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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 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
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


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