Little Addison Tobolka might have been too young to be interested since it was her christening, but everyone else was impressed by her great grandfather’s gift. Neighborhood resident Henry Tobolka presented Addison with a quilt he had made himself.
What made it even more remarkable was it was the first quilt he had ever made.
Tobolka is part of a continuing study of how senior citizens use their brains. The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas seeks out volunteers for the study, titled “Synapse: Actively Engaging the Aging Mind”. Quilting is one of the study courses, which led 80-year-old Tobolka and the other volunteers, all 60 or older, to Far North Dallas resident and expert quilter Marcia Wood.
Twice a week, Wood met with Tobolka and other aging volunteers. The class introduced them to topics such as: “fabric choice and color”, “stitching in the ditch”, “hand sewn bindings”, and other basic quilting skills.
In the three months that the fledgling quilters were in her care, Wood took the time to explain each step in making a quilt, stayed with them as they learned, did not ridicule them when they failed, and always praised their progress. It was the sort of instruction you might expect from a woman who homeschooled her two children.
Wood, the first vice president of the 500-member Quilter’s Guild of Dallas, says that when it comes to teaching anything, there is a parallel between young kids and old folks.
“You just keep repeating the lesson until they learn,” Wood says, “and then praise them.”
She finds one major difference, however: Senior citizens “are more interesting to talk to,” she says. “Their life experiences bring a social aspect to the teacher/student relationship, and the social aspect is important for the learning process.”
Tobolka and 20 of his fellow quilting students each contributed a block to a full-size quilt that Wood will enter in this spring’s Dallas Quilt Show at Market Hall. This year on March 12-14, the show is one of the biggest in the country, last year attracting entries from every part of the country and paid attendance of nearly 10,000. Wood’s 21 brand new-old students will be included in the upcoming exposition as an example of what first-time quilters are capable of.
Tobolka says he learned many things from Wood, but one lesson stood out to him.
“When you make a mistake, don’t whine about it,” Tobolka says. “Just include it as an element of your design.”
Another lesson Wood imparted to her students was the permanence of quilts. Young Addison will be able to show her great-grandfather’s quilt to her children, and to her children’s children, right into the 22nd century.
Any senior citizen interested in participating in the University of Texas at Dallas “Synapse” study should call 972.883.3200.
To learn more about the Quilters Guild of Dallas, visit