Going to Brattleboro Vermont to see the Gee’s Bend Quilters

Mary Ann Pettway making a small wall hanging when I visited her. We did most of our work together in her kitchen.
Mary Ann Pettway making a small wall hanging when I visited her. We did most of our work together in her kitchen.

I Just got an email from Kirsitin Nichols, an artist, who reads my blog. ( check out her New England Farm House video her house is her canvas and it is amazing!)  She told me that some of the quilters from Gee’s Bend are going to be in Brattleboro tonight.  There’s a play about Gee’s Bend that’s going to be performed over the weekend and an exhibit of Gee’s Bend Quilts.

I went to Gee’s Bend, Alabama two years ago and stayed with quilter Mary Ann Pettway.  She taught me how she makes her quilts and showed me around Gee’s Bend introducing me to many of the women who live there and continue to make  quilts.  Mary Ann and I got along really well, as well and I learned a lot.

I started making my own quilts after seeing the Gee’s  Bend Quilts in a book about 10 years ago.   I hadn’t made art  in a long time  and seeing these quilts got me working again.

It doesn’t sound like Mary Ann is in Brattleboro, but I want to go and meet the other quilters and see their work.  So Jon and I are rearranging our schedules and we’re doing everything we can to be at the Catherine Dianich Gallery tonight to meet the quilters of Gee’s Bend.

Needless to say, I’m very excited.

A Bit of Gee’s Bend, Alabama in New York

Gee's Bend quilt made by Queenie Pettway
Gee’s Bend quilt made by Queenie Pettway in Mary Ann Pettway’s guest room where I slept.

I’ve never seen an exhibit of Gee’s Bend quilts, but I did sleep under one.  When I went to stay with Quilter, Mary Ann Pettway,  last spring in Gee’s Bend Alabama, on the bed in the guest room was a quilt made by Mary Ann’s Aunt Queenie. Better than an exhibit, right, I got to touch it and cover myself with it.

But a bit of Gee’s Bend has made its way to New York.  And tomorrow, Jon and I are going to experience  it.  Thanks to an email from Miriam, I found out about the Gee’s Bend Quilt and Photo Exhibit at Lehman College in the Bronx.

It’s the Gee’s Bend quilts that inspired  me  to make art again after not doing my work for so long.  I saw the catalogue from the exhibit at the Whitney Museum, but had never seen a Gee’s Bend Quilt in person until I went to Alabama last year.

I’m really excited about seeing this exhibit tomorrow.  Ready to soak it all up and be inspired all over again. We’ll be staying over night in NYC and will be back on Sunday.  I plan on taking lots of pictures and will let you know all about it when we get back.


Gee’s Bend Alabama, Here I Come

Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway
Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway

Well, I did it.  I just booked a flight to Montgomery Alabama.  From there I rent a car and drive to the Gee’s Bend Ferry, then onto Mary Ann Pettway’s  house where I’ll be staying for 4 days in May.

For those of you who don’t know, the Gee’s Bend Quilts are the thing that got me making art again.  I quit for a while after getting my MFA in sculpture.  I was confused about what I wanted to do  and disillusioned with the art world I knew.  But a few years later, I saw a book with the Gee’s Bend Quilts and the women who made them.  A small community,  in an isolated part of Alabama, the women of Gee’s Bend have been making quilts for generations. Their unique style was made famous when  art collector William Arnett saw them and put together an exhibit that traveled around the country.  Seeing  just the photos of the quilts  (I have still never seen them in person) inspired me to make my own quilts.  And that’s how I began doing what I do.

Last week,  Bridgett (who bought my Zombie Hens wall hanging)  sent me an email that there was a Gee’s Bend exhibit in Bridgeport Connecticut.  Jon and I were driving home from New York City when I got another email from Bridgett saying that it was worth seeing, but there were only four quilts in the exhibit.   I had been thinking about making a trip down to Gee’s Bend for a while, and as we talked about it, Jon got on his phone and found out that there was a quilting workshop in Gee’s Bend in April. Without a moment’s hesitation (that’s how Jon is, if it was me I’d still be thinking about it) he called the number and spoke to Mary Ann Pettway, one of the quilters and teachers.
It turns out that Mary Ann gives private lessons and I could stay at her house (there are no motels in Gee’s Bend) while I was taking lessons.  Now this is even better than I imagined because it puts me right in the middle of things.  Because I’m not just interested in learning about quilting I’m also interested in the woman who do the quilting and all the stories that go along with it.

