In His Memory…Let us remember Roland Freeman (1936 – 2023)
In his book, A Communion of the Spirits (1996), he wrote:
“Over the years, while I’ve shared the excitement of the remarkable growth in attention to quilts and the overdue recognition of its wonderful artists, I’ve also felt somewhat uneasy about the insufficient attention to who these quilters were, what quilting meant in their lives, and what it represented more generally for cultural understanding and continuity. This book addresses these gaps, while significantly expanding the available documentation of African American quilters and preservers. My challenge was to recount personal journeys objectively, making the communions understandable, crystallizing the literal and implied meanings of what I learned, and putting it all in the broader contexts of quilting and cultural continuity.” (xv – xvi)
The African American Quilt Documentation Study Group (AAQDSG) is being formed to pick up his mantle and continue the very important work of documenting our quilt heritage and the telling of our stories. Please join me in remembering Roland’s endearing work. As we move forward, it is my desire that no quilt, no story is forgotten.
Friendship & Fellowship Are Part Of Completing A Quilt
Women have always conjoined shared work and socializing. For most African and African American women this was not a choice. We have always worked and found ways to socialize and share, even when it may have been detrimental to our livelihood.
In the 19th century, a “Quilting Bee” was considered a socially acceptable activity for women that provided an outlet that was both communal and functionally practical. Not done so much today, but when women do gather to quilt it still provides a supportive environment to share their lives, while helping each other complete a quilt.
The Diamond Field Quilt, Edna Walls (Arkansas), 83" x 73", c. 1950
This quilt was made and hand quilted by Lois Johnson’s mother, Edna Walls, of Lockenburg, Arkansas in the 1950s. Mrs. Johnson moved to Washington State in the 1960s and inherited the quilt in 2000.
Edna, the youngest of 8 children, knew how to be thrifty and made this quilt and many more from a young age, using her siblings' and other family member’s clothing. She would meet regularly to quilt with her sister-in-law and a girlfriend. They would get together at each other’s homes and share the hand quilting of each other’s quilts, usually from a frame that hung from the ceiling.
Question: Do quilter's still gather to quilt?
Women have always conjoined shared work and socializing. In the 19th century, a “Quilting Bee” was considered a socially acceptable activity for women that provided an outlet that was both communal and functionally practical. Not done so much today, but when women do gather to quilt it still provides a supportive environment to share their lives, while helping each other complete a quilt.
SUNBONNET SUE REVIVED...and this one isn't going down like the last one!
(Did they really have to kill her?) Learn more about the life and death of Sunbonnet Sue at the sites below. Then DO YOU in a Sunbonnet Sue quilt with your own story.
The History of Sunbonnet Sue
The Death of Sunbonnet Sue: It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Girl
Sunbonnet Sue - Women with a Past
Sunbonnet Sue's Dark Side
Black Bottom, a community erased from the map... but this Signature Quilt survived.
Rogers, Sister Mattie; Russel, Sister Annie Mae; Turner, Sister Carrie; Pinkney, Iantha; Wilson, Sister Roberta; Wiggins, Sister Ethel; Parker, Genevieve; Sheffield, Sister Phyllis; Johson, Sister Ida; Parker, Dorothy; Daniels, Sister Destine; Mason, Mrs. Mollie; Randall, Sister Ruth; Anderson, Sister Adell; Grean, Sister Irene; Jones, Sister Margie; Roberts, Sister Julia; Parker, Sister Iverleaner; Railey, Sister Loi.
Detroit Signature. 1960s. From Michigan State University Museum, Michigan Quilt Project; Michigan State University Museum Collection. Published in The Quilt Index, https://quiltindex.org/view/?type=fullrec&kid=12-8-6640. Accessed: 06/19/21
In the late 1950s to early 1960s, a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan named Black Bottom, was demolished and replaced by what is currently known as Lafayette Park and a highway.
Found at an auction, this signature quilt was made prior to the 1960s. It is inscribed with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of women who belonged to a Zion Congregational Church of God in Christ Church. (Are you old enough to remember phone numbers with two letters?).
In a search to find out who the women were, it was revealed that their community was no longer in existence due to urban redevelopment. Once the women’s contact information was posted in several media outlets, some friends and relatives came forward with their stories of these women and their lives.
Although the African American community of Black Bottom is no longer there, this quilt preserves some their history.
