Quilting isn't new in Gee's Bend, Alabama, but the community's quilters have become well known over the past decade or so for their unique use of color and 'freehand' patterns.
Over the decades, quilters drew inspiration from both their African American heritage and traditional quilt patterns. But it's the Folk Art appeal of Gee's Bend quilts that made the community famous, and resulted in the traveling exhibits that have been displayed in many museums since the turn of this century.
The U.S. Postal Service issued a group of stamps that depicts Gee's Bend quilts and a quilt mural trail was established in the town to duplicate the designs chosen for stamps. Some of the quilters are now instructors who reach out to teach their methods to others.
Learn a bit more about Gee's Bend, browse the photos and find links to more information.
Photo by Carole Highsmith
You'll see a different image when you land on this pattern's first page, because the tutorial is actually three patterns in one... a table runner and placemats, plus a coordinating 30-inch square quilt that can be used as a wallhanging or in any other decorative way.
The quilt block used for all three projects is a variation of Bear's Paw and Maple Leaf. The block is easy to assemble, but do take care when creating smaller versions of the half square triangle units. They're quick-pieced, which removes the need to work with stretchy bias edges.
It's very simple to lengthen or shorten the table runner to suit your needs, and to make the projects suitable for any season or occasion by simply altering fabrics.
Choose a color scheme or make a scrap table runner from this easy pattern that's made from four quilt blocks placed on point. Repeating the fabric used for setting and corner triangles in two patches of each quilt block lets those areas 'drop out' of the layout, allowing the bow ties to emerge. Replacing the same two patches with a contrasting fabric will dramatically alter the block's appearance -- choose that option if it best suits your needs.
Neckties can be used to make the table runner if, once pressed open, each allows you to cut a couple of 5" squares and two smaller squares. Be sure to stabilize the backs of neckties with fusible interfacing to help reduce stretch, and plan fabric placement for directional fabrics.
Grab your stash of leftover pieces of fabric, because they're a perfect choice for Arkansas Traveler quilt blocks. I've included three finished block sizes in the pattern -- 6", 9" and 12", so even quilters with fewer scraps can put their fabrics to use. The traditional layout for the block is made up of four dark spools against a light background, but switch that up if you prefer. How about bright spools against black? Or neutrals against darker colors? Backgrounds needn't be the same fabric, so feel free to scrap it up.
Take a close look at the four light background areas nearest the block's center -- two vertical and two horizontal. Notice how they form a bit of a pinwheel. Some layouts could take advantage of that look, and dramatically change the block's appearance. Play with the design a bit until you're happy with the layout. One thing's certain... Arkansas Traveler is an easy quilt block that can be used to create a wide variety of quilts.
The huge array of quilting notions on store shelves can be overwhelming at times, but it's a good kind of overload, because slight variations in all sorts of tools make some types a better choice for each person's specific needs.
Straight pins are one of those sewing notions that are variable, and most of us should keep at least a few types of pins in our sewing kits. They range from very long pins with round or decorative (usually flat) heads to super-narrow silk pins that glide into fabric with ease. And don't forget applique pins -- those little 1/2" helpers that do come in handy for many tasks. The good news... most straight pins are affordable and long lasting.
Do you have favorite straight pins? I've covered some of the variations in the article linked below, and explained which types are my favorites.
Vintage beds were often built to hold the same mattress length as today's full size (or double) mattress, but the older beds are usually only 3/4 as wide. Quilts of those eras are often smaller, too, to match the narrower bed dimensions, so always keep that in mind when preparing to display an antique quilt.
Calvin Coolidge's bedroom is shown in the photo (love the quilt). It's the bed Vice President Coolidge was sleeping in when aides woke him (in 1923) with the news that he'd just become President of the United States. President Harding had died suddenly while on a tour of the country.
I love vintage beds, and over the years have left some at their intended width, but needed to increase the width for others. The good news... either option is doable.
Library of Congress Photo
Ah, Eleanor, you had no clue of the coming storm surrounding the quilt presented to you -- the grand prize winner of the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. The event was dubbed A Century of Progress, and focused on improvements to science and technology that had occurred during the previous 100 years.
Sears held a quilt contest for the event and the 'Unknown Star' quilt that Mrs. Roosevelt is grasping was the winner (out of 15,000 entries, according to the Sears pamphlet). Quilters were required to sign a form stating that entries were entirely their own work, but the woman who entered Unknown Star must have missed that text, because it was later revealed that she hired a group of women to construct the patchwork, and someone else to do the 16-stitch per inch quilting that impressed the judges.
Ethel Sampson was patient. Of course, the early 1930s were a bit slower time... snail mail requests and responses, long distance calls that were a bit pricey -- no internet, of course. Sounds kinda nice sometimes. Anyway, it took Mrs. Sampson six years to accumulate the celebrity garments used to create her quilt.
Franklin Roosevelt, Bing Crosby, Mae West and two of America's Sweethearts are among the many well known people of the era who are represented on the quilt. The Dionne quints even have a space, but it's not their outer garments that Mrs. Sampson used (all together now -- ewww).
The Checkerboard Flower Basket quilt block finishes at 16" square, another large block that can be used in a variety of ways. Sew the quilt blocks side-by-side and oriented in the same direction, or cluster the baskets in groups of four with their tops pointing towards each other for an entirely different appearance. The Checkerboard Basket looks very good placed on point, too.
Four Little Baskets is a quilt block pattern that finishes at 12-inches square. I altered the layout, removing a patch underneath each basket base that's traditionally cut with a template, and replacing it with a half square triangle unit. To compensate for the lost width, I added a narrow bar around each block.
Use different bar colors to create a quilt top with lots of visual movement, or omit the bar entirely to create blocks that finish at 11-1/2 inches square (but be sure to fill the basket with applique, yo yos or another type of 'flower.' Four Little Baskets is an excellent choice if you'd like to make a scrap quilt.