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Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

Take a class, for goodness sake

March 11th, 2021

No excuse not to refresh your skills, broaden your outlook, and fall in love again with fabric when there are so many great instructors teaching on Zoom these days.

No better teacher (in my book) for sharing how to advance and enhance your skills in improvisational piecing and composing than Pat Pauly. I had the pleasure of taking her new class, “Make It/Break It” this week. My fabulous classmates, all FOPs (fans of Pat) were attending live and online from Germany, Canada, and different parts of the USA. Because in this day and age, we can do that.

Pat puts her mark on her work by exclusively using her own printed fabrics, almost all with large-scale designs.

And we FOPs followed suit, either using fabrics we printed in Pat’s Glorious Prints classes, or with half-yard purchases of Pat’s creations.

Here’s my design wall, at the end of Day Two. I’m getting somewhere…

The husband passed by and remarked, “It’s certainly different than most of your work.” That’s a good thing; I am quite pleased to be setting off in a different direction. It’s like hitting a refresh button. Boosting confidence in your design skills and aesthetic sensibility. Honing your critical eye while you give yourself permission to play.

Take a class, or a workshop. Try a new direction…something different, or beyond your comfort level. Just google a subject that intrigues you and see what opportunities present themselves.

2 Responses to “Take a class, for goodness sake”

  1. Pat Pauly says:

    Oh, gosh, glad you shared this class to “the world” but not just how we make such dynamic works. Whit 10 people working away, each was so strong and different. Your work is still yours, no question. But I know we all did a lot of reconfiguring how to use improv better. And yes — get out and take a class! I do. Thanks for your kind thoughts.

  2. Marnie Mascioli says:

    Loved the class and your Blog Eleanor. Can’t wait for our reunion.

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Trees with Human Traits

March 2nd, 2021
“Aurora,” by Libby Cerullo

Standing upright, their branches like outstretched arms, certain trees certainly take on the spirit of a human being. Quilt artist Libby Cerullo has a really lovely series of trees in diaphanous frocks. Here’s how Libby works–and I trust she will correct me if I’ve got this wrong: A photo she has taken gets transferred to fabric, using a service like Spoonflower. A following stage involves dressing her subject with appliques of chiffon or organdy with a translucence that allows the photo to show through. Makes me want to dance until dawn!

On a recent trip to Denmark this winter, my family and I got many chances to commune with the trees. Covid lockdown prevented us from going to museums or shops, so hikes to various woods and sculpture parks proved to be the cure for our cabin fever. In the cold, damp environs, many of the trees wore skirts of moss. Such wearable art gave the man-made art some stiff competition:

Makes me want to sew and wear a green velvet midi.

Other trees were gnarled and burly, like an old village elder:

Many a tree sported facial features:

These trees resemble a couple who have grown apart…or two people with different outlooks on life:

Human relationships, as expressed with trees, brings us back to two more exquisite works by Libby Cerullo:

“Mother/Daughter,” by Libby Cerullo
“The Lovers,” by Libby Cerullo

How have you engaged with trees as if they were people?

One Response to “Trees with Human Traits”

  1. Thanks for including my work in your exploration and connections with the trees in Denmark. For me, trees are companions, and my reactions to them become self portraits. I am on to making more, but the next ones show another side. Wait and see. And there are some planned that (so far in my mind) are just play. We’ll see. Cheers to spring!! The trees will let us know when it’s time!

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Line, contrast, form

February 17th, 2021

No, not quilts this time. But I just have to share the sublime work of Cheryl Levin which I caught on the last day of her exhibition at Da Vinci Art Alliance on Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the description on DVAA’s website: “Forms for a Continued Life is an exhibition of ink drawings by Cheryl Levin shown alongside sculptures and fragments by her late husband, metal worker Robert Phillips (1962-2012), and their son, Electrical Engineer and Generative Artist Aidan Phillips. This visual art exhibition contrasts weight and form to investigate impermanence, collective grief, and emergence of life from loss.”

