Stitching Stories

Lesson Plan


Using Elizabeth Hopkins’s Album Quilt and two stories as inspiration, students will design and create a quilt square that tells a story about their lives. They will present their stories to the class, explaining the significance of the quilt square and the story that inspired it.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

Three 45 minute lessons

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • actively listen to the stories The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco and Oma’s Quilt by Paulette Bourgeois;
  • analyze Elizabeth Hopkins’s Album Quilt for its complementary color scheme, storytelling qualities, and use of geometric shapes to create objects and patterns;
  • identify and bring in materials from home that represent their lives in a personal and meaningful way;
  • design an autobiographical quilt square that tells an important piece of their life; and
  • present their quilt square to the class and explain the story behind it.


Day 1

  1. Warm-up: Begin by reading The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco to the class.
  2. This book tells the story of a Jewish immigrant family that creates a quilt out of scraps of clothing from the great-grandmother’s quilting bee. Over the years the quilt is used as a tent, a Shabbat table cloth, a wedding huppa, and of course, as a quilt. Like Elizabeth Hopkins’s quilt, the quilt in the book tells a story and is a record of the family that created, used, and loved it.
  3. Show the class the Hopkins Album Quilt. Ask students what colors, shapes, and objects they see. Using the About the Art section, explain how many of the objects reflect the Hopkins family. Point out the ship that reflects the fact that Elizabeth’s husband was a seaman; the musical instruments that suggest a comfortable home; and the geometric shapes that make up the flower baskets, the fruit, snowflakes, hearts, stars, and borders.
  4. Ask the students: How do the quilts from the warm-up story and the Hopkins family tell stories? What stories do they tell? Emphasize how both quilts tell the stories of their creators and families.
  5. Invite students to think of a story about their own lives that they would like to tell in a quilt square. Their quilt square could represent a vacation, a hobby or interest, a family pet, or a special holiday or event.
  6. Send a letter home with students explaining the project and asking for fabric, old t-shirts, ribbons, lace, buttons, etc. that will help each student create his/her quilt square. Omit this step if you will be working with paper.

Day 2

  1. Briefly review the way The Keeping Quilt and the Hopkins Album Quilt tell stories about the people who made them.
  2. Have students gather the materials they brought from home. Provide each student with a 10½ x 12 piece of paper or cloth.
  3. Have the students begin designing their squares by using materials to create objects and designs on their squares of fabric. For example, a ballet dancer might make ballet shoes and musical notes out of the material. A baseball player might make a sun, a bat, and a ball out of his fabric and buttons.
  4. If using fabric, help the students use an iron to fuse their designs to Heat’n Bond before cutting out the shapes. After fusing and cutting out the shapes, help students iron the shapes onto the background fabric. If you are using fabric glue or working with paper, have students cut their shapes out and glue their designs in place on the fabric or paper.
  5. If you are sewing, have each student pin together his/her front square with the design on it, the batting (in the middle), and back fabric square. Pass out the embroidery needles and floss and demonstrate to the students how to make simple stitches to quilt the layers together.
  6. Create borders for the squares by using ribbon, lace, seam binding, fabric strips or paper strips if you are working with paper.

Day 3

  1. Read Oma’s Quilt by Paulette Bourgeois aloud to the class. This poignant tale relates the story of a grandmother who moves to a retirement home, a difficult adjustment for her and her family. While cleaning out her home, her daughter and granddaughter find a quilt that she had made from her husband’s shirts. They decide to make a quilt for her out of things from her home. This supports all of them in the transition, as the fabrics of the quilt allow them to share memories and tell their family story. Once again, this connects to the project and to Elizabeth Hopkins’s quilt by stressing how quilts can chronicle family histories and allow families to share their stories across generations.
  2. Conclude by having each student present his/her quilt square to the class, telling the story that inspired it. Display the squares as a one big class quilt.


  • The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco and Oma’s Quilt by Paulette Bourgeois
  • Two 10½ x 12 inch fabric quilt squares per student (if you are working with paper you only need one square)
  • One piece of 10½ x 12 inch batting material to go between the two quilt square panels (omit this material if you are working with paper)
  • Embroidery needles, embroidery floss, and safety pins for sewing the quilt squares together (omit if you are working with paper)
  • Glue if you are working with paper; or fabric glue or Heat’n Bond if you are working with fabric
  • Iron if you are using Heat’n Bond
  • Ribbons, lace, seam binding, fabric strips, or paper strips to create borders
  • Scissors
  • About the Art section on Album Quilt
  • One color copy of the quilt for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Album Quilt

Album Quilt


Elizabeth Sanford Jennings Hopkins

Who Made It?

Album quilts were often made by a group of women, with each member contributing a block. This quilt, however, was made entirely by Elizabeth Hopkins. Born in Connecticut, Elizabeth made this quilt after marrying her husband Charles Hopkins in 1841 and moving to Port Jefferson, Long Island. Charles was a seaman and it is believed that in the early days of their marriage, Elizabeth accompanied him on some of his trips, during which she saw examples of album quilts from Baltimore. Album quilts flourished in the 1840s and 1850s along the Eastern seaboard. Each block of an album quilt has a different motif, made by stitching shapes cut from solid or patterned material to a background fabric. Elizabeth filled some of the blocks on her quilt with images that were relevant to her family. This quilt remained in the Hopkins family until it was acquired by the Denver Art Museum in 2007.

What Inspired It?

Album quilts of this type tended to use solid or small-scale printed fabrics. Many of the floral and decorative motifs on the Hopkins quilt are common to album quilts of the period, but some of the images are more personal. Flying the banner “HOPE,” the sailing ship surrounded by blue fish references Elizabeth’s husband’s life as a seaman and the maritime community in which she lived. Hopkins also quilted a lighthouse and a heart on the ship block. Another block (fourth row down, third column across) may represent a compass, a navigational instrument used by sea captains. The quilt block that shows a well-furnished interior and the blocks with musical instruments suggest that the family lived in a comfortable home.


Geometric and Organic Shapes
Geometric and Organic Shapes

Hopkins used both geometric and organic shapes. Geometric shapes, like triangles and diamonds, were used to create the baskets and star-shaped images. Organic shapes, with their more natural, curvy lines, were used to create leaves, flowers, and fruits.

Fruit and Flowers
Fruit and Flowers

Various fruits and plants—grapes, apples, pears, strawberries, cherries, and tulips—can be found on different blocks throughout the quilt. Some of these details are padded and project slightly from the surface of the quilt.

Slight Variations
Slight Variations

The two outer blocks of the third row from the top are quilted with a snowflake-like symmetrical pattern. Though they look similar, there are small variations in design. For example, look at the center of each snowflake; one has a heart and the other has a circle.

Printed Fabrics
Printed Fabrics

Several green and red printed fabrics were used for various parts of the quilt. Look for the green printed fabric on the outside perimeter of the quilt and the red printed fabric used to create the violin and strawberries.

Hand-drawn Details
Hand-drawn Details

The tiniest details on the quilt—like the notes on the sheet music and the face of the clock—are drawn by hand.

Quilting Patterns
Quilting Patterns

The stitching on the quilt not only holds the layers of fabric together but also allows for additional patterns and designs. Hopkins created hearts and leaf-shaped designs with her stitches.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.