Our quilt challenge for this year was set last 4 July by Brian (Bobbie’s husband). We had to create something quite interesting (QI) related to the history of quilting (HQ). Oh, and we decided that Brian had to make something too — in a medium of his choice (e.g. wood, photograph), any size, but pink had to be used in it somewhere.
Here’s the challenge:
I had some ideas right from the beginning, initially focusing on Amish quilts. Later in the weekend I remembered the Gee’s Bend quilts and decided on that, as I love their improvisational nature and bright colours and their ‘modern quilt’ aesthetic. By that time F had given me her colour (any blue) and once I decided on creating something in the Gee’s Bend spirit, I decided to add at least red, and passed that colour on to B.
When I got home, I did a little research to see some pictures of the Gee’s Bend quilts, read a bit about their history, and how they came out of necessity using whatever fabric was to hand to make a warm bed covering.
I decided to start by raiding my box of rags!!! After eliminating any stretch knits (t-shirts, undervests, etc.), I was left with a small pile of old almost threadbare jeans, old work khakis, old work shorts, old tea towels, and even an old pair of cotton boxers! Some rags had stains from years/decades ago, but I didn’t try to get these out. While I had lots of blues, creams, whites, and khakis, I didn’t have those bright spots of colour I needed (except for the red plaid boxers!), so I went to my scrap stash and boxes of decades-old fabrics, where I found some bright yellow, plain red lawn, and a heavy (curtain?) fabric with red and blue chevrons. I added these to the mix.
The next step was deciding what to do. After checking some of the images of the Gee’s Bend quilts, I decided to do three strips of crazy piecing, using the faded denim for the borders and sashing strips. To keep it simple, I trimmed down the crazy strip piecing to 6.5 inches across (the width of my main ruler). I also slashed some pieces before I added them to the strips and inserted yellow or red bits to cross more than one colour strip.
I also slashed the border and sashing pieces and added yellow and red fabrics there too. I used the leftovers for the binding. For the back, I made another crazy strip of scraps, surrounded by the rest of the red lawn fabric, and then a dark grey gabardine I’ve had forever. By the time I’d finished, I had almost no rag scraps left!
Stitching was interesting — all those different fabric types and weights and thicknesses made for some interesting times on the sewing machine. The walking foot was my friend! As I wanted to keep with the ‘make do’ theme, I had deliberately left some seams in the denim and checked shorts fabric, but the sewing machine dealt with those very thick bits without a hitch.
I quilted this quilt with simple vertical lines approximately 1/2 inch apart. Again, in keeping with the Gee’s Bend aesthetic, I didn’t want to be too precise with the quilting. I used a heavy weight variegated red cotton thread (12 wt, Wonderfil Tutti Frutti, colour FT12).
Oh, and I had it all finished — including a label — by 26 July 2014!
This quilt has quite a bit of ‘quilt history’ associated with it: Gee’s Bend of course, crazy patchwork, making do with any sort of fabric scraps (from the Great Depression), improvisational piecing, even a ‘modern quilt’ look.
I’ve called it ‘Crazy Ragbag’.
Some YouTube videos about the women of Gee’s Bend and their quilts:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGLUUBISHqY#t=79 (trailer for the Gee’s Bend chapter on ‘Why Quilts Matter?’)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6kcRkapFKk (Joe Cunningham’s doco – 15 mins)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGWtbVmToLk (3.42 mins; news clip with examples and brief history)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16lOdYmLSi0 (Alabama Arts 2007; 4.33 mins; quite a few examples, bit of history)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUO7GGoH5hc (from minute 8 to about minute 12 are the examples)
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqhueIb9TnA (short 5-min doco – history and examples)