Improv Workshop with Gee’s Bend Quilters

We do not remember days, we remember moments.

~ Cesare Pavese

Yesterday’s Gee’s Bend workshop at Heritage Hall in Talladega, Alabama was filled with beautiful moments.

China caught me picking apart some fabric strips (which I thought was going rather well), took them from me and just started pulling them apart. Just grab and pull. I would have thought that would warp the fabric or something, but nope. They came apart as if she’d already pulled the stitches out. My table mate and I got a huge laugh at me over that. I really wish I had it on video because it was hilarious.

Of course, China and Mary Ann sang as we worked.

What I admire most about the women of Gee’s Bend is their spirit. These women and their families have known true hardships, and yet they arrive with joy in their hearts and love to share.

They give more than they take.

A lesson for all of us. I have running water, insulated walls, and food in my belly. I’ll bet you do, too.

The Ladies Pettway brought in a bin of fabric odds and ends and we tossed in a few bits of our own. In the bin I found a hand-painted panel depicting pastoral birds, which sent me off in one direction because I had some silly notion that it was meant to be that I work with this thing. Well, I guess it was meant to be in that it taught me that I shouldn’t always listen to silly notions.

Have mercy, y’all… this thing is ug-ly. (Except for the birds. The birds are really pretty.)

But it was terrific fun and felt liberating to sew on something that had no plan, no destination, no pattern, no rules, no deadline. It was freeing. I think I’ll use improv in the future as a way to clear my mind between (or during) more structured projects.

xoxo,
~~ Tara

Comin’ Around the Bend

I had been quilting a year before I saw in person what other quilters were making. I didn’t grow up around quilters. I didn’t belong to a guild. I hadn’t had any in-person classes.

I learned the art of quilt making through watching YouTube. Relentlessly. One video led to another led to another. I’d watch them all, regardless of whether they were traditional or modern, art quilts or lap quilts, improv or well-planned. English or Spanish or Portuguese. (My Spanish is very limited and my Portuguese relies on any similarities I can find in my Spanish, but a flying goose is a flying goose, folks.)

Then I heard about QuiltCon. (cue: the song of angels)

I cobbled together some funds and got myself out to Austin, Texas. It was February 2015. I kept to myself mostly and studied the quilts in the show. I walked around as if in a dream. I attended a few lectures.

Among my transformative experiences that weekend was this:

The quilters of Gee’s Bend delivered the keynote. I had read about them and knew. I knew this was big. They sang gospel. I grew up with gospel. It felt like home to me.

L to R: Mary Ann Pettway, Lucy Witherspoon, China Pettway, Gloria Hoppins. The Quilters of Gee's Bend, QuiltCon 2015
L to R: Mary Ann Pettway, Lucy Witherspoon, China Pettway, Gloria Hoppins. The Quilters of Gee’s Bend, QuiltCon 2015

L to R: Mary Ann Pettway, Lucy Witherspoon, China Pettway, Gloria Hoppins. The Quilters of Gee's Bend, QuiltCon 2015

This is the song they sang:

I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone
I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone
I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone

Ohhh, give me my flower whiles I yet live

The flowers that you give me
I can’t see their beuty
The flowers that you give me
I can’t see their beauty
The flowers that you give me
I can’t see their beauty

Ohhh, give me my flower whiles I yet live

I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone
I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone
I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone

Ohhh, give me my flower whiles I yet live

The flowers that you give me
I can’t tell nobody
The flowers that you give me
I can’t tell nobody
The flowers that you give me
I can’t tell nobody

Ohhh, give me my flower whiles I yet live

I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone
I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone
I don’t want nobody to praise me when I’m gone

Ohhh, give me my flower whiles I yet live

So a few days ago when I heard Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway of the Gee’s Bend Quilting Collective were soon teaching a workshop only a few hours’ drive away from my home, I sent my registration request off in a flash.

In fewer than three weeks, I’ll get to spend a few hours with Mary Ann and China. I’ll get to learn from them. Hear their stories. Let their histories inform me. I feel remarkably blessed to have that opportunity. I hope they’ll hug me if I cry a little.

xoxo,
Tara