Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gee's Bend - quilting pioneers

I have quilts on the brain.  After sewing clothing all summer now that it's fall I want to make quilt after quilt after quilt.  I have one "in progress" quilt - for me! - that may be a work in progress for a long time coming since I'm allowing it to grow somewhat organically.  And I have my first idea for this year's Project Linus donations already.  As I result, I have spent far too much time visiting fabric stores and staring at quilts on the Internet. 

Earlier this week I had to drop off some paperwork at my new place of employment (I start on Monday!  So excited!).  As I was sitting in the lobby staring into space I noticed two Gee's Bend quilts on the wall:
Housetop Blocks, 2007, by Allie Pettway, Gee's Bend

Gee's Bend quilt
Housetops w/ 19 patch, 2007, by Allie Pettway, Gee's Bend
Quilting, in it's modern form, has roots in the late 18th century/early 19th century, when woman used clothing and fabric scraps to keep their families warm.  Though the "sandwich" structure - fabric/batting/fabric - is still used today, we now choose our fabrics in part for beauty while our quilting ancestors used what they had out of necessity.

In Gee's Bend, an African-American hamlet of Alabama, women have been creating modernist quilts with a nod to quilting's history since the 60s.  Gee's Bend is located in an isolated area that was further shut off from neighboring communities in 1962 when the ferry service was shut down in an attempt to block residents from registering to vote.  (The ferry re-opened in 2006).  Originally formed as a off-shoot of the Civil Rights Movement, The Freedom Quilting Bee was formed to give women viable source of income in an area and time where there weren't many options.  Isolation coupled with poverty meant that the Gee's Bend quilters had to use re-purposed materials to create modernist quilts.  If you look closely at the quilts, you can identify shirting fabric, re-purposed flannel and men's trouser fabric, yet browse any quilting blogs for longer than a few minutes and you will find these very same designs in bold, modern quilting fabrics.  I adore this juxtaposition and love the history of these quilts.  And I feel very lucky to be employed by a company that owns a couple (or more?) of these historical quilts.  They are incredibly inspiring and may just make a quilt using re-purposed fabrics of my own this fall . . .

The Quilts of Gee's Bend, NPR
The Future of Gee's Bend, Deep South Magazine
Freedom Quilting Bee

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