HomeJean Marzollo, author of I SPY books

I SPY Quilts for Babies, Infants and Toddlers

Dear Jean,

I was introduced to I Spy quilts by a close friend named Jenn who is a mother, grandmother, expert sewer, and 25+ year elementary teacher with specialties in math and reading. Jenn has a sister who is a fabric Van Gogh as well as another sister who also quilts and sews a great deal. With the help of these sisters I, who used to sew a great deal and even made my own wedding gown, learned about I Spy quilts and began the process of creating ones of my own as gifts for the new babies of special people in my life.

Keeping in mind that babies, infants, and toddlers are the recipients of these quilts, they are sized accordingly. Four of the five ones pictured in the attachment consist of 80 squares of individual fabric with each square cut using a plastic template and a rotary cutter. The squares are 4"x4" in rows of 9 both horizontally and vertically. The 81st square, in the middle, is some form of the challenge to "I Spy." The center square I used consists of an embroidered spyglass with the words "I Spy" and embroidered lady bugs for decoration. My friend's fabric Van Gogh sister, Laurie, makes these center pieces for all of us. (One of the quilts pictured has the words "I SPY" in embroidered cursive writing.)

I can attest to the fact that searching for the perfect fabric(s) for an I Spy quilt can quickly become an addiction.
I have been making jewelry for several years in my spare time and there are great parallels in searching for the perfect strand of Bali silver or some natural stone and searching for the perfect piece of material to add to an
I Spy quilt. Wherever my husband and I travel I drag him to bead shows and quilt/fabric shops. We discovered an quilt/fabric shop in Taos, New Mexico recently with bolt after bolt of children-centric fabric with endless possibilities for reading readiness and entertainment. Two years ago, a trip to Shipshewana, Indiana, a small Amish town near the Michigan border, yielded an amazing find with respect to quilting fabric. In the middle of large fabric store was a huge wooden rowboat filled to the brim with what are called "fat quarters," the holy grail of quilters looking to economize with just a small bit of a certain fabric. Fat quarters are pieces of fabric measuring 18"x22" from which one can get several sizes and shapes for a specific quilt. All around this rowboat were wooden benches where one could sit and "paw" through and sort fat quarters. Boggling! There is also a store called the Fabric Shack in Waynesville, Ohio that has room after room, shelf after shelf, of quilting fabrics until your mind is swimming with color and pattern and your creative brain is quickly on overload. As I said, this is an addiction easily fed with the added conviction that an even greater source is just down the road.

I can also tell you that whenever you take a stack of fabric bolts up to a counter to be cut, either the clerk or another customer (or both) will immediately ask what you are making. Say the words "I Spy quilt" and much nodding, commenting, and congenial conversation ensues. It's like an instant coffee klatch with total strangers shifting into close-friend mode and sharing tips on quilting, ways to make the I Spy piece, stores with the perfect fabrics at great prices, ways to bind the quilt, "back" the quilt, quilt the quilt, etc. etc. I have had this happen to me repeatedly in the process of acquiring all the fabrics I've used on the four I Spy quilts I have worked on and given away. Instant sororities of quilting sisters are a common occurrence in my experience and the experience of fellow quilters/sewers with whom I have shared such happenings. One perfect example of this quilting sorority is the "community bag" that Jenn, her sisters, and their respective friends have created. This bag, filled with scraps and parts of fat quarters, is passed around, taken from and added to by all who possess it as a new I Spy quilt is created. In this way, many quilters have access to the "best finds" of other avid quilters. I have no way of knowing how widespread the idea of I Spy quilts is, but I can tell you that wherever and whenever I have been in my search to add to my collection of fabrics, knowledge of such a creation is common and met with enthusiasm and interest.

In finishing the last two quilts, the first two pictured in the attachment, I had my first experience with one of the new computer-driven, room-sized, approximately $35,000 quilting machines in a quilting shop in Loveland, Ohio. The technology available for sewing, embroidering, and quilting projects is a bit staggering to a person like me who started sewing in 7th grade Home Ec on the most basic Singer. I had the opportunity to select the quilting pattern (stars and loops) I wanted for the I Spy quilts via the computer as well as how big or small I wanted this selected pattern. The computer then figured out, based on the outside dimensions of the quilt, exactly how to sew the stars and loops to match my selections. Once all my choices were put into the computer, a long-arm sewing machine proceeded to quilt the entire I Spy quilt in about 30-45 minutes. Once again, boggling!

I honestly do not know how one raises a child without the I Spy books. While I have always been a high school teacher and tutor, I can tell you that the I Spy books were the favorites for my son when he was babysitting (I believe he secretly enjoyed the books more than the youngsters he was watching over) and for all the children and grandchildren of my friends throughout the childraising years. Jenn's daughter is in pre-school education and uses an I Spy quilt regularly in her classes. She says that the kindergarten and first grade teachers have seen her quilt and want to have one for their own respective classrooms. That the concept is now executed in fabric seems such an affirmation of the validity of all that the I Spy books accomplish with respect to helping children get ready for school and life.

I believe I speak for all the I Spy quilters I have become acquainted with in thanking you for the inspiration of such a concept and methodology for making learning fun, for encouraging interest and awareness, and for promoting imagination and creative thinking in all who encounter anything I Spy.

With great respect and gratitude from one devoted to education,

Cincinnati, Ohio


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