The Story Quilt
Russ and Barb Childers
Ohio native Barb Childers grew up in a quilting family that also loved to tell stories, play folk games, and dance. With that rich traditional mix coursing through her DNA, it is hardly surprising that she developed into a creative dynamo.
What is remarkable, however, is the way that she has melded all those activities into a unique vehicle for sharing her heritage with others: The Story Quilt.
Barb and her musician husband Russ (a three-time Kentucky State Clawhammer Banjo Champion) perform as the musical duo Bear Foot (“She is the Foot and he is the Bear”). With Russ playing not only banjo, but also fiddle, guitar, dulcimer, and homemade “kitchen sink” instruments as well as singing, and Barb playing, singing, telling stories, making string figures, and clog dancing, they take their humorous, educational, and high-energy show on the road to schools, day care centers, nursing homes, festivals, family reunions, community gatherings, and libraries.
In fact it was Barb’s “day job” as a children’s librarian with the Cincinnati Public Library that first gave her the idea for The Story Quilt.
“One-third of the population in Cincinnati trace their roots to Appalachia, and the city celebrates May as Appalachian Heritage Month each year,” Barb explains. “One of my fellow librarians, Charlotte Decker, was a quilter and she had a big collection of quilt blocks in different patterns that she had never put together in a quilt. For quite awhile, we had been patterning our children’s story time after the idea of African ‘story vines’—some African tribes had storytellers who traveled to different villages and who carried a string or a vine with objects attached to it. The audience could select an object from the vine and the storyteller would tell a story associated with that object.” (Barb was inspired by Anne Pellowski’s book The Story Vine, which explained that the Lega people practice this traditional style of storytelling.)
“I was always promoting interactive activities, because if the children get involved in what is happening, they tend to take some ownership and pay more attention. I thought that Charlotte’s quilt blocks could be used during Appalachian Heritage Month like a story vine to encourage the kids to participate,” Barb continues. “The response was just tremendous and when I retired after 38 years, Russ and I decided that The Story Quilt was something we could continue doing on our own for kids of all ages. The reaction we get from seniors is, of course, different from that of schoolchildren—but it is always surprising, always delightful, and always so much fun.”
The way The Story Quilt works is that Barb and Russ come out on stage with more than 20quilt blocks in a variety of patterns attached to a clothesline. The audience is invited to pick a block and Barb and Russ then spring into action, basing their performance on the audience’s choice. Once picked from the clothesline, the block is Velcroed to a sheet, until twelve blocks have been chosen and a full-sized “quilt” is created from the choices.
The block patterns may change depending upon the audience, the season, or the location, but some examples might include “See Saw,” which elicits from Barb a string trick that her Appalachian mother-in-law taught her; “Shoo Fly,” which invites the audience to sing and dance along with the song of the same name; “Nine Patch,” which produces a lesson on the 9s multiplication table; or “Corn and Beans,” which might prompt anything from a riddle about an animal that loves to get in the corn patch, to a story about the Native American practice of planting “The Three Sisters”—corn, beans, and squash together so that they can support one another as they grow, or a song about moonshine (an alternate way to store corn!).
The blocks are all made by Barb herself, or by family members, including her sister and niece, and some of the older blocks were made by Barb’s mother, Charlotte Hirst, who taught Barb to quilt and who has now passed away. “We hear the most wonderful stories from our audiences regardless of whether we do this program for kids, families, or for senior citizens,” said Barb. “What a journey! My mother would be so pleased at the direction we have taken her quilting.”
Click here to return to top.
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
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here