Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer Memories & Quilts

Summer is a time for lemonade and summer camp, ball parks and swimming - and perhaps a visit to Grandma's house, with scrapbooks, old photos, soft quilts and other treasures with stories. Like the quilts of Gee's Bend. 

Susan Goldman Rubin celebrates The Quilts of Gee's Bend in her new picture book filled with colorful images of the practical artistry of several generations of women in Gee's Bend, Alabama.  In 1928, "when Nettie Young was eleven years old, her mother gave her a pile of cloth strips and told her to make a quilt all by herself." The cloth came from old work shirts, dress tails and aprons. Nettie arranged it all into a design she called "Stacked Bricks."

“When I was growing up, you threw nothing away,” said Nettie Young. “You found every good spot for a quilt piece and that’s how you made your quilts.”

The women of Gee's Bend, descended from slaves on the Pettway Plantation, have been making quilts for generations. The quilts had a practical purpose, but they were also beautiful works of art.  "Ought not two quilts ever be the same," explained Mensie Lee Pettway.

"How did the women come up with original ideas? Annie Mae Young said, ‘You find the colors and the shapes and certain fabrics that work out right, kind of like working a puzzle.'"

The Gee's Bend quilts can be inspiration for young writers too, whether they are writing at camp, in class or surrounded by trunks in Grandma's attic.
·       Help children collect a few pieces of old clothing - especially shirts or skirts that can be cut into strips or squares.  Have them design a quilt, individually or as a group, using these pieces. Give them time to think about their design. Then ask them to write about their designs:
o   What do you like about the colors you put together?
o   Does your quilt tell a story?
o   Write a true or imaginary story about some of the fabric pieces: who wore that shirt? Where has that dress been? In the kitchen? At a party? If possible, talk to the person who wore a piece of clothing and then write down your "interview." 
o   If the quilt includes pieces of cloth from your own clothing, write about something you enjoyed doing while wearing that shirt or dress.
·       Alternatively, have children talk to an older friend or relative about some special item – a vase, a photo, a piece of jewelry, a quilt – and then ask the child to write down that story, like a journalist bringing another person alive with words.

If you are feeling very ambitious, you can help youngsters make real quilt squares and then a real quilt following the directions in Rubin's book – making their own little piece of history.  

Mensie Lee Pettway said, “A lot of people make quilts for your bed, for to keep you warm. But a quilt is more. It represents safekeeping, it represents beauty and you could say it represents family history.”

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