To find out more about the Quilt and the Black Bottom area, check out the following:
392: Stitched Together: Documenting the Vibrancy of Black Bottom Detroit Through Redwork Quilting, (2021), by Berkley Sorrells, at https://symposium.foragerone.com/uuraf21/presentations/17386, or watch it on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ssOd4wSkWI
Black Bottom Neighborhood, (2021), Detroit Historical Society, Encyclopedia of Detroit
Black Bottom: Here and Now, February 8, 2021, Michigan Chronicle,
5000 Names of Injustice
So how shall we name you, little one? Are you your father's father, or his brother, or yet another? Whose spirit is it that is in you, little warrior?
UGANDA, A Mother to Her First Born
For a new master might often change a slave's name and this indicated that the slave had absolutely no rights which a white person were bound to respect.
WILLIAM WELLS-BROWN, Narrative of William W. Brown,A Fugitive Slave,1847
The Western World has created me, given me my name, has hidden my truth as a permanent and historical fact. I may recover from this and I may not.
JAMES BALDWIN, in "James Baldwin...in Conversation," Arts in Society, Summer 1966
Strange Fruit. A Century of Lynching and Murder 1865-1965.
Dedicated to Ida Bell Wells-Barnett.
Thousands of names of victims of lynchings and their states.
Quilt Maker: April Shipp (2018)
CREDIT THE QUILT INDEX
Are Quilts Still Hand Tied?
"Quilting" is described as the stitching that hold the layers of a quilt together. This is usually done with the top, filling, and back basted or pinned together and then stretched onto a frame. Prior to the development of the sewing machine (mid 1800s), quilting was done by hand with a small running stitch or hand tied with a thick string or yarn.
During slavery, the slaves made quilts, some very elaborate, for their owners’ household. They then would spend their limited free time making quilts out of necessity for their own families using whatever scraps of fabric or clothing they could find. They would use this time to commune, share, and support each other through the challenges of the time.
As with the women of Gee’s Bend, African American quilter’s continued this tradition through sharecropping and on into the 20th century. The gathering around the frame to stitch or hand tie a quilt, although not very popular, is still being done today.
Ms. Ann Walker of Tacoma, WA, was determine to learned how to quilt. She remembers her mother, Ms. Rosalee and grandmother, Ms. Annie quilting on a frame hung from the ceiling when she was a young girl. It took her and a friend 3 weeks to complete and hand tie this black and white beauty she so loving named, Family Ties. Ms. Walker will be 90 years old this coming June and is already planning her next quilt.
Trip Around The World
Trip Around the World Quilt, 78” x 75”, Estella Weaver Nukes, c. 1936, The American Museum in Britain
This quilt was made by Mrs. Estella Nukes and the African American women of the Works Projects Administration (WPA) in Marion, Indiana, to show their appreciation to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is assumed the ladies honored the President's passion for stamp collecting with this quilt made entirely of postage stamp size pieces. Surprisingly, the quilt was never registered as a gift in the White House records, but a Postage Stamp quilt of this description was listed as part of the Roosevelt estate. The quilt was passed to Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandson in 1941, who in turn donated it to the American Museum in Britain.
The Trip Around the World quilt pattern, (sometimes known as Sunshine and Shadows, Postage Stamp, or Grandma’s Dream), was a very popular depression era pattern because it could be made with small pieces of scrap fabric. By the 1930s, quilting was no longer just a passive activity for those who could afford it. Textile manufacturing, feed sacks, and repurposed clothing made fabrics readily available to everyone. Quilting was done out of the necessity to keep the family warm and to make do. The quilt below is a beautiful example of a depression era Trip Around the World made from scraps. The yellow and red contrast is stunning.
Sunshine and Shadows Quilt, 80” x 66”, c. 1930-1940, owned by Rosemary Tureaud who lived in Washington State.
Mrs. Rosemary Tureaud inherited this quilt made by her grandmother, Eula Mae Brim, of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. The quilt is hand sewn and quilted. It is not known exactly when Eula created this quilt but the fabrics appear to come from the 1930s - 40s, if not later.
Eula Mae Brim, b. 1895 - d. 1977
Eula Mae married Love (Mannie) Brim in 1912. She and Mannie were sharecroppers who migrated between Arkansas and Louisiana. They moved around as they found work and lodging. They finally settled in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, bought a farm, and raised seven sons.
