Stormy Housetop Quilt

Part of my Christmas (2015) present from my husband was two Gee’s Bend quilt patterns. The original quilts were created by Rita Mae Pettway and her daughter, Louisiana P. Bendolph Windham Fabrics acquired the rights to adapt the patterns from Ms. Pettway and Ms. Bendolph and asked Debby Kratovil to write the patterns. 

Over yesterday and today, I assembled my version of Rita Mae’s Housetop quilt.   This is not my usual colour palette.  The quilt feels a bit stormy to me which aptly sums up where the last half of 2015 has been for me emotionally.

I tore two of my old denim dresses into strips and used that fabric in the quilt along with quilt shop cottons–some Grunge, a Michael Miller print, a Kona solid, and a 100% cotton fabric that had a texture similar to linen.

Optimized-2016_January_03 - Norma's version of Rita Mae Pettway's Housetop quilt_Flimsy_51 x 62

My Stormy Housetop (flimsy) – 51″ x 62″

Gee's Bend_Rita Mae Pettway's Original Housetop Quilt

This is the original “Housetop – Work-Clothes” quilt made by Rita Mae Pettway in 2005.  The quilt was made from denim and cotton and measures 70″ x 84″.

According to the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, the housetop quilt pattern, was comprised of, “concentric squares of gradually enlarging scale. The work is a testimony to the ways in which the local environment, including its architecture and landscape, played a direct role in Gee’s Bend quilt design: although it is a variation upon a common quilt pattern, the work is also an abstracted map of the Pettway plantation. The quilter used blocks and strips to represent the former slave cabins surrounding the “big house,” the dirt roads and paths, and the river on one side and the fields on the other.”  Rita Mae also told me that the housetop pattern reflects what you see when you lay on your bed and look up to the roof of your house.  

The pattern jacket gives the following information about Rita Mae.  “She made her first quilt at the age of 14.  She was raised by her grandmother, quiltmaker Annie E. Pettway and still lives in the house that her grandfather build for the family in the 1940′s.  “Onliest thing we did after everything else was done, we sit by the fireplace in the wintertime and piece up quilts.  Me and my grandmama Annie.  She didn’t have no pattern to go by; she cut them by the way she know how to make them,” says Rita Mae.  Piecing quilts, according to Rita Mae, was done individually but quilting “we all did together.”  Rita Mae, along with her ancestors and her daughter, renowned quilter Louisiana Bendolph share a penchant for creating strip quilts in concentric squares resulting in Housetops or Hog Pens, each artist though has a unique style and variation on the theme.”

As I pieced my version of Rita Mae’s quilt, I was thinking about the two days I spent with Rita Mae and her daughter, Louisiana in October 2015 when I participated in a Gee’s Bend workshop with them.



This is a picture of Rita Mae taken October 25, 2015. She is showing us how she hand pieces her strips of cotton together to make a quilt top.

This is a picture of Louisiana, myself, and Rita Mae with the quilt top I made in class over the two days.
Gee's Bend Rabbit Lou Me HalfAnother picture of Louisiana (Lou), myself, and Rita Mae (Rabbit).


Gee’s Bend Quilters Coming to Vancouver

Annie Mae Young Gee's Bend Quilt

This quilt is from “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend” exhibit.  The quilter was Annie Mae Young.  It is titled, “Work-clothes quilt with center medallion of strips”.  The quilt was made in 1976 from denim, corduroy, and synthetic blends and measures 76.5″ x 108″.


Some members of the Gee’s Bend Quilters will be coming to Vancouver this fall.  As part of the Maiwa Textile Symposium that runs from September to November, the Gee’s Bend Quilters will be presenting a lecture and two workshops.

Monday, October 19, 2015, 7:45 pm:  Lecture at Netloft, Granville Island, $15

Monday, October 19 and Tuesday, October 20, 2015, 10 am to 4 pm: Workshop, at Maiwa Loft, Granville Island, $295 (includes lab fee of $25)

Wednesday, October 21 and Thursday, October 22, 2015, 10 am to 4 pm:  Workshop at Maiwa Loft, Granville Island, $295 (includes lab fee of $25)

Registration for these classes opens June 22, 2015 at 10 am.  This link will take you to the full calendar including the class descriptions and registration form: 

Gee’s Bend is an African American majority community that has remained very isolated due in part to its geography as it is surrounded on three sides by the Alabama River.

Quilting in Gee’s Bend dates back to the 19th Century.  It is speculated that the patterns of the Western and Central Aftrican textiles had a significant influence on the distinctive improvisational and simplistic geometric signature style of the quilts produced by the Gee’s Bend Quilters.  Many modern quilters credit the Gee’s Bend quilts as significantly influencing the development of the Modern Quilt Movement.

The following links provide further information on the Quilters of Gee’s Bend.

1.  The Gee’s Bend quilters were in Vancouver for the 2005, 2011, and 2013 Maiwa Textile Symposium.  This is a blog post written by Krista Hennebery who attended one of the 2011 workshops.

2.  Video titled, “the Quilts of Gee’s Bend” by the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

3.  Why Quilts Matter – Sisters in Cloth:  The Modern Quilters and the Quilters of Gee’s Bend

4.  Blog posts from Kristin Shields about the Quilters of Gee’s Bend.

5.  Blog post from Michelle Bilyeu about the Quilters of Gee’s Bend.

6.  Deep South Magazine article – The Future of Gee’s Bend.

7.  Article by Richard Kalina – Gee’s Bend Modern.

8.  Blog post from I’m Feelin’ Crafty regarding the Quilters of Gee’s Bend.