Patchwork of memories

Town Square instructor pays forward love of quilting

Kim Bates cuddles under the first T-shirt quilt she made when her daughter went off to college.    Hannah Tetzlaff photo

by Hannah Tetzlaff

What started as a required assignment in a mandatory class became the foundation of Kim Bates’ life-long passion for quilting and sewing.

The quilting instructor at Green Lake Town Square found her love of sewing in an unlikely and adverse environment: a compulsory seventh-grade home-economics class taught by a hated teacher.

“This was before Title IX, [so] the girls took home ec. and the boys took shop, and I had the most horrible teacher,” Bates said. “She was mean and crabby. How I ever liked sewing beyond that I don’t know. I just liked it.”

She noted her love for sewing most likely began because of her uncle.

“My uncle and aunt used to come to our house often, and he liked to cook,” she said. “One of the projects we had in class was an apron, a little half-piece you just tie around your waist. I gave it to him and he just wore it all the time, so I felt pretty proud that he actually used it.”

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ABOVE, KIM BATES smiles as she continues to work on a memory quilt while recalling the heart-warming stories of her students and commissioners. Hannah Tetzlaff photo

After making that life-altering apron, Bates learned how to sew her own clothes in high school, became a home economics teacher and taught cooking in Chicago.

She also fell in love with quilting after making a blanket when her first child was born.

Bates continuously expands her knowledge of quilting and is experimenting and instructing a different form known as “T-shirt quilting.”

In T-shirt quilting, Bates transforms old, ragged shirts and clothing into quilts or patchworks of memories that people may snuggle under.

She first learned how to quilt shirts when she was invited to attend a class in Beaver Dam a few years ago, and later created her first T-shirt quilt for her daughter when she went off to college.

“A lot of [people] do them for their children when they go off to college, so a lot of them take things from when they were in sports teams in highs school or from when they are real young,” Bates said. “… [My daughter] wasn’t in any sports … She’s an art major, so hers was a compilation of concerts she went to, musicians she liked [and] some from when she was little.”

Bates noted not all the T-shirt quilts she made were for joyous occasions like college; some were memory quilts.

“The one I’m working on right now is a combination of T-shirts and regular shirts, and this is a memory quilt because it’s from a man that passed away and I am making it for his daughter,” she said. “These are places that meant something to them; a lot of [the shirts] were from their travels, such as … Hard Rock Cafes from all over the place.”

Recalling another unique memory quilt commission, Bates noted quilts may be made from all sorts of clothing.

“I did four quilts for a woman who was one of four caretakers for an elderly woman who passed and I did it all out of her pajamas; that was kind of fun,” she said.

After spending years working and experimenting on her craft, Bates has gained a lot of meaning from quilting and sewing.

“I like doing the T-shirt quilting … [and] teaching the classes because I feel like I’m helping people learn how to sew a bit and they’re creating a memory for their children or grandchildren,” Bates said. “It’s keeping fun memories alive … When you hear the story of why they want it, it just warms my heart that I could help with that.”

Since her memorable seventh-grade home economics class, Bates has gone from student to teacher and is offering her own T-shirt quilting class Saturday, Aug. 27 from 10 a.m. to noon at Town Square.

For those interested, there is a $20 fee. A basic understanding of sewing is needed.

According to Bates, though the class may appear intimidating, it is relatively easy and is similar to regular quilting with just one added step of fusing an interface to the back of the shirts to stabilize them.

Individuals may sign up for the class by visiting the Green Lake Town Square, calling or going online at