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