4th Grade Hand-Sewn California Mission Project

If you grew up in California, or you've raised a 4th grader in this state, you're likely all too familiar with the California 4th Grade Mission Project.  I remember making my own (a few decades ago) and it's been fun these last few weeks to watch my oldest work tirelessly on hers.

My daughter chose Mission San Francisco de Asis, commonly referred to as Mission Dolores.

She initially started her project using a cardboard box and had it cut to size, but decided shortly after to sew her mission using felt and plastic canvas instead (the plastic canvas is used to reinforce the walls/bottom/roof).  The idea came from the fabric beach cottage we made years ago (photos are early on in my flickr stream).

She traced the box's sides onto freezer paper and cut out the freezer paper templates, which I then ironed onto felt.  She would then cut the felt and plastic canvas pieces accordingly.  She did all the sewing herself.   I helped with threading needles, tying or untangling knots, ironing templates, pinning where necessary (to make sewing easier), and giving a bit of advice when asked (what stitches to use where - blanket/running/whipstitch, etc.). 

I advised her to make all her smaller templates for windows, doors, altars, etc., out of freezer paper first - just to test the size and placement ahead of time.  This helped her plan the layout of each section.  When satisfied, she would hand the freezer paper templates to me, I'd iron them onto felt, and she'd cut them out and start sewing.  It worked out really well.

She whipstitched felt around various sized crayons to create the columns on the front of the Mission.  Crayons were especially easy to cut to size!  The rest of the front (steps, etc.) are blocks of styrofoam covered with felt.

That is the cemetery to the side.  Those are the names of some people actually buried there.

The left wall drops down and also shows a cemetery scene, shown above.  It looks especially gloomy with some dark clouds overhead :-).

The roof flips open and actually comes off completely to reveal the inside of the Mission.

The roof of Mission Dolores depicts original Ohlone Indian designs - which she chose to represent using this Halloween chevron fabric. (Link here shows a great photo of the actual ceiling).

She chose to show two of the altars - the front and right side.

And that right there is the grave of (one of) my 6th and her 7th Great Grandfather.  His is one of four tombs buried inside the Mission itself.  

This past Friday, we had a walk-through of all the 4th grade mission projects at her school (8 classrooms full of projects!).  I was amazed and inspired by all of the creativity.  Some of my favorite projects were actually the mosaics - I loved each and every one!  There was one mosaic made of jelly belly's and it looked like a true masterpiece.  The sky was a mix of blues and purples, the Mission was creams, light yellows, etc.  It was so beautiful.  The kids all worked so hard and were so proud of their projects.  Rightfully so.

One down...two more to go ;-).


  1. WOW! An A+ for sure:) A most excellent job!

  2. That's incredible! (Also it's the only mission in CA that I've been inside.) Where I went to high school, if you took Shakespeare, you had to construct a scale model of the Globe theatre... this takes me back.
    Great post!

  3. Love it! 4th grade is Texas history for my kids-- N just some of the missions in San Antonio, but (gratefully) did not have to do a model of one.

  4. So impressive! What a beautiful job, obviously you have so much patience and love to create something so special.
    Awesome! ; )

  5. I don't know exactly what this tradition is all about, but.....what a project! And it came out beautiful! Compliments to your very very creative daughter! She has two right hands (zij heeft twee rechter handen)!
    Greetings, Annasoer ;)

  6. This is such a cool project, Jill, and your daughter did an outstanding job on her Mission! What a wonderful combination of art and history...making it come alive. And how neat that this is also personal history, with your ancestor buried at this very Mission.

    A terrific, inspiring post!


  7. Wow, what an amazing project. I grew up in California, I remember my mission project, lots of glue and card board. Now that I am back it's my daughter's turn, seeing as she's in fourth grade this year. Thank you for the inspiration to up the fabulousness and bring fabric (my favorite medium) into it.
    Thank You for such an amazing post!