Monday, July 25, 2022

Barbara's Gee's Bend Inspired Housetop Quilt

Do I have a treat to share with you today!!  This striking contemporary quilt was made by my client Barbara, who was inspired by the iconic "Housetop" style of abstract quiltmaking that was pioneered by the African-American quilting tradition that originated in Gee's Bend, Alabama.  If you're not familiar with the Gee's Bend quilting tradition, definitely check out both of those links. And then check out this article detailing the history of the Gee's Bend quilters in the Smithsonian Magazine, too.   Do it now -- I'll wait!  Seriously!  I would argue that the entire modern quilting movement as we know it today traces its roots back to "The Quilts of Gee's Bend" exhibit that took the art world by storm when it opened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 2002:

Gee's Bend's "eye-poppingly gorgeous quilts turn out to be some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced. Imagine Matisse and Klee (if you think I'm wildly exaggerating, see the show), arising not from rarefied Europe, but from the caramel soil of the rural South."             -- Michael Kimmelman, Art Critic for the New York Times


Barbara's 57 x 65 Housetops Quilt with Bobbing For Apples E2E

So hopefully now you've given yourself a crash-course on the Gee's Bend quiltmaking tradition and you can fully appreciate what Barbara was working towards with this piece.  Don't you just love the mix of colors and fabrics in her quilt?  The vivid coral orange, salmon pink, brick red and mustard with just that little bit of deep raspberry convey so much energy!  And I love how this quilt reads as though it's all solids from a distance, yet she does have that khaki and white stripe in there and wide swaths of the yellow tonal print fabric.  Those details make the finished piece so much more interesting than it might have been with a more restricted assortment of fabrics.

This Quilt Is Even More Gorgeous In Real Life

Notice that one little printed circle in a square against an otherwise solid blue fabric?  I love that!  

YLI Variegated 40 wt Cotton Thread, Color Harem

Another interesting thing about this quilt is that many of the fabrics Barbara used have a very subtle nap to the surface that you can see in some of the close-up photos.  The fabric weight and weave is similar to quilting cotton, but it doesn't have that smooth, flat surface of fabrics usually found in quilt shops.  I wish I'd asked her where she sourced her fabrics because the texture in this quilt is just exquisite.  You know, maybe they ARE flannel, but rather than the flannels sold in quilt shops, maybe they are just really soft and lightweight shirting flannels?  Or poly blends repurposed from used clothing or bed sheets even?  

UPDATED 10/24/2022: Barbara told me where she got these cool fabrics!!  It's Spectrum Cotton, exclusive to Pearl Soho, and you can find it in their online shop here.

Gee's Bend quilters made their quilts out of whatever fabrics they had, including corduroy, wool, cotton blends and even denim, and Barbara's fabric choices would have been a deliberate reflection of that tradition.

Can You See How Soft and Fuzzy These Fabrics Are?

I suppose I ought to tell you how I quilted this for Barbara, now that I'm done gushing about how much I love Barbara's quilt AND the quilts she was inspired by!  Okay.  So traditionally, the Gee's Bend quilters were making their masterpieces for utilitarian reasons -- as bed coverings to keep themselves and their children warm in their unheated homes -- as well as for artistic expression.  Their community didn't get electricity until the 1960s and, although both hand stitching and machine work can be seen in original Gee's Bend quilts, digital longarm quilting is definitely a departure in technique.

Barbara and I felt that a quilting design with curved lines would play well against the concentric rectangular lines of the patchwork in her quilt, and many of the original Gee's Bend quilts feature wavy, echoing lines of hand quilting across geometric piecing lines.  We chose Patricia Ritter's Bobbing for Apples design because of its simplicity and for the movement and rhythm of the echoed curves.  Based on the traditional Apple Core curved one patch quilt pattern, Bobbing For Apples is a quilting design that feels fresh and modern while making a connection with an older tradition in quiltmaking, just like the Gee's Bend quilts do.

Bobbing For Apples E2E Quilting Design

I special ordered YLI 40 wt Machine Quilting Cotton in variegated colorway Harem for this quilt, shades of peach and ecru.  The thread color isn't showing up well in my photos, but it looks great in person.  The batting I used is Quilter's Dream 80/20 cotton/poly blend.

I Love the Texture of This Quilting Design!

