Tuesday, May 19, 2015

To walk in their shoes

Is it even possible? 

It is not easy to walk in someone's shoes. Neither is to think like someone else but in 2005 in my workshop, 'Inspired by the quilts of Gee's bend' my students and I did just that. I challenged them to make something by re-purposing old clothes that no one wanted. While some students had hard time investing their time is something ugly and old, I decided I will stick to the original plan. I made a trip to our local Goodwill store and bought few clothes.

My rules:
  • tear the clothes - not cut
  • sew without a specific seam allowance
  • when needed use scissors instead of rotary cutter 
  • incorporate materials varying in thickness and fabric content
  • stick to a limited number of clothes to mimic the 'make do' ways of quilting to achieve simple, bold and graphic quilts.  

The idea was to experience what women of Gee's bend would while making a quilt. I tried all of the above elements along with my students.. I made the top by using old, overly worn-out corduroy which felt like a card-board and men's shirts made with blend, rayon and cottons. I tossed in strips of my husband's shirts and my dress to emotionally connect with the piece.

We chose to make the housetop blocks to avoid trimming and wasting as little as possible. To waste pieces of fabrics was not an option. I had also set the limit on how much of each garment we could use and use every last piece to make the most out of what we had.

I ended up with this top. I thought I had achieved my goal really well. I made a quilt top that looked similar to the one in the book. I felt pretty proud of myself for attempting to understand them or to be in the similar mindset of the quilters of Gee's bend.

I thought I understood it completely but not quite. I spent last couple of weeks hand quilting this old top. It was part of my slide show presentation in Ithaca but I wanted to carry it with me as a finished quilt to my next presentation.

The process of hand quilting turned out to be phase two of getting in the mindset of the quilters of Alabama.

My thought process went something like this -

What if winter was approaching and I had nothing to keep us warm?
 I would finish that quilt in a hurry!

Would I worry about the perfection in my stitching?
No time to think about that in low light and late in the night after all day's work.

Would I spend time undoing so they all look perfect?
It was going on a bed not in a show or on a wall in a gallery.

Would I have time to find a quilting pattern suitable to the quilt?
I see plenty patterns all around me to follow.

Would I run to the nearest store that was miles away to find the thread I just ran out while I was in the middle of quilting it?
No.. No!

I would just stitch away at the end of the day, every chance I get, with any thread I had in my box.. I would just finish the quilt.

My theory on all this is  - Learn many things by just doing it.

Here is what I experienced.

Having various materials on the same quilt, my stitches varied all through out. It was so hard to hand quilt that beaten up, old cardboard like corduroy material. I could get somewhat perfect stitching on the finer fabrics like my husband's shirt and my dress but some corduroy with spandex was difficult to needle through.

I do understand those quilters now. The feel of the quilt varies from block to block and it is the warmest and heaviest quilt in the stack of wall quilts. 

In spite of tearing the trips on the grain, they stretched every which way according to their fiber contents.I left the edges as they were and used binding on bias to finish the quilt.

The last thing remained was to see what it would look like if it were to hang on the clothesline in one of the southern states. So I went out this morning and took few pictures.

It's rugged and cozy quilt. If I were to machine quilt this one, it would have broken a few needles.

I was pretty happy that the quilt was ready in time for my presentation at Calico Cutters Guild last Wednesday. It was the guild's first event at the new location in West Chester, PA and what a great experience for me as well. Thank you, Calico Cutters Guild members who made it out there to listen to my talk and see the quilts.

Thank you for reading this post! 


  1. i love your thought process, especially with the quilting! And it's a timely post as i am gearing up to make a quilt for a customer out of her family's old clothes.

  2. I love your mindful process, and the resulting quilt is beautiful. (Come teach a workshop with us in WA!!) :D

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful creative process - what a great resulting quilt, all the more beautiful because of your appreciation for the Gee's Bend quilters' world.

  4. It is so true that you really don't know a quilt or a maker's process until you try making it yourself. I love this quilt, and your story about the process. Congratulations on another finish!

  5. Loved reading through your post. What a great result for you.:)

  6. I love the quilt you made and your thought process. I just attended a quilt presentation recently by several of tha Gees Bend quilt ladies and you echo their thoughts and ways very well. Hugs, PS. I live in Alabama

  7. I love your explaination of what it may have been like to throw together a quilt for survival rather than craft. I often used the very same thoughts when I wrestled with perfectionism, quilts were made quickly to sleep under, not to be stressed over if seams didn't match. I don't know if I have the inclination to mix corduroy with rayon yet, but never say never!!!

  8. Hi Sujata, thank you, thank you and thank you. You are in the best position to say all the above. Wonderfully said! I have been doing the same for years now. I made quilt using re-purpose vintage and clothing fabric with a friend that I called 'rags to riches'. Since then I can no longer go back to make quilt with set fabric. It's much soothing to the soul to quilt this way. You are terrific Sujata. Thank you for your inspirations - Hugs Nat

  9. What a beautiful quilt - I admire your tenacity and patience in working with such a variety of fabrics, a stunning result.

  10. What a thought provoking post! You're right, it is hard to walk in the shoes of someone else, but you approached this challenge so well, trying to think as they would.

  11. A very interesting post, quilt and process. I like the way you incorporated some of your family's clothes with the others. Thanks so much for the inspiration.

  12. great quilt. Love the shots of black with the red - free form log cabin blocks are so great for this process.

  13. I think your thought process for the hand quilting is spot on, your quilt has turned out to be quite a lovely quilt, the house blocks give it a nice geometric look which appeals to me.

  14. Fantastic post . . . love how you celebrate the process!

  15. I love your quilt and enjoyed this post very much. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as you worked on this design. The quilt turned out nicely, too.

  17. How I agree with you Sujata, especially about learning things by doing them! This quilt as all of yours is absolutely striking of beauty!

  18. Congratulations for your quilt created in the Gee's Bend spirit. You re-created part of the history of all these women who needed their quilts on their bed, who used every possible material that was available and who hanged them on a clothesline for particular reasons too. Thank you for this beautiful post, Sujata. Love you book too :)

  19. It's wonderful. I love your colors, as always. Tonight when I'm hand quilting, I'm going to try to put myself in the mindset you mentioned; I'm sure it will make me feel much more connected to my foremothers as a result.

  20. absolutely gorgeous. one of my favorite quilts. lovely story as well.

  21. I was catching up on my blog reading this morning, trying to decide how to spend my birthday/day off. I was inspired by your post and the result is on my blog post: http://appliqueaddict.blogspot.com/2015/06/birthday.html


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