Barbara Fitzsimmons

An enthusiastic supporter of AP's quilt program, Barbara (Bobbi) is a retired educator who has taught at all levels of education from preschool through graduate school. She has a BA in history from Old Dominion University and an MSED and Ed.D. from the University of Southern California. As a curriculum specialist, she developed training programs for USC in Germany, for the US Navy in Newfoundland, Canada, and a graduate program for the Overseas Federation of Teachers for teachers in the DoD Dependents Schools on three continents. In the US, she has been an associate professor at Lasell College (Newton, MA) and Morris College (Sumter, SC). She was also Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment for the North Kingstown, RI school district. As an educational consultant, she worked with a team to improve the national education programs of Pakistan, Egypt, and the UAE. Now retired, Bobbi is an outside evaluator of dissertations and education papers for Pakistan universities and education journals. She is also a docent and children’s program educator at the Cameron Museum of Art in Wilmington, NC. She is an award-winning quilter who has conducted workshops and made presentations about quilting to schools, libraries, educational conferences, and guilds. Since 2010, she has made quilts for the Advocacy Project from Kosovo, Uganda, Palestine, Nepal(3), and Syria

Positive Vibes and KFC

09 Jul

We’ve just completed Day Two of embroidery training in Harare, Zimbabwe.  I’ve seldom had a group of such enthusiastic students.  When I arrived on site this morning, they were already hard at work practicing the stitches I had shown them the day before.  It was a pleasure to point out to them that their stitches were improving with each new attempt.  They were attentive, asked questions and asked for clarification as needed.  Additionally, they were all so supportive of one another. And the laughter. . .  How do I begin to describe that?  Joyous! Infectious! Heart-felt!

My plan (and, as a lifelong teacher, I did have one!) was to have them embroider African birds, or flowers, or butterflies.  They were having none of that.  They politely looked at the books I had lugged from home, set them aside and began checking out images on their cell phones.  So, what designs did they come up with?  We have several African village scenes. There are women cooking over an open fire or winnowing grain (with babies on their backs). There are blocks with African instruments – drums and rattles made of gourds.  And one young woman walked in with an axe she wanted to show on her block.  This was not just any axe but a beautiful one with a sleek and glossy ebony handle.  The blade looked to be hand-hewn and clearly not assembled by any machine.  I’m not sure why it was so appealing to me, but I would really love to bring it home.  That’s not likely to happen.

I’ve been able to share my “tricks of the trade” about how to thread needles and tie knots.  I’ve given them several mantras to commit to memory and repeat as they are working: “Loose stitches are better than tight ones!”  “Keep your thread on the same side of the stitch!”  “Small stitches are usually better!” and, of course, the most important, “High quality is essential!”  They are quoting these back to me with a twinkle in their eye.

We are focusing on the positive, about what they can do, not on what they can’t.  When it came time to draw designs for their blocks after a day and a half of learning and practicing stitches, there was almost a chorus of, “I can’t draw!” I was able to convince most of them that they really could.  Those few who didn’t believe me, enlisted the aid of one of the girls who graciously helped them out.  She was definitely pleased that her skill was recognized.  I admit it is not always easy for me to tell a girl she has to take out some stitching because it just doesn’t meet the standard (High Quality!) but they take it well, cheerfully starting again.

I have to say, I was the one who usually called for a break during the day.  They never complained. They never stopped working.  In fact, when lunch was finally ready today, it took me a while to get them to stop, even though we were serving their favorite – Chicken n’ Chips from KFC.  When they settled down to eat, that’s when the room got really quiet.  As they finished, the laughter rose once again, they gathered their things, and left for home with happy calls of “See you tomorrow,” ringing in the air.


Posted By Barbara Fitzsimmons

Posted Jul 9th, 2022


  • Dawa Sherpa

    July 9, 2022


    Bobbi, you are an amazing teacher! Getting to spend a week with you and learning from your life stories and experiences have been a privilege for me. Our week of learning from you has gone way too quickly but the skills you have taught the girls and me will always be remembered. You are right! all these girls were enjoying learning so much that they couldn’t even stop to eat their favorite food, “Kentucky! ” hahaha. This also is a testimony to how comfortable and easy you made all of the girls feel while learning a new skill. Thank you so much Bobbi! I am so inspired by you 🙂

  • Iain Guest

    July 17, 2022


    An axe?!! I think that’s a first for embroidery training, is it not? This blog vindicates your decision to go to Africa. This is the third time these girls in Zimbabwe have worked on embroidery since 2019, which shows their interest and commitment. Now, you’ve given them the chance to take it to the next level. More important, it has obviously been a joyous experience for you and for them! We’re hungry for anything you can share about the PROCESS of your training and your description of how they selected their designs is priceless! Keep it coming…… No detail is too trivial!

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