Thursday, March 17, 2005
By Linda Jones
Overdose on quilting?
Saturday, my quilt guild The Piecemakers of Oxford went to see the exhibit Gees Bend Quilts at the Brooks Art Gallery in Memphis, Tenn. (The Saturday before Jane and I had gone to MSU in Starkville for a quilt seminar. Next Saturday, theres a quilt exhibit Id like to go see in Iuka.)
Gees Bend was totally, completely different from any other quilt exhibit Jane and I have ever gone to before. And the quilts were totally, completely different from any Id ever seen before.
As a new convert to quilting, Im spending a lot of time learning how to do it right. How to make tiny stitches and make sure all my corners and points, etc. line up correctly (with military precision almost).
The quilts from Gees Bend were not right by the way Im learning. The women who had quilted these didnt belong to a quilt guild. They didnt spend an entire evening trying to get one four-inch square perfectly square.
Gees Bend is a small community in Alabama tucked into a bend of the Alabama River its almost an island and almost completely isolated.
During the early 1930s until the 1990s, the ladies of Gees Bend quilted with whatever they had, as quickly as they could.
Many of the quilts are made with old, stained work clothes. There are no discernible patterns although a quilters eye sees log cabin patches throughout the exhibit.
The quilts were all hand done and mostly quilted in the quilters lap no frames of any kind.
The stitches arent tiny, the fabric is strange and sometimes, a sheet is all the backing the quilts have. One had material that our group of quilters couldnt even figure out what it was.
Yet here these quilts are hung in a prestigious museum and traveling all over the country for people to look at.
The colors are bright and the quilts almost sing with vitality. I could envision some of them covering the quilters families during the winter or maybe hung on the walls to keep the wind out.
At MSU, one of the researchers quoted a few lines about quilters in the early 1800s. Jane quoted it at the exhibit and gave everyone in the room goosebumps They made their quilts as fast as they could to keep their families from freezing. They made their quilts as beautiful as they could to keep their hearts from breaking.
The quilts will be on display at the Brooks Museum until May 8. Whether you quilt or not, they tell a powerful story about life in the South.
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