Heavy, right? I met Cheryl a few years ago, when she worked alongside her friend DaVid Harari to paint our balconies. DaVid is a highly skilled housepainter; the tall, dark, and handsome Israeli has a flip side: musician and music lover. Cheryl is a warm and gracious, humble, petite and pretty woman who sometimes joins DaVid for some house-painting jobs, and offers custom faux finishes and murals to clients. And, she’s a highly conceptual contemporary artist. I’m dazzled by her backstory of partnering with her late husband in creating big works of public art and the ways she evokes very quiet, private emotions in the work of this exhibit. Learn more about her many dimensions — including her very colorful paintings — on her website: http://www.cheryllevin.org

I’m posting to share my own reaction to this exhibit of tightly curated works. And since this is my quilting blog, I’ll take the privilege of citing the elements I savored which echo the ones that get me jazzed about art quilts:

1–Fine lines (like dense, hand-driven machine quilting)

2–Contrast of delicacy and strength (In contemporary quilts, I’m talking about pinstripe stitching paired with monumental shapes and dimensions.) Oooh, those fine lines hand-inked with a pen in rhythmic repetition vs. the weight of the substantial, seemingly solid forms they fill. And, of course, the absolutely huge contrast of her meditative drawing with the often craggy and robust steel sculptures of her late husband.

3–How being at the exhibit in real life allowed me to interact with it: Moving through the spaces. Seeing how the light hit at different angles. Avoiding the inevitable glare from the glass but occasionally tickled by how spots of track-light reflections occupied the margins. Unknowingly casting my shadow on it, and thereby becoming a part of the art. (OK, that was presumptuous and vain of me).

How fortunate I am to be a member of Da Vinci Art Alliance, which allows me to visit during Covid closures elsewhere — albeit by appointment, masked, with only the executive director of DVAA and my husband present. Kudos to all the people and places that allow us to interact with art and artists in the only ways possible during the pandemic. I’m surfing the net, Zooming with other artists, watching lots of different PowerPoint presentations.

But aren’t we all starving to visit museums and galleries IRL–in real life, to be alongside teachers and students in art classes, workshops, and live crit sessions? There’s just nothing like seeing art — and art quilts — up close and personal. There’s nothing as great as getting together in person, unmasked, with the talented makers, critics, and art lovers to share our stories and perspectives as well as what we make.

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Art in Aarhus

February 2nd, 2021

Because we have a son and daughter-in-law and baby grandson living in Aarhus, Denmark has graciously allowed us to visit — with all due process of Covid testing, natch. Denmark is on lockdown, with only grocery stores and pharmacies open. Even so, walks in icy, mostly gray January and February weather yield lots of cool sights re: architecture, design, and art. And plenty of inspiration for quilting, I daresay.

The above mural continues, as shown below. It occupies the wall of a driveway leading to a parking lot.

Believe it or not, the “gallery” below takes up two facing walls of another passageway to a parking lot:

Murals aren’t nearly as numerous as in hometown Philly — dubbed the City of Murals with a Mural Arts Program that has made it the largest public arts program in the United States. Still, art finds a home in Aarhus on many a vertical space, no matter how odd-shaped, narrow or wide it may be:

The next photo depicts tagging more than street art, and comes with a message of protest:

Look down to find pure pattern:

Then, look up: specifically, at the ceiling under the library. I hear that Penn Station in NYC adopted this upside down design idea for a ceiling as well. Has anyone seen it?

In the windows of what I take to be an art school, I gather the instructors have presented some pretty cool assignments.

Finally, at least for now, our son’s latest art project in his spare time: 3-d printed photos. The thinnest areas allow the most light to penetrate, the thickest are almost opaque. Result, a really detailed image. Of the grandson, of course. Which we’ll hang in a window when we get home.

3 Responses to “Art in Aarhus”

  1. Sammie says:

    Remarkable! Eager to see how this translates into fabric.

  2. Thanks for sharing these examples of street art. I love the scale and radical nature of art on buildings. And sometimes, just very well planned and executed artwork. Youthful stuff; not going to see (too many) old codgers on those lifts! I took my stepmom on a tour of the Philly murals years back. So great to be near a town that embraces it, many more towns are doing the same now. (but I ramble)
    Have a great day, L

  3. Thank you for sharing Eleanor. Always nice to see a city through someone else’s eyes!

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The 12 Days of Quiltmas

December 17th, 2020

Yes, friends, The 12 Days of Christmas meets The 12 Days of Quiltmas

You undoubtedly know the old English Christmas carol that enumerates each day by the gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas.

