I decided it was time that I took one of my earlier painting studies of a Gee’s Bend quilt and have a go at translating it into a quilt top.
Tim Ingold talks about ‘know for yourself’ in his book Making. In order to truly understand something, from the inside out you need to be actively engaged in it i.e. just looking at pictures of the Gee’s Bend quilts will only bring a certain amount [and type] of understanding. My thoughts are that by drawing them, painting them and making work that explores similar aspects [not copying] will bring more of the true knowing that Ingold talks of.
So the first quilt is finished [evening group] but the evening one has to have the binding added still. We spent almost twice as long as had been intended but there was a great sense of accomplishment about what we had done. One member took the quilt home once it was off the frame and added a ‘monogrammed’ logo. Each member included their initials somewhere on the quilt which will be donated to a local women’s refuge [as chosen by the group].
As stated in a previous post, I am keen to understand the designs and the possible steps that were taken to piece the quilt tops. This could be done in a much quicker way such as line drawing but by painting the designs out, I get a greater sense of the making process beyond function.
I enjoy spending time observing even small photographs / replicas of the originals, since I can remember visiting galleries, I have always drawn from what I see or at least made written notes. I tend to avoid reading the text that puts the exhibition in context or explains an artwork until I have spent a good deal of time with the work first. Forming my own understanding of an artwork, image or painterly mark provides an insight that may or may not be hoped for by the artist but I am not sure that even matters.
Here are a series of paintings I did in gouache on cartridge paper over a period of a couple of weeks. I have also provided a copy of the image that inspired my version, they are not replicas or copies but studies of something that I admire.
When we all met for the first time, as expected we were quite reserved, polite and understood about personal space. The politeness remained but an aspect that I had not observed in the earlier mentioned video about the Gee’s Bend women was just how physically close you have to get so we could work on the quilt.
A couple of moments stuck out for me, the first was seeing two quilters [who did not know each other before the group got together] work so closely that their hands were literally bumping. In the questionnaire’s that were completed at the end of the sessions, one person commented ‘bumping hands for the first time with someone will always make me smile’.
The second observation was when one of the quilters was sat underneath the quilting frame, amongst the legs of her fellow workers she was trying to sort out a knot on the back of the quilt.
These were aspects I was keen to further explore within my own practice and highlighted the nature of my initial preference for working in isolation.
I was keen to understand the designs a little more beyond flicking the pages of the book mentioned in the previous post. I completed a range of sketches and then started on some paintings.
This series of images shows the development and process of making the study of the first image.
Study of String Pieced Quilt by Loretta Pettaway:11.5 x 17 inches. Painted in Gouache on cartridge paper. 2015
I was drawn to the apparent areas of blocking and wanted to consider where the parameters of each block connected to the next. In the original photograph the wear and tear was clear to see with apparent signs of regular use. My image has flattened out these signs and eliminated the creases, not sure if this is good but that had not been my initial intention.
This is the beautiful original quilt by Loretta Pettaway.
Loretta Pettaway, born 1942. String-pieced quilt, 1960. Cotton twill and synthetic material [men’s clothing]. 94 x 76 inches
The initial meetings went very well in the local village hall, the evening session proved more popular and so we decided to make a couple of different sized quilts. The evening session made a single quilt while the daytime group made a large lap quilt. Everyone was aware and happy for the sessions to be run as a case study for my research, I just felt a little embarrassed that I was unable to present a clear idea of what my research was… it was still hazy to me.
The previous experience levels of quilting varied as much as the age range [16-82] and all participants were women. There were a few who had quite a bit of sewing experience and making quilts but nobody had made one by hand. Others in the group seemed rather nervous about any sort of sewing.
I spoke to the group about making decisions together on the design and planning but everyone made it clear that they would prefer to be instructed on what to do [despite knowing about my lack of knowledge]. Luckily I had suspected this and when showing everyone the plans, they seemed to relax. Upon presentation of my fabric choices however, it became clear that this was not what they had envisioned so immediately asked if could be changed to use what they wanted.
