Back to School with Each New Quilt


I still remember what it felt like to go back to school as a child, that curious mix of dread and anticipation. As much as I hated to give up the long, lazy days of summer, if truth be told, I was always excited to go back to school. For me it was all about the preparations: choosing a lunchbox that perfectly expressed my personality (no small feat for a lunchbox); shopping for a first-day-of-school outfit, which usually included a sweater, ensuring that I’d be a sweaty mess by the end of the day; and, best of all, buying school supplies—those perfect stacks of unmarked notebooks and bundles of freshly sharpened pencils were the highlight of my year. Clearly I didn’t give much thought to the larger picture.

Welcome Fall was published in Quilters Newsletter’s Best Scrap Quilts 2014.*

Welcome Fall was published in Quilters Newsletter’s Best Scrap Quilts 2014.

As the mother of three, “back to school” has taken on a different meaning. There were those pesky early years when the first day of school would find me missing my kids desperately, lying on their beds sobbing while clutching their abandoned teddy bears. Then there were the middle school years when I worried about academics and acne, school dances and tryouts. And then I blinked and my daughter is in college, my boys drive themselves to high school while sporting scruffy beards and an empty nest is looming in my future. But now when the time to go back to school rolls around each fall, instead of feeling nostalgic or blue, I feel lucky.


I’ve traded in my safety scissors and textbooks for rotary cutters and stacks of fabric.

back-to-school-with-each-new-quilt-appleEvery year my kids strike off on their own, with the same mix of nerves and excitement that I always felt. For them, going back to school means a fresh start, a new adventure, and they jump in with both feet. They’re curious about where the journey will take them and uncertain about what they’ll encounter along the way, but they’re hopeful about the outcome. I watch as they challenge themselves, face their fears, overcome obstacles and sometimes fail, but always they are striving, learning and growing, and I’m grateful that they have the opportunity each year to begin again.

And I’ve come to realize that it’s not the new clothes or school supplies that make going back to school significant—although my heart still goes pitter-pat at the sight of a brand new box of crayons at this time of year. It’s the fresh start, the renewal of energy and the optimistic undertaking of a journey that are valuable. And that experience is not just for kids; it’s available to us all.

I find my back to school experience through the practice of quilting. I’ve traded in my safety scissors and textbooks for rotary cutters and stacks of fabric, but the energy and the endeavor are the same. Each new quilting project gives me the chance to try something new, to learn a new skill, to experience something different. I begin optimistically, sometimes with a clear goal in mind, sometimes with only a vague idea. Inevitably I encounter bumps in the road—I make mistakes, or get off course or have to readjust my course entirely. But I recover and push on, and along the way I make discoveries about who I am, what I enjoy and what I can accomplish. In the end, I hope to have pieced together something I like and something I’m proud of, imperfections and all. What’s really important, though, is the journey I’ve been on, and that, after a pause to celebrate, reflect and refresh, I begin again.

I may be too old for pig tails and a Star Wars lunchbox and I definitely hope never to ride a school bus again, but as a quilter, I’m always going back to school. Quilting is my curriculum, and I plan to be a lifelong student.

Jen Daly of Grantham, New Hampshire, is a pattern designer, quilting instructor and blogger. She’s a lifelong sewer who started quilting in 2003. See more of her designs at

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