I’ve never done anything like this before and it feels like an important thing for me to do.  Like a pilgrimage to the people and place that inspired me to begin creating again.  When I think of spending four days with someone I don’t know, I get a little jittery.  But then I think of it as a journey to find a piece of myself.  Because I know I share something with Mary Ann Pettway and the other quilters of Gee’s Bend.  I can see it in their quilts.

Click here to see more about Gee’s Bend.

I Finished Designing My Checkerboard Quilt


I finished designing my Checkerboard Quilt today.  Next week I’ll work on the backing and put it together.

I had no idea what would happen after I sewed together the checkerboard at the center of this quilt.  I never know what will come next when I’m working on a quilt.

I can remember looking at abstract paintings and wondering how the artist made her decisions about where to put a mark or what color to use.

And then, when I first saw the Gee’s Bend Quilts, I wondered the same thing.  Why that color, that pattern in that place?

I was inspired and influenced by the Gee’s Bend Quilts, by their beauty, but equally by the philosophy that so many of the women who made them talked about.  The idea that no one can tell the person making the quilt what it should look like.  Only the quilter knows that.

It was just what I needed, something I could do that would teach me to trust myself.

It was when I began making quilts that I started trusting my own intuition.  I had to, it was the only thing I had to guide me.

When I  make a quilt I’m not thinking of color theory or looking to traditional patterns. I’m trusting whatever it is inside of me that knows when two pieces of fabric work together or not. And it’s often only looking at a quilt after I’ve finished it, that I understand where it came from or what it’s about.

As soon as I sew the first two pieces of fabric together, if I’m listening, the quilt begins to tell me what it wants. We keep doing that till it’s done.

When I first started making quilts I laid them all out on my floor then sewed them together.  It was only when I took lessons from  Mary Ann Pettway in Gee’s Bend that she taught me to sew the pieces as I went.

This was an even greater lesson in trusting myself.  Sure I could always take two pieces of fabric apart after sewing them together. But each time I do sew another piece of fabric onto a quilt that I’m making, I’m making a commitment to my decision, no matter how it turns out.

And each time I do this, it reinforces my belief in myself.  In my ability to create something beautiful,  meaningful and useful.  And to trust my intuition and decisions, not only with my art, but in my life too.

A detail from Checkerboard
Another detail

My New Janome Sewing Machine

The drawing I made after getting my sewing machine while Jon was food shopping.  (I spelled Janome wrong in the drawing.  Thank goodness for Grammarly, I’m not the best speller)

I watched the video that Jan had sent me about Linda J Mendelson, an artist who has been making wearable art since the 1970s.  At the end of the video, Mendelson is working on a new piece using a free-motion sewing machine.

“I learned this on YouTube” she said.  I loved her openness and willingness to learn something new.

When I saw her sewing machine and how sturdy it and the platform she was working on were, I thought that I should have sometime similar.

This was unusual thinking for me and I noticed it right away.   I was equating myself to this successful artist.  In the past, I wouldn’t have done this.  In the past, I would not have thought myself worthy of having what Linda Mendleson had.

I got my Brother sewing machine in 2010, two years after I started my blog and business.  I don’t remember how much it cost.

At the time it was a remarkable upgrade from the 20-year-old Singer that I had been using. It was the first time I heard about free-motion sewing.  When  I realized that I could draw with the sewing machine, I knew my sewing life was about to change for the better.

Four years later, I launched a Kickstarter to raise money to buy another sewing machine.  This time a Viking. It cost around $2000.  I loved sewing free motion on my Brother, but it wasn’t as good for straight sewing.

The Viking had some really nice features, like the automatic tension control, auto threader, cutter and bobbin feed.  It also had a lot of features, like hundreds of stitches, that I’d never use.

Lately, my Viking has had its problems.

The self-threader no longer works I’ve stopped using the automatic cutter because when I do the mechanism often randomly engages, and will cut the thread when I’m still sewing.