In London, in 1909, Frederic Austin popularized the arrangement of the song we know today.

In Philadelphia, in December of 2020, Eleanor Levie fiddled with the lyrics for the Village Quilters of Catonsville, MD to perform on Zoom. (Appreciate your sharing — non-commercial use only–with credits for me and Frederic.)

Click Download in the gray oval above to enjoy — and share with your quilting buddies!

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Mother’s Day Art Quilts

May 8th, 2020

If anything good has come out of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s been that 1–forced to stay home means more time for quilting, and 2– a good kind of pressure to share online. Just in time for Mother’s Day weekend, let me present some of my favorite, funniest quilts about Mothers…

First, Psycho Moms Bake a Cake, by Katherine L. McKearn and Diane Muse. A real oven mitt and apron give you an idea of scale. The fire in the untended oven reveals the truth: that getting together and schmoozing with a chum is more important than successful productivity.

Psycho Moms Bake a Cake, by Katherine L. McKearn and Diane Muse

This quilt by Amy Stewart Winsor reads, If you want to see me, come over anytime. If you want to see my house, Make an Appointment! (Cuz God knows I’ve got lots and lots of cleaning to do.)

Make An Appointment, by Amy Stewart Winsor

Mrs. Noah, by Pamela Allen honors the woman who obviously did all the cooking and cleaning aboard the ark…yet in a literary injustice of biblical proportions, she doesn’t even get her name mentioned.

Mrs. Noah, by Pamela Allen

Most quilters could easily identify their own mothers — and more horrifyingly, themselves — within Jean Ray Laury’s famous quilt, Listen to Your Mother. Each of its Nine-Patch silk screened panels contains a cartoon bubble with the text of a common maternal maxim, such as, “Change that underwear! You might get hit by a car!” or, “Put that down! You don’t know where it’s been!” Who doesn’t hear her own mother’s voice?

Listen to Your Mother, by Jean Ray Laury

Inspired by Jean’s iconic piece, I borrowed the image of Whistler’s Mother, and directed her criticisms to quilters, to wit: “It takes how much guilt ‘til you finish that quilt?”  “What about the label?” “The baby is due any day! How are you going to get that thing done in time?”  “Pull up that bobbin thread! You’ve got little nests all over the backing.” “Better needle-turn;  you don’t know what fusible web will do after 50 years.” “What?! You didn’t preshrink before lumping that new fabric in with the others?” “Get those new rotary blades while your coupon is still good.” “If you’re not going to quilt, then you should be cleaning your house.” “You’re going to use that for the binding?” “Move that needle position back to center! You’re going to break that needle!” “Check your tension! Loosen up! Go faster! Keep to an even pace! Relax! No pressure!”

All rules I frequently break!

For more inspiration and entertainment around Motherhood, see some charming story-quilts by Bodil Gardner in my blog post here. And my Tribute to Moms from way back in 2012 here.

Happy Mother’s Day, to everyone who is a mother, grandmother (me, finally!) godmother, aunt, mentor, teacher, nurse, nanny, child-care provider, or girlfriend…of any gender. That is to say, anyone who mothers others! We need you!

9 Responses to “Mother’s Day Art Quilts”

  1. Heidi says:

    What a fun post. One of your best. A gift to quilters and non-quilters alike. Happy Mother’s Day to you! Do you have a grandmother name yet?

    • Eleanor says:

      I’m Gramma…as opposed to Nanna and Grammy on my daughter-in-law’s side! Though as the only Jewish influence, I would answer to Bubbe!

  2. Thank you for the short but delightful tour of distinctive mother-related quilts!

  3. Maggie Winfield says:

    Thanks Eleanor for a fun blog posting. Made me smile and made my day. Maggie

  4. This was a very enjoyable post to read! Perfect time for a laugh as well. Happy Mothers Day to you and all your readers!

    • When I wrote Happy Mother’s Day to anyone who mothers others — in a good way, not the intrusive way! — you come to mind! And here you are, continuing to encourage, support, and praise. You rock, girlfriend!

  5. Linda Vola says:

    You don’t have to be a quilter to enjoy these quilts, or your wonderful sense of being a Mother, which must come with a sense of humor! Thanks for sharing Bubbe!

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Sew an Easy Face Mask with Me

April 5th, 2020

Click here to download the actual-size pattern.

