I first learned about the quilters of Gee’s Bend a couple years ago, African-American women from a community in deep-South Alabama that was isolated for many years. They made quilts to keep their children and grandchildren warm and did it without rotary cutters, mats, or fancy sewing machines.
As the story goes, art collector William Arnett traveled to Alabama to track down a quilt he saw in a photograph. He knocked on doors until he found the quiltmaker who said she may have burned it with some other old quilts to keep away mosquitoes the week before! Luckily she found the quilt and offered it to him for free. He paid her a few thousand dollars for that quilt and several others. Skip ahead to today and Gee’s Bend quilts are taking modern quilting and the modern art world by storm.
Many of the quilts are made with used men’s clothing and other discarded fabric. They defy traditional quilting rules and burst with color.
My little quilt inspired by these women’s work started when I wondered what to do with the scraps from my patchwork skirt. I had a piece of ‘made fabric’ about 48” x 12”. I cut it in half and sewed the two strips together which formed the center of my quilt. It wasn’t a perfect square and that’s what made me think of the Gee’s Bend quilts. So I started adding solid and print strips around in log cabin fashion. The strips are all unequal widths and when one wasn’t long enough I added material and kept going.
I never once squared it up! That was probably the hardest part. It’s not very clear from the way my quilt top is hanging in the photos, but it’s pretty wonky and I love it that way. My son Connor called dibs on this quilt when it’s done. I was shocked that he wanted it so badly, but I think letting my quilt keep him warm at night will continue the Gee’s Bend tradition. 🙂
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