Grandma was a quilter and lived in near-poverty conditions in rural Louisiana. Yet, she had a quality of life that most folks today do not understand. She was happy, knowing all her needs were fulfilled. She laughed out loud and sang a lot.
I watched Grandma gather her scraps and sew them together all summer on her Singer treadle machine humming a tune as she treadled along. In the fall, she would order yards of flannel from the Sear's catalog and when it arrived, would make backs for her accumulation of quilt tops. The quilting now began. If the quilt top was made with wool or denim or corduroy (as it usually was), then she would tie the quilt, then bind it. I grew up aspiring to be a quilter just like Grandma. A grandmother filled with pride at being able to provide warmth for her family for the upcoming winter months.
Yesterday, while with quilters who sit and sew together, I silently formed a few potty mouth words.
Linda (last name omitted to protect the condescending) marched in proclaiming how ugly the quilts of Gee's Bend are. And Dorothy seconded the motion. I saw fire! How dare seasoned quilters mock or condescend the quilts of others.
|Quilts of Gee's Bend|
When Linda repeated how ugly those quilts are, I could no longer sit quietly. You see, in my head, she was declaring that my quilts and the quilts my grandmother made, to be ugly. My style is (by choice) improvisational as to design and improvisational as to use of fabric. Grandma didn't have much choice in her style....it was determined by the size feed sacks and remnants she had on hand.
Dorothy kept quiet on the subject, but Linda just couldn't stop. She declared that to mix fabric or to cut up old blue jeans and other clothing for fabric was just plain ugly. By this time, I was near tears since she was describing my quilts to a T.
|Quilts of Gee's Bend|
I reminded Linda that since we are in the same quilt guild, we were bound to adhere to The Guild's purpose, copied directly from the North Louisiana Quilt Guild bylaws:
" ARTICLE II - PURPOSE AND POWERS
Section 1 - Purpose:
The purpose of this organization shall be to promote good fellowship among persons interested
in the art of quilting; to preserve its tradition, culture and history; to further promote the knowledge and understanding of all aspects of quilting; and to enjoy and appreciate the work of others."
I'm no longer in tears, but am incensed at Linda's insensitivity. Perhaps if she educated herself about these quilt makers.....that even though impoverished and cut off from mainstream America, the quilters of Gee's Bend were able to keep joy and hope and faith and warmth in their lives through their quilt making. As blemished as the quilts were with old blue jeans and polyester, cut with scissors, laid out on a bed or floor as the design wall, pieced by hand, layered with worn out quilts or unusable fabric pieces, quilted or tied with thread on hand, they were a work to be cherished.
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit some of the quilters of Gee's Bend last year when a group of 30 of us traveled through Louisiana, Mississippi and into Alabama to Boykin, Alabama, to The Bend in the river. We, of course traveled the road.....not having to ferry over to the island.
We were greeted with warmth and left with a spiritual melody still resounding in our ears.
Linda, here is one link to their story of how the government tried to stop the civil rights movement, how the community was further isolated when funds were cut, eliminating the ferry across the river, thus eliminating their privilege of voting or getting back and forth to work. They shopped in nothing more than the property owner's country store. Yet, while doing without the freedom or money to motor out to the local quilt shop or JoAnn's or Hobby Lobby for pure cotton quilter's cotton, they found a way to enjoy an aspect of quilting with the commodity on hand: SCRAPS. Our scraps, Linda.
I ask you....if you didn't have a rotary cutter, 24" acrylic ruler, cutting mat, electric iron or computerized sewing machine....if you didn't have quilter's cotton batting or yard after yard of lush designer cotton fabric, would you be the quilter you are today? Would you have the fortitude to enjoy the art of quilting just using left-overs and hand-me-downs? Or would you be more apt to languish in your self-pity. The quilters of Gee's Bend take great pride in their work and workmanship. While the style might not please you, it is a style much admired by others and has a quality worth preserving.
|Quilts of Gee's Bend|
Linda, if you had only said that the improvisational style quilt is not a style you enjoy making, or that you did not understand the artistic style, I could have and would have appreciated your point of view. But you took it a step too far when you referred to the ugliness of the Quilts of Gee's Bend.
I left the group yesterday.....I came home and I cried. I cried not because I am ashamed of my quilts, but because of the bigoted attitude and lack of understanding of the art form that surrounds some quilt makers in my quilting community.
Peace be with you