*Two different fabrics so it’s reversible. For each wearing, keep track of which side faces out, and remove the face mask without touching the exterior, or putting it back on with the outside against your face. Wash mask with hot water and soap, then wash hands.

*Easy-sew, no ironing the way I work, and holds up to lots of washes.

*Features elastic to go around the head, over and under the ears.

*Not up to CDC PPE (personal protective equipment) standards!

You will need:

Two different medium-weight, tightly woven, preshrunk cotton fabrics, 8” x 15” (or a fat eighth)

Matching thread

5” length of medium-gauge wire (or pipe cleaner, twist ties), needle-nose pliers

20” narrow or cord elastic; if you are limited, use 7” elastic and 14” bias tape OR two elastic pony tail elastic bands OR in a pinch, rubber bands. You can also cut a 1″-wide x 30″ long strip from just above the hem of a T-shirt—edges will curl in, and it is stretchy to give you a good fit.

What to do:

  1. Pattern: Print pattern, making sure 1-inch legend is scaled properly.
  2. Cut out pattern: Large or small.
  3. Fold and stack fabrics: Fold each crosswise in half, layer one on top of the other, with folds aligned (a).
  4. Cut out face mask front and back: Position pattern on folded fabrics, with long dash lines along fold. Pin paper pattern and scissors-cut (b).
  5. Sew darts: Unfold fabric face masks (c). Turn to wrong side. Fold each in half as before, but with right sides facing with dart edges aligned. Stitch a ¼” seam, backstitching or lockstitching at the fold. Repeat for all darts on both pieces. Speed tip: Make an assembly line. Stitch all the darts in a chain, then cut the thread in between darts (d).
  6. Press darts: Position darts with outside edge closest to you. Finger-press so dart falls to the left (e).
  7. Align pieces and stitch edges: Place front and back together with right sides facing, making sure top edges with the more sweeping curve are aligned. Also align dart seams; seam allowances of darts should face in opposite directions, allowing you to “nest” them. Insert a pin at the seam (f). If you choose, pin edges in a few more places. Leave a 3” opening on one side of bottom dart for turning. Stitch all around, ¼” from edges, removing pins as you come to them (g and h).
  8. Clip corners at the ends of the side flaps (i).
  9.  Turn face mask to right side through the opening (j). Use a pin to pull out the corners of the flaps. Iron or finger-press.
  10. Insert nose wire: Use needle-nose pliers to create a tight little loop at each end of wire (k). Insert through opening (l). Center along top seam, and pin to secure in place. Fold edges of opening to the inside, and pin closed.
  11. Topstitch or zigzag-stitch all around the face mask, closing the opening. Take care! Work very slowly around wire loops so you don’t break your needle. Keep the wire pressed tight to seam at top center. If you are zigzagging, use a wide, open stitch, sew over the nose wire, avoiding the loops, and over the face mask edges all around. The beauty of zigzag-stitching is that it flattens the edges, so you avoid ironing (m).
  12. To add elastic bands: fold flaps 1 ½” toward the center, with elastic ends tucked inside. Topstitch or zigzag-stitch edges of flap to face mask, lockstitching or backstitching at beginning and end. (n) Safety-pin the elastic ends together. (o) Note: If you don’t have a lot of elastic, make a continuous band of 7” elastic stitched between ends of a 14” length of bias tape. Or encase pony-tail elastic bands or even rubber bands to fit around ears.
  13. For wearing: shape the nose wire to fit your nose. Slip elastic emerging at top of folded flaps over your ears and around crown of head. Slip elastic emerging from bottom of folded flaps around neck. Tighten elastic as needed, overlap ends, and stitch elastic ends together. Hide overlapped ends inside a folded flap. ###

Wear your mask and stay safe out there!

2 Responses to “Sew an Easy Face Mask with Me”

  1. kathy powell says:

    Thank you so much for your help! kathy

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Bodil Gardner’s Ladies

August 25th, 2019

“I’m just a simple housewife,” she asserts, when I ask Bodil Gardner, if she calls herself a fabric artist or an art quilter. In fact, she is an international star of the quilt world beloved for her disarming, quirky masterpieces. “I just make my pictures, she says.” Her modesty is typically Danish.