Here's the photo of Barbara's Housetop quilt top, prior to quilting:

Barbara's Quilt Top Before Quilting

And here's what it looked like, loaded on my long arm frame right before I began quilting it for her:

Ready, Set,...

And then, several hours and thousands of stitches later:

Barbara's Completed Housetop Quilt

So tell me -- have YOU ever seen an original Gee's Bend quilt in person at an exhibit?  Have you ever been inspired to make one like it?  Or is there another historical style or tradition in quiltmaking that you really admire?  Let me know in the comments!  I'm linking up today's post with my favorite linky parties, listed on the left sidebar of my blog.

PSST!!  I'd Love to Quilt for YOU!

By the way, if you or any of your quilty friends has a quilt top or two that needs quilting, I'd be delighted to quilt for you!  I am currently scheduling quilts for completion in early October, so please let me know ASAP if you are working on quilts with holiday deadlines.  Click here to learn how easy it is to book a quilt with me!


Karen - Quilts...etc. said...

I think I saw some of the original quilts at a show but I'm not positive if they were new or old - you know how shows are after awhile your eyes glaze over and you are totally overwhelmed with all the quilts and supplies you have seen!! You did a great job the quilt is amazing

Nancy @ Grace and Peace Quilting said...

Wow, awesome quilt!!! And do I ever love Bobbing For Apples on it!!! Variegated, to boot!!! Great job, Barbara and Rebecca!!!

or-ar quilter said...

I saw original many lovely Gees Bend quilts and the quilters in Sisters Oregon. They were part of the Quilter’s Affair the week leading up to the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. If you have not been, you should put this show on your bucket list. Just remember that the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show is ‘always the second Saturday in July.’ said...

Yes, I saw an original Gees Bend quilt in someone's "collection." While I haven't been inspired to make a Gees Bend type quilt, I am and continue to be inspired to use scraps in interesting ways to make quilts. I do like the pattern you chose and I wondered if the fabric was flannel. Thanks for describing it for us!

Sandy said...

I saw an exhibition of the Gee's Bend quilts years ago in Houston when I was there for the show -- amazing. Barbara's quilt is wonderfully graphic and colorful, and I love the design you and she chose for the quilting.

Susan said...

Years back I was introduced to the Gees Bend quilts through an exhibit of their pieces at the American Folk Art Museum in NYC. So talented were these women to make art relatively out of "nothing". The exhibit was heart warming and inspiring in its complicated simplicity. A delight for the eyes!

Marty Stanchi said...

Maybe her fabric is what is called brushed cotton, fuzzy on one side and smoother on the other. You can use either side. The quilt looks fabulous!

Kathleen said...

Barbara's quilt is gorgeous! I love the touch of whimsy with the little circle in a square! Now, I wonder if it is the Cherrywood Fabric? That always had a nap to it. Fabulous job quilting it, too, Rebecca. I do wish we could see some of these quilts in person...there is always a little something we miss by seeing it only here.

I have seen the Gee's Bends quilts and they are inspiring. They are such an interesting grouping of quilts and I am so glad that they were able to be shared with the quilting world. They easily could have gone undiscovered!

LA Paylor said...

LOVE your quilting choice and how it looks with this style quilt, LeeAnna

Linda @ kokaquilts said...

Yes, an amazing quilt, I love it! Those subtle extra things like the tone-on-tone yellow print really caught my eye too. Great teamwork, love the quilting choice.

Preeti said...

Oh Rebecca, I love this quilting design and the variegated thread is so yummy!!! You did a remarkable job, as always.

Melisa- pinkernpunkinquilting said...

Barbara's quilt is gorgeous. Such a fabulous design and the quilting is superb!!! Have a wonderful weekend. Happy quilting.

Michelle said...

Beautiful top and beautiful quilting! Perfect.

chrisknits said...

I have never been attracted to the Gee's Bend style. I am more into tradtitional patterns and small pieces! Love the quilting design you ussed!!

Jennifer Fulton Inquiring Quilter said...

With your thoughtful quilting this is beyond stunning! Love it. Thanks for sharing on Wednesday Wait Loss.

Frédérique - Quilting Patchwork Appliqué said...

Wow, this is just amazing, a beautiful quilt, wonderful fabrics and a gorgeous quilting. I love your thread choice too. And thank you for the links!
J'avais déjà un peu lu à propos de ce mouvement, mais c'est un vrai plaisir que d'en apprendre encore plus ! Merci 😊
Thank you for sharing ❤️