, owner of Sew Many Treasures in Williston, says her young sewing students find the traditional skill habit-forming. Bugbee takes a moment from snipping through bolts of fabric to pluck a photo from the door frame behind her cutting table and cash register.
In the snapshot, seven smiling girls holding their beautifully patterned lucky-star quilts on a sunny summer's day. "Once I get them once...," Bugbee says, raising her eyebrows in amusement.
Bugbee teaches quilting during her annual summer sewing camp; she also offers lessons the rest of the year. Camp attendance has multiplied from six students five years ago to 60 this year. In Camp 101, students learn about sewing machines, seam allowances and patterns, and receive an overview of types of fabric. "The kids come back year after year," she says.
Anna Werner, 9, and Liza Stone, 10, are perfect examples of that devotion. Werner attended last year. Stone liked her first session so much that she signed up for a second one two weeks later.
For her first quilt, Stone says she chose fabrics in blues and purples and one patterned with glow-in-the-dark stars. Choosing the material is part of the fun. Quilts can display favorite color combinations or illustrate family memories using patches from outgrown baby clothes or old sports jerseys.
Once quilters have chosen the materials, they stitch together the patches that form the top side, then place the quilt top over the batting, and sew on a backing, binding the top and bottom together to make the finished product.
Because sewing requires precision — every fraction of an inch counts — kids might not be ready to start until age 8.
But Dee Lamberton of A Quilters Garden in Montpelier started her daughter sewing at age 6, cutting the pieces for her. Lamberton also offers classes at her shop throughout the year. Novices begin by working on simple projects like pillowcases and doll-sized quilts. They learn to follow patterns, employing math skills in the process.
Lamberton advises beginners to choose a pattern made of squares or rectangles and not triangles; the seams of triangles are trickier to line up. She recommends a nine-patch quilt, with three rows of three squares.
The learning curve can be steep to start, but the excitement of turning a special piece of fabric into a keepsake provides students with an incentive. "Picking out their own fabric, they usually love that," Lamberton says. "And having something that they've made."