As she explains on the website her husband, Peter put together for her, “I have not had any artistic training and was brought up to be the practical one in a creative family, which needed to get the washing-up done. Are my pictures art or not? The question is frequently asked. For me, it doesn’t matter what they are. I make them for my own sake, hoping all the same that you will also like them.”

I have invited myself over, finding myself in her vicinity when the husband and I are visiting our son and his wife in Aarhus, Denmark. My daughter-in-law, Bev, volunteers to drive me over to the suburb of the city, where Bodil and Peter live. “Drive up the road through the garden,” are her emailed instructions, which turn out to be quite the understatement.

As you can tell, Bodil and her husband live up to their surname, Gardner. Like Peter, the garden style is English, transplanted and intermixed with Danish determination. The warmer seasons are mainly for gardening; winter is when Bodil devotes herself to working on “her pictures.” Playing with colors and patterns are the common source of joy.

Bodil doesn’t have a “studio,” and when we visited, we sat at a dining table where she served us homemade apple crumble, with danishes and chocolates and tea. We brought a bottle of red wine, and a packet of various fabric prints. An old, portable sewing machine under its cover sits on the shelf behind the table, and there’s a jumble of fabric scraps on a trunk beside Peter’s computer table. Otherwise, no sign of a work space. Past a large archway, you’re in the sitting room, where appliquéd pillows and patchwork command the lower planes, and books and photos fill the walls from floor to ceiling.

After dessert and far-ranging discussion, Bodil displays some of her pieces the same way she composes them: on the floor.

Lots and lots of delightfully funky portraits. Like Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon, Bodil points out, each one has a unique personality. Fabulous hairstyles, flower accents, funky colors. Friends bring her fabric, and she uses what she has. No fusible web for her. She chooses from her assortment of scraps, cuts each piece freehand, assembles elements as she goes on larger background pieces, pins pieces to secure them in place temporarily. Only when she is satisfied with the entire composition does she moves to the sewing machine to satin-stitch over all the raw edges. Quilting and finishing details are minimal. Larger works elaborate on women at home, of generations, taking tea, counting sheep, gentle pets, and children, either confident or shy.

It’s easy to recognize a Bodil Gardner art quilt, isn’t it? And to feel the warmth and friendliness, and yes, a bit of zaniness embodied in each and every one. Far from quilt shops, shows, classes, she retains her own signature style, and doesn’t travel far, so relatively few students can learn from her way of working and her genius for face values, so to speak. Pamela Allen of Canada got her to join the Studio Art Quilt Association (SAQA), and Peter Gardner encourages his wife to respond to more of their calls for entry. Her work has been showcased in many top-drawer, juried exhibitions, within and outside of Denmark. But in many cases, a juror chooses a cohesive collection of sophisticated abstract and painterly tour-de-forces; Bodil’s pictorials stick out as being too different, and so don’t make the cut. That was the case when Bodil entered the piece below for the SAQA show for which the theme was Tranquility. Her reclining woman with cat, book, and teacup didn’t make it into the exhibit….yet SAQA saw fit to feature the piece on the cover of their magazine.

There’s not a whit of pretentiousness in these portraits of wise, nurturing women. I can easily imagine each one a sort of self-portrait…the alter ego of their maker. There are probably hundreds of them, a treasure trove of joyful folk art, with many more to come from from Bodil Gardner.

9 Responses to “Bodil Gardner’s Ladies”

  1. Kathy Pitts says:

    Thank you for sharing these remarkable pictures. How grand that you got to visit Bodil, lovely pictures, it’s like she lives in a fairy tail land.

  2. Sammie says:

    These are remarkable. Thanks so sharing!

  3. Margo says:

    These are wonderful.

  4. Carole says:

    What a talent! Love these ladies!!!!

  5. Thanks for this post, Eleanor. I really enjoyed it and will pass it on.

  6. Margaret Cooter says:

    Thanks so much for your comment on my “blast from the past” blog post – I’m so glad it took me to this post about Bodil Gardner. Quite apart from her quilts, that garden is so wonderful!

