It’s a bit battered and has scraps of material stuck in the pages of the quilts that spoke to me the last time I looked at it, and it’s big and heavy, it my inspiration, my creative bible. Every time I look at it I see something new and get the itch to start a new quilt. And for the first time since I got it almost 10 years ago, I’m reading it from cover to cover.
It’s the book, Gee’s Bend The Women and Their Quilts that got me working again after years of giving up on my art. I never saw the exhibit that traveled around the county, I’ve never seen a Gee’s Bend Quilt in person. But when I saw the photos of the quilts in this book I thought, That’s what I want to do.
For years I’ve been looking at the pictures and occasionally reading the interviews with the individual quilters, but I never read the history of Gee’s Bend or the essays by the Art Historians. But now that I’m going to be spending a few days in Gee’s Bend Alabama, I want to know more about it before I go there.
So I’ve been reading this big book (I prop it up on my lap with a pillow and think it would be nice to have on my ipad with all the photos available.) and have discovered many interesting things about the place and some of the people. But mostly what I’ve been seeing, what has stood out for me, is that the tradition of Gee’s Bend quilting is based in the idea of the individual and identity. Meaning that girls are not taught to create quilts like their mother or grandmother or anyone one else. They are taught to follow their own intuition and create something unique to them. And the style of quilting that they develop becomes their signature.
The Gee’s Bend Quilting tradition is to break the rules and make it your own. One quilter said she had been helping her mother make quilts for years, then, when she was 11 years old, her mother gave her a bunch of scarps and told her to sew them together. I guess I like this story because this is how I learned to sew quilts. I got some old fabric and clothes from a thrift store and started sewing them together.
I spoke to Mary Ann Pettway last week. She’s the quilter that I’ll be taking lessons from and staying with in Gee’s Bend. When I told her what I do she asked me what I thought she could teach me. I don’t know, I said to her, that’s what I’m coming to find out.