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Gee's Bend Quilts

left:Sue Willie Seltzer, born 1922. "Housetop" -- nine-block "Half-Logcabin" variation, ca 1955, cotton and sythetic blends, 80 x 76 inches. right: Florine Smith, born 1948, four-block strips, ca. 1975, corduroy, 68 x 81 inches.

 (All photos Tinwood Media via Auburn University)

Today, in the US, we honor the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I thought it would be a good day to take (another) look at the Gee's Bend Quilts. Some of these quilts and quilters became a part of the Civil Rights movement when, in the mid 1960s, they formed The Freedom Quilting Bee, a women's quilting collective designed to boost income by selling quilts to outsiders.

left:Martha Jane Pettway, born 1898. "Housetop"--nine-block "Half-Logcabin" variation, ca. 1945, corduroy, 72 x 72 inches.right:Plummer Pettway 1918-1993 "Roman Stripes, variation (local name: "Crazy" Quilt) cotton twill, denim, cotton/ polyester blend, synthetic knit (pants matieral), 86 x 70 inches.

Pictured are some Gee's Bend quilts, not necessarily from the Civil Rights time period. What is so amazing to me are the different types of fabric used. I think that today, we sometimes forget that you can make quilts from many different types of fabric. It may be more difficult, or cause your quilt to be wonky, but it's really all about what you want the finished project to look like. I think these quilts remind us that quilting is indeed an art and the materials really can be whatever we want them to be.

left:Ella Mae Irby, 1923-2001. "Texas Star," 1973, cotton, corduroy, cotton blend, 88 x 85 inches. Irby was the daughter of noteworthy quiltmaker Delia Bennett (who also made "Star" quilts).right:Lucy T. Pettway born 1911 "Snowball" (Quiltmaker's name) Circa 1950 Cotton, corduroy, cotton sacking material 83x85 inches

Find more information about the quilts and quilters here.

left:Annie Mae Young, born 1928. Work-clothes quilt with cneter medallion of corduroy strips, 1976. Denim, corduroy, synthetic blend, 108 x 77 inches right:Lucy T. Pettway, born 1921. "Housetop" -- single-block "Half-Logcabin" variation (quiltmaker's name: "Plow Point"), ca. 1945, cotton, 84 x 69 inches.left:Arcola Pettway, 1934-1994. "Lazy Gal" variation, 1976, corduroy, 81 x 89 inches. This variation on a "Lazy Gal," composed like an American flag, is one of the most remarkable quilts created during the Bicentennial.right: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."