    Re Denmark, do you know of the Danish artist Anna Ancher (1859-1935) who was part of the Skagen Group? I read about her recently and have put the Anchers Hus (her husband was also an artist) on my list of place to visit … one day ….

    bw, margaret

  7. Karen Sullivan says:

    Hi Elly, How lucky for you to have visited Bodil Gardner. Her creations are so amazing!
    I’m still trying to find my own style, but it takes time. It was so fun hosting you in the Denver area a few years ago. If you ever visit again, be sure to call so you can see my new home and fabulous studio. Be well.

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Favorites from Gees Bend

August 14th, 2019

As admired in the exhibit, Souls Grown Deep, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Housetop/Fractured Medallion Variation, Delia Bennett, 1955

Gee’s Bend is a small, poor, black community in Alabama. It’s only 44 miles west of Selma — where in 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr. led protest marches to Montgomery, Alabama. But surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River, Gees Bend is isolated, a far cry from modern-day consumerism and attitudes. Most of the 700+ folks who live there are descended from slaves. After the departure of Joseph Gee and the dispersal of his slaves, the Pettway family ran the plantation. In order to stay on this land, many of them had to take on the Pettway surname. Sharecroppers and tenant farmers kept workers in poverty. Planting and picking cotton, peas, and peanuts, and tending hogs and cows provided long, hard days of bare subsistence farming. But poor by any standards, generations of Gees Bend women have created a rich legacy of quilt masterpieces. And these have garnered attention and accolades from the art world.

Now, when I worked on needlework and craft magazines in NYC in the 1980s, I studied pictures of American quilts made by European descendants, in order to write directions for recreating them. Typically, these quilts featured hundreds of patches — like the quilt at the top of this post, but each patch absolutely identical. Precise and ultra-fine handiwork, heirloom patterns, fabrics from England and France. Such fancy-work could only be made by women living in the lap of luxury, with plenty of time and money. Even the country quilts were mostly made using fabrics off the bolt rather than scraps and repurposed clothing.

So I admit, it took me a while to appreciate the wonky, asymmetrical compositions with edges out-of-square of the Gees Bend quilts. These women received only a few weeks of education a year — squeezed in after planting and again after the harvest. Quiltmaking, too, was fit in only after work and chores were seen to. They used what they had: denim and wool work clothing too far gone to mend, feedsack bags, and corduroy remnants when Sears was paying for pillow-making. Especially admirable in an age when reusing, recycling, and repurposing has gained moral importance. Yet these quilts, meant for the beds where sleeping family members needed warmth, now grace the same museum walls that show minimalist abstract art by Josef Albers, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, and Sean Scully.

Roman Stripes (I’d call it Rail Fence; the maker calls it Crazy Quilt), Loretta Pettway, 1970

From an interview with Loretta Pettway: “I didn’t like to sew. Didn’t want to do it. I had a handicapped brother and I had to struggle. I had a lot of work to do. Feed hogs, work in the field, take care of my handicapped brother. Had to go to the field. Had to walk about fifty miles in the field every day. Get home too tired to do no sewing. My grandmama, Prissy Pettway, told me, ‘You better make quilts. You going to need them.’ I said, ‘I ain’t going to need no quilts.’ But when I got me a house, a raggly old house, then I needed them to keep warm. We only had heat in the living room, and when you go out of that room you need cover. I had to get up about four, five o’clock, and get coal. Make a fire. Them quilts done keep you warm.”

String-Pieced Blocks and Bars, Sue Willie Seltzer, using cotton, denim, and flannel, around 1965
Blocks and Strips Work-Clothes Quilt, Andrea Williams, 1991
This detail shows the seamed together fabric from well-worn blue jeans, a pale color everywhere except where a pocket once kept the dark denim from fading.

Like all the women in the show–and for that matter, in Gees Bend, Irene Williams has lots of quiltmaking relatives and neighbors. However this particular woman seems to have stitched to her own aesthetic. Since the age of 17, quiltmaking has been for her a solitary activity, a relief from working the cotton fields and raising six children. She explains, “When I got married, I started making quilts. I just put stuff together.” Among that “stuff” were basketball jerseys she pieced into a quilt top. Art critics delight in the whimsical way this work recalls maps with housing plots and numbers — or reflects a sly sense of humor.

Strips, Irene Williams, 1960s

Irene Williams also created the piece below. Here, too, she used what she had, which obviously included a good deal of polyester knit. Using such a fabric means you get lots of stretching — distorted seams, puffy texture, and wavy edges. But you also get intense color, an iconoclastic shape, and a bold, attention-grabbing graphic that made this the image used to represent the entire Souls Grown Deep exhibit for the Philadelphia Museum of Art promotional materials.

