Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Gee's Bend Quilters

The whole group
I spent the last two days in the company of a very interesting group of women. The Gee's Bend Quilt workshop was part of this year's Maiwa Symposium. I first heard of the quilters from Gee's Bend Alabama at the SAORI workshop I took earlier this year. Gee's Bend is an isolated community of a few hundred people in rural Alabama. Even today, it is at least a 45 minute drive to the nearest town - to the closest grocery store, school, doctor's office. There is only one road in and out. The community has had a difficult history. The original inhabitants had been slaves who were eventually able to buy their own property. At one point in the 1930's money lenders took everything of  value from the community, including all their tools, food stores and livestock. The residents have had to be very resourceful, and the woman have been using old worn out clothing to make quilts to keep their families warm for a long time. At some point the quilts of Gee's Bend were "discovered" by the art world. Compared to painting by Matisse or Klee, they have been exhibited in museums in the US and around the world. .
Rita Mae Pettway with me and my Gee's Bend style quilt

The quilts are quite different from the very precise orderly "crafty" quilts that follow rigid rules with straight lines and exact seam allowances. They are full of life and personality and reflect the lives of the people who made them.

Two women from Gee's Bend came to Vancouver for the workshop, Rita Mae Pettway (known as Rabbit) and her daughter Louisiana Bendolph. You can read their stories and see some of their quilts here.

I spent the two days hand stitching a quilt that uses a crazy assortment of fabrics. The powder pink is a corduroy fabric that started out as a skirt I made for myself in the 1980's. I cut it up and made a pair of pants (trousers) for my daughter when she was a baby. There's a lovely green herringbone wool that was left over from a blazer that I hand tailored when I was studying fashion design. A piece of Saskatchewan's tartan also made it's way into the piece. The woman sitting beside me had brought it along. I didn't even realize it was her's until long after I had used it. She was very gracious about it all.

I asked Louisiana and Rita Mae to sign my quilt. The woman who sat around me also added their names. I think I will embroider the names and add one of Rita Mae's quotes "Sometimes I do, but all the time I don't." along the stripes.

1 comment:

  1. I love the bright leaves on the ground, adding to this colourful group! This is the type of quilting I grew up around, though my mother didn't quilt, the woman who lived with us and took care of us all did. Your tale brings back some very warm memories...