Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers

In Alabama, USA, the women from Gee’s Bend have been produced hundreds of beautiful quilts, dating back to the 1920’s. Gee’s Bend is a small and also remote, black community located on the side of the Alabama river. The couple of hundred inhabitants there are descendants of slaves, who were forced to work on cotton plantations. These amazing creations represent a crucial part of the rich, African-American art culture. The craft of quilt making was a proud tradition that was passed on down from generation to generation with the aim of producing textiles for the home and family. What struck me about these stunning textile pieces was the fact that they are pure improvisation, made up from any material that was on offer; old clothes, recycled work clothing, feed sacks and scraps of fabric. ‘My Way’ practices have been used to produce these masterpieces, purely guided by self-guidance, thus, resulting in unique and non-traditional patterns. Being unorthodox quickly became the style of their practices, some have said that they rank alongside the greatest abstract art.

One style that was popular within the community was the ‘housetop’ design and was considered to be the most popular. The pattern is dominated in concentric squares that form together to show the squares echoing the right-angles that make up the patterns boarder. The quilt starts off as a square of cloth that is then covered in strips of fabric that then build up the patterns shape. Within the African-American culture their traditional ‘call and response’ is a ritual technique that is identified through music and religious worship, reflecting a push, pull effect that is a main source of inspiration for the Gee’s Bend community. Seen in Figure     .

Recycling became a huge part of the community’s ethos. Scrap material and worn clothing were up-cycled and formed into textile masterpieces. Patches of worn denim from work clothes were also incorporated into the pieces that reflected the harsh working environment at that time. Due to the scarcity of cloth during the time of the ‘great depression’ being resourceful and making do with what was available was an important factor in everyday life as there was little to go around. See figure    . This form of craft resembles Boro and Kantha stitching that I have previously looked at that is based on the same concept of using what is there to re-invent or repair garments. However, these craft forms have been used in times of necessity, I want to find out why people today are unlikely to use these forms of up-cycling today.

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