And there are some things I never liked about the machine, including that it stops sewing when the bobbin thread gets low leaving a bunch of tread on the bobbin that can’t be used without a lot of trouble.

And when I saw the setup that Mendelson has, I realized how rickety my Brother sewing machine had become over the years.

The extension is so wobbly it no longer fits correctly onto the machine.  The switch to allow it t be used for straight sewing broke long ago. And other parts of the machine are loose and ill-fitting.

I can still use both sewing machines.  It’s not as if they no longer work.  They just don’t work as well as they used to.

And honestly, since I went to Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and saw the sewing machine that Mary Ann Pettway had,  (if I remember correctly it was a mechanical Juki) I’ve wanted something similar.

So a month ago I ordered an extension for my Viking Sewing machine so I could use it for free-motion sewing.  The extensions are custom-made.  They’re big and sturdy.  Mine cost $125.  At the same time, I started thinking about getting a mechanical sewing machine as opposed to a computerized one for straight sewing.

I wanted something simple and straightforward.  I knew I’d miss the automatic tension,I’ve never been good at adjusting the tension when sewing and often work with different types of fabric at one time, but I was willing to give it up.

I feel like after years of sewing, I’ll be able to figure it out.  It’s actually not that complicated.

It took a month for the extension for my Viking to be made, and I got a call this week that it was in.  So on Saturday, Jon and I took a drive to Glens Falls to pick it up.

On the way, we stopped at Patti’s Sewing Machines and More.

Over a year ago I  went into the shop to buy some needles and the husband and wife who own the shop were very helpful.  Our conversation about needles led to sewing machines and when I began thinking about getting a new machine they came to mind.

I remembered that Patti and her husband sold Janome machines so I did some research online.

But I didn’t want to buy a sewing machine online. I wanted to see, touch, and sew on it before buying it.  And I wanted to talk to someone who I trusted to make sure I was getting the right machine.

When I bought both my Brother and Viking sewing machines, I didn’t really know what I was doing.  I didn’t know what I needed and didn’t need in a machine.

This time I knew exactly what I wanted.

Once again Patti and her husband were extremely helpful.  Jon sat patiently and quietly as we talked machines.  He only spoke up when he saw that I was interested in the Janome and offered to buy it for me.

I decided on the Janome Sewist 725S.  It was $400 and they had one in stock.

The shop where I ordered the extension for my Viking was closed for the Easter Holiday, so I didn’t get to pick that up.  I’ll get it next week and am eager to try out free-motion sewing on my Viking.  I have a really good feeling about it.

I  can do free-motion sewing on my new Janome, but I’d have to buy an extension.  And  I  like having two separate machines for the two types of sewing.  I sew so much it will cut down on the wear and tear on my machines.

Usually, when I get something new, like a sewing machine I’m nervous about opening it up and using it.

Right now, my Janome Sewist is in my studio, still in its box.  But not because I’m nervous about it.  I was busy this weekend and I don’t want to rush it.  I want to savor opening it up and getting to know it.

Getting this sewing machine is different for me.  It’s not that I need it because my sewing machine doesn’t work anymore. Or because I feel like I’ve worked hard and deserve it.

I got it because I wanted it.  Because I believe it will help me do my work better.  And because I could.

Time For A New Iron

My iron

We got back from our trip to Albany with only a few hours to work before going to Bellydancing.  So I plugged in my iron and turned on my sewing machine and found the next pieces of fabric to add to Cindy’s quilt.

But my iron was cold.  I fiddled with the dial and settings and plugged it onto three different outlets, hoping.  But still, it didn’t warm up.

I used to go through irons quickly, but I learned to use them dry, and spritz the fabric with water,  because our water leaves heavy deposits that clog the irons.    I’ve had this iron for a few years so I can’t really complain that it quit on me.

And it’s really pretty good timing becaue I’m going to Bennington for  Bellydancing tonight so I’ll be able to get another on up.

But I still really wanted to work on Cindy’s quilt.

So I did it the way I used to make quilts before meeting MaryAnn Pettaway in Gees Bend Alabama.  She taught me to sew each piece of fabric then move onto the next, trusting my instincts and intuition.

