CORVALLIS, Ore. – While most classrooms in Oregon State University’s Education Hall were quiet on a recent Sunday afternoon, the steady hum of sewing machines and the murmur of voices made it clear that one room was busy.

For a handful of former master’s degree students, it was time for their monthly quilting bee – a chance to learn new sewing techniques as well as talk over their latest classroom challenges and bounce ideas off each other. The women were formerly students in the same College of Education cohort, and have now been friends for years.

During the weekday, the women have their own classrooms to preside over, but once a month they go back to being students under the tutelage of their former mentor Kay Stephens, a faculty member with Language Arts Licensure for the College of Education. As master’s students in the college, the women began quilting with help from Stephens, an avid seamstress. Upon graduation, the women wanted to continue their quilting lessons, so they began to meet in 2007, and formed a sort of informal quilting bee.

“We started with T-shirt quilts,” Stephens said. “It took us from January to June. They were huge.”

At first the quilting group was simply about expanding skills, like piecing complicated patterns and learning how to hand-dye fabrics. But the group has grown to be much more. Last November, they decided to move on from making quilts for friends and family members, and start piecing quilts for those in need. They’ve now decided to make quilts and donate them to the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV) for the women and children who use the center’s safe house. They’re using fabric donated by various OSU faculty and staff members, as well as designs from donated quilt books and magazines.

And when the women gather to sew, they aren’t doing it in silence. Many times, the quilting bee quickly turns into a discussion on best practices. Since they’re all now language arts teachers in Oregon schools, they have a lot to discuss with each other.

For Stephens, the chance to listen to teachers currently in school gives her a chance to refresh her own teaching, as she has been out of a K-12 classroom for years. “You keep me in touch with what’s going on in the classroom,” she told the group.

She’s also pleased at how quickly her sewing students pick up on new lessons.

“They’re so easy to teach,” she said, because they are teachers themselves, and readily absorb the lessons she’s providing for them. And as all teachers know, learning is a life-long process, and the monthly quilting session is another way to keep those neurons firing.

“Kay could charge us a lot (for lessons),” said Kilee Sowa, who teaches at Memorial Middle School in Albany. “But we pay her in fine company.”

About the OSU College of Education: The mission of the College of Education is to prepare, inspire and support teachers, counselors, educational leaders, researchers and volunteers to promote lifelong learning in schools, colleges, universities, communities and workplaces.


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Kay Stephens,