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Column #12

The Graduates

Kate James Russell Shinn's high school graduation quilt, made by his mother, Ora Francis Clark Shinn, in 1933. The quilt was a favorite of its recipient, and was much loved and heavily used.
Photo by Alex Labry.


AwawaThe center block of Russell's graduation quilt.


AwawaScott Russell Shinn's law school graduation quilt, made by his mother, Alice Eden Shinn, in 2007.


AwawaThe border of Russ's graduation quilt reads, "Texas Tech University School of Law, S. Russell Shinn, Esq."

When Russell Shinn graduated from high school in the small southwestern Oklahoma town of Carnegie in 1933, his mother, Ora Francis Clark Shinn, made a quilt to commemorate the event.

There was no high school near their farm on Cedar Creek—the one-room school called Silver Moon that served the area’s children taught students only as far as the eighth grade—so Russell had to move seven miles away to Carnegie to further his education. There, he lived with his aunt and uncle for the four years he attended Carnegie High. He paid his relatives room and board earned from a paper route (he deposited his salary at the post office for safekeeping—an alternative to banks in those days). In rural Oklahoma during the 1930s, a high school diploma was hard-won—and no easy achievement.

Russell was the oldest of eight children born to Ora and her husband, John. Keeping such a large family in clothing and bedding was practically a full-time job in itself, and Ora was no stranger to needle and thread. Short and feisty, Ora kept her brood warm by making quilts from feed sacks and clothing scraps. But the family’s first high school graduation was a landmark occurrence, which warranted more than a hastily-made utilitarian quilt. Russell’s graduation quilt would require more special fabric and more time and care in its construction.

Ora chose green, pink, and white solids to construct 30 blocks made from the classic Ruby McKim “Album” pattern. Then she embroidered the names of Russell’s 27 classmates, the class sponsor, and the school superintendent on 29 of the blocks. In the center block, she proudly stitched: “James Russell Shinn, CHS, 1929-1933.”

Seventy-four years later, when Russell’s grandson and namesake, Scott Russell (“Russ”) Shinn, graduated from Texas Tech Law School in 2007, his mother, Alice Eden Shinn, made a quilt to commemorate the event as well. And—like his grandfather before him—Russ had to make an extra effort to reach this milestone. As a Marine, he’d had to interrupt his law school education for a tour of duty in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. His degree was also hard-won and no easy achievement.

Times were not as hard as they had been during the Depression, and certainly the fabric selection was greater, but the care and attention that Alice put into making the special graduation quilt were just as evident. She chose the school’s colors (red and black) for the quilt, and friends and family members wrote congratulatory notes on the blocks, which Alice later embroidered.

For generations, quilts have served as a means for marking important events in peoples’ lives. A school graduation, regardless of the level, is just the sort of momentous occasion that inspires quilters to commemorate the achievements of their loved ones. It takes time and effort to make a quilt, just as it takes time and effort to get through school. That parallel output of energy makes a quilt an especially fitting observance for a graduation present.

Only time will tell if the tradition of making quilts to commemorate graduations will continue in the Shinn family. But Russ’s son, Anthony Russell, just successfully completed kindergarten. With any luck, he just may have a graduation quilt in his future.


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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboy’s Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser Quilts—Parallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here


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