'Magic' Quilt Prompts Toddler to Speak

Filed under: In The News, Amazing Kids, Amazing Parents

Judi Ketteler author of the magic quilt with her son

The author and her son, Max, on the "magic quilt." Courtesy of Judi Ketteler

As parents, we eagerly look to each milestone -- trying so hard not to compare kids, but desperately wanting to make sure our own are keeping up their peers (and holding out hope that they are secretly brilliant).

But at 22 months, my son's vocabulary still consisted of just "mama," "dada," "tiger" and "no no." And sure, he could bark like a dog and moo like a cow -- which was entertaining, but didn't help me check off that "language development" milestone.

I lost count of how many conversations I had with my now 2-year-old son that went something like this: "Hey Max, can you say cat? Say: 'ccccc' and then 'aaaattt.' 'Cat!' "

His response? A coy smile, and complete disinterest. As if to say, "Yeah, cat this, lady."

Meanwhile, the adorable little boy next door, who was only six weeks older than Max, had been talking for weeks, practically in sentences. He knew his colors already. Heck, he probably ordered their take-out.

"Stop comparing," my husband, Allen, chided me. "He'll talk when he's ready."

I knew Allen was right. Logically, I knew Max wasn't behind or developmentally delayed. He just wasn't motivated yet. My mom had always told me that my brother, Tony, didn't talk until he was almost 3.

"I would ask the doctor about it," my mom said, "and the doctor just said that Tony must not have anything to say yet."

Still, I found myself obsessing over getting Max to say words. His expression conveyed it all: Why say "doggy" when you can just look at one and giggle? Or better yet, look at your mommy and giggle at her pinched and desperate face? I tried to be rational, but, of course, I still worried.

Luckily, I have a great creative outlet for my worry and stress: Sewing. I've been sewing since I was 16, and just published "Sew Retro," a book about sewing history with lots of fun vintage-inspired projects. And, now pregnant with my second child, my sewing habit has kicked into overdrive.

There's something about the influx of estrogen and the expectation of new life that creates this compulsive need to make project after project, especially all of those projects that have been on my to-do list forever -- like making a quilt for our bed.

Inspired by that great "found" quality of basic scrap patchwork, I decided to make a colorful quilt compiled from random fabrics. I used leftover fabric from projects for my book, scraps from my (very large) fabric stash, pieces of vintage aprons my mom had given me, flea market finds -- just a little bit of everything.

I worked on it for a few weeks, finishing late one night. I smoothed down the finished quilting, placed it on the bed and slept the good sleep of creative fulfillment. My son may not have been in a hurry to reach milestones, but I was furiously trying to check off mine.

The next morning, my husband went to get Max out of the crib, and the boy came bounding into the room, ready to "help" me out of bed by yanking my arm -- our usual routine. But the quilt caught his eye and I could see his brain processing: Something is different here. Something interesting is going on with this bed.

I pulled him up onto the mattress.

"Look at all the colors, Max!" I said. "Which square is your favorite?" I asked. He pointed to a brown polka dot piece. "That's a good one! What else do you like?" He giggled, and pointed to some blue flowers. "Oh right, the blue flowers look like the flowers in the garden, don't they?" He nodded his head.

After breakfast, he wanted to look at the quilt again. And after his nap. And before dinner. And before bedtime. Each time, he'd discover another piece of fabric that was his "favorite." I showed him which one came from Grandma's apron, which one had birds hidden in it, which one had Russian dolls, which one reminded me of birthday cake and so on. He especially loved it when I said funny words like "fleur-de-lis."

Daddy picked out his favorite, and we theorized about which ones were the favorites of various cherished stuffed animals. By the next day, Max had practically memorized every square. I'd ask him what was what, and he'd point, intensely proud of himself.

And then it happened. "Gurrrl" he said, (unprompted!) pointing to the "Russian doll" piece. "Yes, girl!" I said, giddy. The next day, it was "wawa," or "water" as in, water the flowers (since there are so many flower patterns on the quilt and Max "helps" me water flowers every night).

Sitting on the quilt talking about the squares became our nightly ritual. One night, about a week after I made the quilt, we were all sitting on the bed and I mentioned something about Google to Allen. "Google" I heard a little voice echo. "Max, did you just say Google?"

"Google!" Max said again.

I suddenly had a hunch about the "ooo" sound. "OK, can you say goose?"

"Goooooose!" he said.

"How about moose?"


And that was it: The floodgates were open. We went from talking about the "gurls" and "wawa" to talking about everything -- on the quilt, off the quilt, at the dinner table, in the car. Finally, my boy was talking! He didn't even need prodding; he just started to repeat everything. Even words I didn't want him to.

Was it that Max finally had found things he wanted to talk about? Maybe. Or maybe it was just the time in his development when he was finally ready, and a piece of Grandma's apron and some blue flowers were the catalysts.

I didn't make the quilt to teach Max anything. I made it because I'm a crazy pregnant lady and I can't stop sewing. I had no idea that my own creative outlet would resonate with this little boy. After all, the norm is to sew dresses for little girls, and give little boys trucks and dinosaurs. Little boys aren't supposed to like quilts and flowers and pretty colors.

But, as is often the case when you're so singularly focused, I was thinking too narrowly. I just needed a 2-year-old to tell me that. Thank goodness he learned to talk in time to set me straight.

Judi Ketteler is the author of "Sew Retro: A Stylish History of the Sewing Revolution + 25 Vintage-Inspired Projects for the Modern Girl." Find more info about sewing, her blog, fun vintage images, bonus projects and tutorials at www.sewretrothebook.com.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.
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