Gee’s Bend Quilts
This past year or so has been a little bit of a journey of sorts- through exploring Gee’s Bend Quilts.
During 2018 in the Salt Lake Modern quilt group, I designed a Gee’s Bend Inspired quilt along.
The whole idea was to allow everyone the freedom of sewing blocks, with a little bit of structure and consistency. This consistency of sizes allows you to put the blocks together in different combinations, but overall- they all worked together.
Each month a new ‘theme’ of block was given. Including log cabin, flying geese, half square triangles, courthouse steps, checkerboard, plus signs…etc. They were different blocks that were found in a more traditional sampler quilt, with a focus on those type of blocks found in Gee’s Bend quilts.
At the end, you were given a layout… but most of us chose to do something different with our blocks and lay them out how we wanted.
The sizes of the blocks were all 12″, 6″, 3″ related, so they could be put together in different orders, but still turn out ok. If that makes any sense.
There were no true instructions for the blocks- only the theme and then the sizes and numbers of blocks you were to make for that month. There were a few images given to help with inspiration and ideas, but really- it was up to you to come up with how you were going to construct them and put them together.
My Gee’s Bend inspired quilt:
Don’t mind the basting stitches! I am still working on the hand quilting. Another smaller circle inside the clam shell is coming.
After seeing some one else’s quilt and how they added a few spaces of larger piecing, I decided that I needed that as well. All the blocks together were a bit much and a few places of rest were needed.
Of course those spaces couldn’t necessarily be added without a few extra bits disrupting the row.
The backing is flannel….this way it’s snuggly and warm. I use it while watching t.v. It’s one of my all time favorite quilts I have ever made. (close behind the Sampler of 2018).
Here are some closeups of the block sections:
Here are a few others who have finished theirs as well- and the one that got me thinking about adding some bigger spaces of rest.
While I was putting together the quilt pattern idea last year, I of course did a little bit of research on Gee’s Bend and the ladies that make the quilts. I came upon a site mentioning a retreat with Mary Ann and China in Mississippi…. and then went on with my business.
After going back to the retreat idea a couple of times, I finally signed up and was able to participate and sew with them over the past week.
Let me tell you it is one my all time highlights. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was so renewed in friendship, fun, spirit, inspiration and connection with others.
While packing, I thought about what I wanted to work on and what fabric I wanted to work with. The retreat doesn’t provide any kind of patterns or direction. You simply sew what you want, how you want and have them to help when you need. So relaxed. It really took me a couple of hours the first day to get the hang of it….and then I was off and running.
I decided to bring with me my collection of wool suiting samples. This shoe box sized collection was picked up at a quilt group meeting at least 10 years ago and after I tried sewing some together shortly after getting them, they had been set aside and never used again. This would be the perfect time to give them some attention and see what I can come up with.
Along with the wool suiting, I brought 4 quilt blocks from my collection of blocks that I had picked up at a yard sale. 3 were log cabins and matched the 4th was a random block and looks like it used shirts in some of the pieces.
I really didn’t take very much and relied on the pile and bins on the shared table for a lot of the quilts I worked on while there.
The share table:
Every morning there were new pieces in the share bins and it was a delight to dig and toss and boy oh boy, it seemed like the air fluffed it all up and made the piles huge at some points!
1st day quilt
I worked with the wool suiting. I took the first large piece that I had put together a long time ago and cut that smaller– then like China told me too, I sewed around it. I added 2 yellow strips and 2 corduroy strips around the 4 sides.
Then, I decided that I didn’t really want to go around and around, so I started cutting up the brick sized wool and started making log cabins with a few random pieces from the bins included.
After completing most of the blocks, I laid it out and decided to try to add the log cabin blocks I brought with me. Sure enough they fit right in…and to help them out a little bit, I added red to the edge of one log cabin so it could them be included and help the eye move around the quilt a little better. Giving them a connection.
Then the whole quilt was bordered in a black corduroy and finally a final border of the wool suiting bricks. Even the green you see is wool suiting!
I’m so excited about how it turned out and how it really built itself. I’m thinking of hand quilting it…but haven’t fully made up my mind yet.