Bell-Kite, Diana, 2015. "Quilting Part IV: The Great Depression." North Carolina Museum of History, 2015.
Kyra E. Hicks, Franklin Roosevelt's Postage stamp Quilt. Arlington, VA: Black Threads Press, 2012.
Turtle On A Quilt
Turtle on a Quilt - Encyclopedia of Pieced Patterns #1479
Barbara Brackman, Encyclopedia of Pieced Patterns, (Paducah, KY: American Quilters Society, 1993), 192-193
From 1928 to 1961, over 1,000 sewing and embroidery patterns were published in the Kansas City Star newspaper and its succeeding Weeklies. This Turtle on a Quilt pattern was first published in the Kansas City Star in 1943, and again as a Terrapin in 1949. It later appeared in 1960 in the Weekly Star Farmer Oklahoma/Arkansas Edition as the Turtle Quilt pattern. As was the habit of the day, many quilters clipped and saved these patterns. Trading amongst neighbors and quilting bees was also very common.
Snapping Turtle Quilt, 42” x 70”, c. 1974, owned by Ms. Beverly Miller of Tacoma, WA
This quilt was made by Ms. Beverly Miller's grandmother, Idonia Holmes. Mama Idonia, as she was known, was born in 1900 and lived in Hope, Arkansas. She was a homemaker, elevator operator, and a midwife. To her family, she was a real character who drank a beer and ate a raw onion everyday.
Mama Idonia made sure everyone in the family had one of her quilts. She made many from old dresses and shirts she did not wear anymore. All were hand stitched and quilted as she never owned a sewing machine. Mama Idonia also liked to make her own quilt patterns. She often traced patterns and traded with her neighbors. It is very possible this quilt was made with some version of the Star's 1960 Turtle Quilt pattern. To make it unique, she purposely left one turtle without a tail.
Beverly has lived in Tacoma most of her life. She's been a Realtor for over 21 years and works for John L. Scott Realty.
McCathron, Nettie, Quilt. Blocks from The Kansas City Star. San Marcos, CA: ASN Publishing, 1987.
1000 Vintage Kansas City star Newspaper Quilt Patterns,The Secret library of Forgotten Knowledge, CD-ROM
Turkey Red Cutwork, circa 1865, unknown maker
I found this Turkey Red Cutwork quilt on display at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum last year.
This fabulous Turkey red and white quilt was made by unnamed black and white needlewomen. It is entirely hand pieced and hand quilted with a snowflake like design that has stunning impact when viewed from a distance.
86 Lashes To Go...
from the Telling Our Stories, Museum of Mississippi History, quilted Slave Series. Mississippi passed its own slave code governing slaves, free negroes, and mulottos in 1823. The code restricted slave movements and activities, while protecting masters’ property rights. Slave punishments included lashes on the bare back, burned hands, maiming, and death.
The following quilts are just a few pieces made by Gwendolyn A. Magee, 2010.+
86 Lashes To Go, 2010
pieced, quilted, and appliqèd cotton with mesh-braided rope and cord trim.
Can be found on display in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
You Ain't Go Run No More Boy...
"One of the punishments sometimes applied to slaves with multiple escape attempts."
- Gwendolyn A. Magee, 2010
Collection of the Mississippi Museum of Art. Purchase, with funds from the McCravey Fund, 2013.021"
Spill It Gal And You'll Lick It Up...
"Even children as young as four were pressed into service for even the nastiest of tasks, such as the emptying of chamber pots or slop jars; nor did their tender age afford any understanding for mistakes or offer any protection to them from horrific punishments."
-Gwendolyn A. Magee, 2010
Spill It Gal And You'll Lick It Up, pieced appliquèd, and quilted cotton, rayon, and organdy with cording.
Collection of the Mississippi Museum of Art. Purchase, with funds from the McCravey Fund, 2013.016.
A Stitch in Time... The Freedom Quilt
The Freedom Quilt was made in 1975 by Jessie Bell Williams. It is an expression of her experiences during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. She lost her job as a cafeteria worker at an elementary school when her employer found out she had registered to vote. The quilt is an affirmation of her personal freedoms and a statement about the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans.
Made by Jessie Bell Willliams
c. 1975, 73" x 87"