Blocks and Strips, Irene Williams, 2003

I recently led a group on an informal tour through the exhibit, sharing what I knew and listening to their reactions. Each person chose her favorite, and this one was selected by several. My charges also asked how fame had affected their lives. This article explains it best. Many of the quilts originally sold for $75 when the maker thought that was far too much. Or, later, for hundreds of dollars when the value was listed in the thousands. Some quiltmakers cite the satisfactions of recognition and newly installed indoor plumbing, the occasional air conditioner or heater. The Souls Grown Deep Foundation engaged the Artists’ Rights Society to secure for each maker her due: intellectual property rights; copyright fees that are owed for use of the images, remuneration for the work of deceased artists finding it’s way to the rightful next-of-kin. Some of the Gees Benders are grateful, others have engaged in long, drawn out lawsuits in which money is consumed by the plaintiff’s lawyers.

Quilts have put Gees Bend on the map. But it is still a small, poor community.

4 Responses to “Favorites from Gees Bend”

  1. Deanne says:

    Everyday that we view art and talk about what we feel and see is and enriching experience. Since I am not a quilter it is enlightening to hear those who quilt focus on the stitching as well as the materials and the color.

    • It is also enlightening to get your perspectives. You may not be a quilter, Deanne, but you are a social justice warrior and fabric lover with a long history of involvement with textile production and cultural variations showcased in cloth!

  2. Thanks for posting this, and showing us your favorites. I don’t think I’d seen the basketball jersey one. The Gee’s Bend quilts are brilliant and fascinating, and have had a profound influence in quilting, especially the Modern Quilt movement. They’ve influenced my work directly, and I am so grateful to these fearless artists (and to you for talking about them.)

  3. jane Friedman says:

    Thank you for the wonderful tour you gave our “second look” group. You’re inspirational.

    Jane Friedman

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Mali Medallion

August 12th, 2019

It’s my favorite thing: art quilts as advocacy.

So I was quick to answer the call from Quilt for Change and The Advocacy Project. Under the initiative, known as Sister Artists, survivors of gender-based violence created embroidered blocks depicting scenes of their life in Mali. Quilters — mostly American — were invited to choose a block and turn it into an art quilt. The plan is for the quilts to be posted online, exhibited, and auctioned. And then all proceeds will go to support the artists in Mali and Sini Sanuman (“Healthy Tomorrow”), a Malian advocacy program for women’s rights.

That sounded totally worthwhile to me. I especially liked the roundhouses on the block shown at the upper left, and below. For reasons of safety and policy, the young woman, i.e., Sister Artist, may not be named. Nevertheless, my priority was to honor her and her work.

I immediately envisioned the lovely, pictorial embroidery surrounded by geometric designs used in Mali villages. A good friend, artist Janet Goldner, visits Mali quite frequently, and shared pictures she recently took of a house painting festival that takes place once a year in Siby, a village about 30 miles from Bamako (the capital and largest city in the country). Women draw from the local clay colors for their color palette. Wow, right?! So with the embroidery at the heart of my art, I set out to build around it, log-cabin-style.

The embroidery background was not square, so I went with an assymetrical medallion setting, sketched out on graph paper. Now, I invariably depart from my original plan fairly quickly, but this time — surprise, surprise — I basically stuck to it. Oh, I didn’t keep to a specific scale, nor did I measure, cut, and sew precise patchwork or applique circles as dictated by the sketch. Instead, queen of the quick and dirty that I am, I used freehand-cut fused triangles and patterned fabric from my stash of African, batik, and hand dyed and printed fabrics. There was quite a bit of seat-of-the-pants fudging-it as I added rounds of borders. Conveniently, African beads camouflage spots where angles and corners lack sharp points.

I hope my piece does justice to the embroidered block. I hope it calls attention to the need for human rights, justice, and equality in Mali, as they are needed and deserved everywhere in the world. My efforts here are a small show of support, relatively insignificant. If I could, I would pin a medal on each courageous woman anywhere who struggles and strives and supports her sisters. For now, my Mali Medallion will have to do.

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