Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Make It Do or Do Without

After finally getting to see the Quilts of Gee's Bend exhibit at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts this past week (which was an amazing experience), I was inspired to make some sort of homage quilt. Then I remembered that I actually had already made one ...

In 2001 I took a class with Roberta Horton at the Houston International Quilt Festival, called something like "African American Quilts". The idea was to re-create a small quilt in the style of the slaves who had no choice in fabrics but what was thrown away or given to them, and of course no modern templates, rulers, or rotary cutters. We were to cut our pieces freehand, with nothing but scissors and our imaginations.

She gave us each a pice of "ugly" green fabric that we had to incorporate with the fabrics that we had brought to class, and we made some simple traditional blocks with scraps, 4 of one block and 5 of another. (The two blocks I chose, Log Cabin and Hole in the Barn Door, are barely recognizable.) On at least one of the blocks we were to alter something in the design – turn one of the elements backwards, for instance - to make it different. The strong vertical lines were important in the African influence of the design, as were the varying fabrics for the borders.

I never liked this quilt when I made it, and it has been sort of hidden away ever since. After seeing the Gee's Bend quilts, however, I've pulled it back out, and it now has a new kind of beauty for me.


  1. I think your quilt is rather charming and yes, I clearly see the influence of the Gee's Bend Quilts. Great exhibit...I saw it in Boston. I love the colors that you used and the ordinary fabrics.

  2. Linda, I can see why you might not have liked this quilt when you first made it, if you were still a "traditional" quilt ... but I LOVE the freedom of design expression seen here. Your colors are beautiful, the lines flow one into the next, and I'd love to have this hanging on one of my own walls.

    Having said that, I can tell you that if I tried to make something similar, following the guidelines you were given, I'd probably dislike it immensely. I love abstract and primitive work by others, but haven't "graduated" out of the class that believes *mine* must be "perfect" -- symmetrical, straight, recognizable (and boring). ;-)

    Thanks for sharing this treasure, and also for the reminder that I need to get over to the MFA before the exhibit goes away again!

  3. Linda, so glad you liked the exhibit and have found a new appreciation for the techniques you learned 5 years ago. Not being an artist myself, I can't evaluate the quilts in that way,but I loved the way they made beauty out of scraps, and modeled the lives the women were living. To hear them describing the quilts was so powerful.

  4. What a great quilt and a great idea on how to make it...love its wonkiness...great job Linda...now how did you think YOU could make an ugly quilt?? got to try this one too....want to come play with the art girls...

  5. I took the same workshop with Roberta Horton in the mid-1980's.... it was a real struggle for the perfectionists in the class. In fact, one woman almost left because she had such a hard time letting go of being precise with her work. It took me a few blocks, but I did get into the technique....and made a very wonky looking quilt. I challenged myself to quilt it all in one evening in the spirit of the style.
    I still have it.....it usually lives on the back of my rocking chair - bright and cheerful. It's becoming tattered in some places and it just adds to it's charm


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