Gee’s Bend Quilts

Gees_Bend_hand_tied

Helen McCloud, born 1938, blocks and strips tied with yarn in a grid pattern. Ca. 1965, cotton, nylon knit, polyester knit, 77 x 82 inches. This is one side of a two-sided quilt.

While I made steady progress on my Hawthorn muslin last week, I didn’t realize how crazy busy I’d be in my summer-school class until I read over the syllabus last weekend. It’s only a 5-week course, so I expected to take an exam each week or something to that extent, but I quickly realized there’s going to be a lot more to it than that.

So needless to say, I didn’t make any more progress on my dress this week. :( But… during my study breaks at the library, I was able to log-in some time to Pinterest, where I could at least be inspired by what everyone else is sewing this summer. :)

I’m mostly drawn to the quilts on Pinterest, only because the bright colors and compositions really jump out at me on this type of format. I particularly love looking at modern quilts, and any search online for this style of quilting will lead you to the Quilts of Gee’s Bend.

Gees_Bend_black_and_pink

Polly Bennett, born 1922. Two-sided quilt: Blocks, 1942, cotton (dress and pants fabric, curtain material, mattress ticking), 81 x 83 inches.

For those of you who don’t know the history behind this group, Gee’s Bend is a town in southwest Alabama. The predominantly African-American community is secluded from the rest of the state as it is situated on a bend right off the Alabama river. Ferry service was cut off to Camden, Alabama (it’s closest large town) from the 1960’s to 2006. It’s for this reason that Gee’s Bend has a very strong culture, and, like many other southern towns, has a deep history of quilt-making.

Gees_Bend_pink_and_coral

Mary Lee Bendolph, born 1935. “Housetop” variation, 1998; quilted by her daughter, Essie bendolph Pettway, in 2001, cotton, corduroy, twill, assorted polyesters, 72 x 76 inches. In the early 1990s, a former Bend resident living in Bridgeport, Connecticut, sent some garments — double-knit leisure suits — to Gee’s Bend. Mary Lee Bendolph remembers: “My sister-in-law’s daughter sent those clothes down here and told me to give them away, but didn’t nobody want them. That knit stuff, clothes from way back yonder, don’t nobody wear no more, and the pants was all bell- bottom. We ain’t that out-of-style down here. I was going to take them to the Salvation Army but didn’t have no way to get there, so I just made quilts out of them.”

What’s interesting is that the women of Gee’s Bend have a distinct style that differs from traditional quilts from the past century throughout the South, and the rest of America, for that matter. The Quilts of Gee’s Bend have a very modern, simplistic aesthetic, and even their quilts that date back to the 19th century have a strong liking to what we call modern art today. The improvisational style and bold colors make the Quilts of Gee’s Bend stand out against the muted colors and precise piecing of more traditional quilts. I can’t get enough of their unpretentious beauty. :)ย These are exactly the kind of quilts I strive to make – simple and beautiful, but completely lived in and loved.

Gees_Bend_print_patchwork

Annie Bendolph, 1900-1981, “One Patch,” ca. 1960, cotton, 78 x 70 inches

Anyway, if you’re curious to learn more about this group, I encourage you to listen to this NPR podcast from 2003. In the meantime, I’ll be hard at work in front of my computer, and counting down the days until August!!

Gees_Bend_half_square_triangle

Annie Bendolph, 1900-1981. “Thousand Pyramids” variation, ca. 1930, cotton sacking and chambray, 83 x 70 inches.

(All images are from the Quilts of Gee’s Bend Catalog, found here. The historical info came from this NPR podcast, ‘The Quilts of Gee’s Bend’).

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