2nd day quilt
While working on my wool suiting quilt the first day I was watching another gal put together a quilt on the wall behind her sewing machine….it was stretched log cabins:
I really, really liked it and thought that today I would work on something similar. Initially I was going to try to incorporate the 4th quilt block I brought, but then decided to just use strips and fabrics that were in the bins.
I ended up using lighter toned fabrics with a few bold colors of blues. I had made the blocks around 16 x 19 inches or so…but when I laid them out it was decided by a few others that they needed to be bigger. So, the center row was made bigger and then top and bottom rows were added to match- with larger space pieces included. There is some fun blue corduroy as well. Love it!
Also- quick note about this one. The bottom left block was especially long and I really didn’t like it, so I cut it up and then used the leftover for the center block. That’s why it’s going the opposite direction. 🙂
3rd day quilt
During day 2 there were some that were working on some smaller pieced blocks and I really liked those… and after making a fool of myself in front of China, I had found myself with a China’s Challenge using a blue and red and flower fabric quilt block.
After having China show me how she pieces and cuts and pieces her quilts, I set off to do my own. She of course stopped by often to give me help if needed, and to give me a tiny triangle to use in the quilt as well. Here is what I ended up making. It’s a mini- around the size of 16 x 13 including the white borders.
After I completed the inside- I decided to take a hint from Mary Ann who borders her smaller quilts with larger white borders. So I did it. Before though, there is one corner that was totally white and would get lost in the white border. Mary Ann mentioned when I was chatting with her that she adds a little triangle or color in the corner to help it not disappear. So, I added the red triangle. Looking at it now, I wish it was a little smaller- but I’m happy.
I have since then layered it with batting and backing and started hand quilting it. China occasionally quilts an X, so I am adding a few of those along with some straight line quilting and changing of directions in some areas.
After finishing this quilt, I decided to work on that last quilt block I brought with me.
I wandered around for a bit in the room, looking at what others were working on- so much inspiration and ideas on the walls and tables! I flipped through a Gee’s Bend book someone had and found the quilt that just adds borders around and around.
So, that’s what I did.
You could almost say I sewed in a circle the whole time because all the quilts I made were some way or another a log cabin. 😉 besides the mini.
Some of the strips used in this quilt were actually already sewn together and pressed! They are the strips in 3’s and I think there are a couple that I took off the third strip, so it left the two strips. But, they worked out really well. I also tossed in some mega bright yellow and a couple spots of red to tie the center block in and add a bit of surprise.
I know this style isn’t for everyone and I found myself struggling the first day to get started! Having a blank canvas and a pile of fabric with no clear direction isn’t the easiest thing!
Initially I was thinking it would be, but it’s not!
I also found that the larger I got on this last quilt, the more wavy or wonky it got. I had to be careful and watch it and did unpick a couple of seams to shift it correctly so it didn’t get super out of control.
I’m not sure how I will be finishing these quilts. Possibly by hand…and where they will go in the house, I don’t know that either. I really like to use and love my quilts, so they possibly will be put in a ‘please snuggle’ basket for everyone to have use of.
In between the sewing
Really, I just sat and sewed. There were breaks for eating and I found myself wandering quite a bit to chat with others and see what they were working on.
There were times when they sang, and someone’s husband played the piano for an hour at night. It was delightful and so restful. The other quilters there- so many new to quilting! were a delight as well. There was great conversations, lots of laughs. Lots of laughs. Just a happy place to be. Loved my sewing neighbors and so happy I was surrounded by their talent- no matter if they didn’t think they were.
Here I am with China in the orange and Mary Ann in the teal. Truly love those gals…. they have brought a whole new world of quilting and art and inspiration and just sewing for the fun of it…until I’m happy. And, it’s right- no matter how you think or look at it, it’s right.
By they way- we sewed in the chapel. The sewing chapel.
Here’s a quick look at the surroundings:
I found a few great videos that tell a lot about the Gee’s Bend Collective and the woman who sell their quilts as well as how they grew up sewing.
Mary Ann Pettway – Quilting in Gee’s Bend, this is Alabama video:
The Master Quilter’s of Gee’s Bend Article – has great information and story about them
the Quilts of Gee’s Bend book– available at Amazon
If you are interested in going to a retreat with them- you can check out the Gee’s Bend quilt retreats.