Quilting Lessons at Gees Bend

By Linda Vice

Have you heard of the Gees Bend Quilters? Lots of people have. Many people have been to Gees Bend to see them. Even more have purchased their quilts to display as fine art. Now, for the first time, people are actually coming to Gees Bend to take quilting lessons!

DAY 1:

I was an observer today watching people I would never peg as the crafty type just sewing away on quilt squares of their own design. This class was organized by Sherry Shumaker of the Auburn School of Architecture. She pulled together a group, primarily from Atlanta, but Alabamians were not excluded. She had brought an array of quilting scraps and supplies. There were no patterns. This is where the creativity came in. The Quilters were helpful in selecting fabric and suggesting designs that would compliment certain fabrics. One of the participants even bought a dress to cut up. It was a brand new dress! It was a pretty dress! That was hard for some of the other quilters to fathom. Cutting up a new dress to make a quilt was foreign to their nature. However, by the time the design the dress cutter thought of began to take shape, they were converts. As an observer, I still had trouble watching the death of the dress. I do know, though, that this was my problem, not the designer of the quilt made from the dress.

Working with the fabrics and choosing color schemes was fun for everybody. Most of the students got really excited as they put things together. One of the participants got IN THE ZONE as she quilted. It was like she was in another world. Several of Gees Bend Quilters admitted to doing the same thing as they quilted. They said that quilting is a very relaxing pastime. I find that hard to believe as a lapsed seamstress. Sewing makes me nervous. When my children were little they said “Mama, please don’t sew. It makes you too mean.” So I quit. I took up painting pictures instead. They come together quicker. Lucy Mingo, one of the quilters said she worked on one quilt for 2 years. It was the pine cone pattern that has a lot of intricate little pieces. She said she wouldn’t do it now because her eyes are too old to see it good. The projects started here had to be pretty much completed in the 2 days of the workshop.

At the end of the first day, many of the quilt squares were done. In fact, several people who had less complicated patterns were well on their way making a lap robe. It was interesting to watch the enthusiasm of the participants as they selected their fabrics and designs. It was fun to be part of the experience. Tomorrow I am bringing my own quilt top to begin quilting.

DAY 2:

Bright and early the session began with coffee and conversation. Camaraderie was developing around the experience. Women throughout history have known this. Women who work together bond together. Today I became a participant rather than just an observer. I had bought an interesting quilt top at the Maycomb Antique Mall in Monroeville. I had bought the quilt batting and a king sized sheet to make the quilt with. It turned out to be a big, heavy job that I hadn’t made much progress with at home so I brought it along.

A funny thing happened as I began to quilt. I got IN THE ZONE! Quilting began to become a focus. Nancy Pettway, one of my favorite quilters became my mentor. As we worked together she suggested thing to improve my techniques. She also began to share her life’s story with me. She had been employed most of her adult life as a cook in a café in my hometown. I loved hearing her stories of food and friendships. The time passed quickly. Before I knew it, the session was up. I think I will do more quilting as will the other participants. We gained some valuable skills from the workshop. The best part of it was there was no wrong way to quilt. We learned that even among the instructors, there were different ways to do things and every way was a right way.

Every way is a right way. Isn’t that the way we aught to view life? You do things your way and I do things my way, but we come together with a common bond for the common good.

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