But I can’t sew without my iron, so I laid the pieces out without sewing them together, the way I used to.

I’ll sew them together tomorrow and hopefull finish designing the rest of the quilt then too.

Cindy’s quilt without the bottom half sewn together.


Seven Pillows For Linda

Earth and Sky

I finished Linda’s pillows this week and now I’m packing them up and mailing them off to her. They will be Christmas Gifts for her family.

I posted a photo of all of them together a few days ago, but I wanted to photograph them separately, so they could each be seen as individual pieces, which is what they are.

Each one has a name that came to me after finishing it. I created these pillows, intuitively,  as I do my quilts and potholders.  They are not planned, I sew one piece of fabric to the next not knowing what I will do next.

When I first started making my quilts, potholders and pillows, I used to lay them out on my desk or floor, then sew them together after the design was complete.  When I visited Mary Ann Pettway in Gees Bend, Alabama (the place where my quilting inspiration came from) she taught me to trust myself and the process, by not designing the quilt first.

It’s a lesson that has worked its way into my life.

By sewing the pieces together without knowing the outcome, I’m making a committment to trust my own intuition.  And, as Mary Ann said,  if it looks really bad, I can always take the stitches out and try something else.

There’s room for mistakes in this process.  But I rip out few stitches these days.  Because each time I create intuitively I learn to trust myself more, in my work and in my life.

Woodland Tulip
Gentle Shift
Midnight Moth
Wild Berries
Spring Wood
Fire, Feathers, Flowers

Bedlam Farm Open House Online Gallery

Welcome to the First Bedlam Farm Open House Gallery.  As you scroll through you’ll see what’s still available from the Open House in June.  Everything is for sale so if you’re interested in anything you see just email me here or at [email protected].   I take checks or can email you a paypal invoice.  Enjoy looking around and thanks for coming.

Freedom Potholders
Freedom Potholders $15 each (only 4 left)

I have a bunch of Freedom Potholders for sale.  They are inspired by my recent trip to Gees Bend Alabama and the time I spent with quilter MaryAnn Pettway.  At Gee’s Bend I learned a new way of making quilts and potholders and you can see it here in my Freedom Potholders.

My Freedom Potholders are $15 each + $5 shipping for 1-2 or $10 shipping for 3 or more.

Black Hankie Scarf
Black Hankie Scarf  $45 SOLD

I have two Vintage Hankie Scarves for sale.  They are $45 + $7 shipping each.  One is in the original style and the other is the Waterfall style.

Waterfall Scarf
Waterfall Scarf  $45
Flo on the Rocker
“Flo on the Rocker” $150. SOLD

I have four of Jon’s signed  photos for sale. They are all 11×14 images with an archival mat to fit into a 16×20″ frame.  The photo’s were printed specially by photographer George Forss on digital paper.  They are $150 each + $10 shipping.

Timeless Fanny
“Timeless Fanny” $150
"Red at Work"  $150
“Red at Work” $150  SOLD
"Farm in Jackson NY"  $150
“Farm in Jackson NY” $150

I have four Vintage Hankie Potholders for sale.  They are made from torn and worn Vintage Hankies and are $20 + $5 shipping each.

Vintage Hankie Potholders $20 each
Vintage Hankie Potholders $20 each (3 left)

And two potholders made from an old pillow sham given to me by a friend.  They are $15 each + $5 shipping for one or both.

Pillow Sham Potholders
Pillow Sham Potholders

I also have my wall hanging “Blinded by Belief” for sale.  This piece is about how we hold onto our beliefs even if they no longer serve us.  How we can often not see the truth in front of us because of what we’ve been taught by our families, our peers and society or just by what we have come to believe  ourselves  and can’t seem to let go even if they are damaging or no longer relevant to us or others.   Blinded By Belief $150 + $10 shipping.

Blinded by Belief
Blinded by Belief

Well, that’s the end of the Gallery tour.  Don’t forget, if you see something you like you can email me at [email protected].  Thanks for coming and hope you’ve enjoyed your visit.

My Creative Bible

My Gee's Bend Book
My Gee’s Bend Book

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.


Full Moon Fiber Art