Stephen Knott in his book Amateur Craft talks about the nature of engaging with a hobby as an amateur. key to this is the autonomous nature of doing – it may operate within a similar network of rules and structures to the workplace, but as individuals – you can engage with free choice.
Autonomous actions were quite apparent within the group from the early days, despite claims that they did not want to have to make any decisions…
A suggestion was made that we could follow the plan, but if individuals wanted to, they could include as much or as little of a fabric of their own choice – within the strip [block] they were piecing together.
From these images, you can see work as it is happening once the blocks had all been pieced together, within sections you can see flashes of personal choices within the quilt top.
Knott, S. (2015). Amateur craft : history and theory. london: Bloomsbury.
So after not too much more thought about the implications, I set up a Quilting Bee in my Village [Meltham, Holmfirth] which would initially run during two different times. I was interested in the connections between home life, work life and engaging with a hobby [which was how I recognised quilting in this context] and was therefore keen to engage with people from a variety of backgrounds and current situations. For this reason I set up a lunch time and and evening group, each would follow the same framework. As I suspected, the evening group attracted people who worked during the day as well as retiree’s but the daytime session only attracted retired people.
I put adverts in the local post office and shops and then just waited to see how many, if any would be interested. I had made the decision to call it a Quilting Bee for no other reason than that is what I thought they were called, later I was informed that this was an American term and not one that would usually be used in the UK. The politics of Quilting…
I have always treasured moments when I can go to my studio [also the spare bedroom / laundry drying room] upstairs. My life and work is busy and I spend much of it talking or listening [as a mum and lecturer] so the silence that this brings along with the opportunity to draw, paint and make is invaluable.
I have no particular desire to engage in collaborative work as part of my artists practice but an encounter with a video got me thinking. Again, it is with reference to the Gee’s Bends Quilters, in this video I observed women sitting together on porches around a frame. On the frame they had mounted quilt sandwiches and were stitching the layers together by hand. There was chatter, laughter and a lot of singing.
I had done a little research into the way in which quilting groups work, my understanding was that people used it as a time to come together and work on quilts but i had no visual understanding of how this may actually occur.
I was keen to get involved with making as an amateur [making things that I had very little knowledge or skill awareness in] and tried to find out about local quilt groups. They do exist [through the Quilters Guild] but it became apparent that they did not physically work on the same quilt at one time. Instead they would meet to discuss quilts or on occasion, bring their own quilts and work on them individually.
Having watched this video I wanted to experience what it was like to make a quilt in such a way and so I developed the idea of setting up a group in my local village. having spoken to my supervisors [at that this point it was Dr Lisa Stansbie and Dr Rowan Bailey] it was recommended that I set it up as a case study.
Video Source: Souls Grown Deep Foundation. (2012). The Quilts of Gee’s Bend on Vimeo. Retrieved Feb, 2015.
The stunning quilts of the Gee’s Bend women had made quite an impact on me. I had played around with the small sample but i wanted to know more about what it was to make something of a larger scale. I always enjoy drawing at larger scales such as A0 although I don’t tend to get too many opportunities to do so due to the availability of work space [I think I will do more on this in a later post].
Could quilting offer an opportunity to explore scale further? I embarked on a new quilt that was a) a reasonable size and b) would allow to properly learn the appropriate techniques.
I had quite a few bits of fabric in my studio, some were Liberties samples from a trade show visit and others were pieces I already had in a draw. I did have to purchase a larger length to make the back but otherwise I just focused on technique as opposed to the potential of image through quilting.
Again, I had made a range of mistakes but the experience of the making and working with large pieces of cloth allowed me engage with the work of the Gee’s Bend women on a different level. The physicality of holding, lifting, folding, pushing that much cloth through a sewing machine, over a table was quite something.
This image of Lucy Mooney in her living room with her granddaughters; Lucy P. Pettway and Bertha Pettway became more significant. The assistance in making and company while doing so suggests that something other than a practical, physical quilt can emerge from an experience of making a quilt.
Sewing a quilt image: Arnett, W., & Arnett, P. (Eds.). (2002). The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. Atlanta: Tinwood Books. p.62