You Can Purchase Historic Gee's Bends Quilts for the First Time Ever
Dating back to the early 20th century, quilters from Gee's Bend in Boykin, Alabama, have passed down their skills and love of quilting using ancient fabrics and materials from generations prior. With just 700 inhabitants in the isolated African-American hamlet of Gee's Bend, Alabama, located along the Alabama River, generations of quilters who descended from slaves have used quilting as a way to document their cultural history and share their love of this time-honored craft.
For the first time ever, quilters from Gee's Bend have launched their own Etsy shops and will start selling their quilts today, February 1. Although these quilters have received widespread acclaim in the art and quilting communities, they have never had the platform to sell their quilts to the public. The quilters have partnered with Nest, Etsy, and Souls Grown Deep to develop direct-to-consumer platforms to sell their work.
"At Etsy, supporting creative entrepreneurs is at the heart of everything we do and this partnership perfectly embodies our commitment to providing makers with a platform to realize their economic potential. I have long admired the Gee's Bend quilters for both their rich history and craftsmanship and I am so excited for shoppers to be able to purchase these beautiful, handmade quilts online for the first time," says Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy's trend expert.
Quilter Caster Pettway finds inspiration for her quilts in the fabric that she uses. Her current work-in-progress uses sheets that she received for Christmas; when she saw them, she instantly knew that they would make a beautiful quilt. "I look at what cloth I have, what the colors are, and think about how these pieces could make a beautiful quilt. I use my instincts, and just start piecing it all together. Once you start working, it just comes to you," she says. On average, it takes her between five to seven days to finish one quilt.
The sale of all quilts will directly benefit quilters and the residents of Gee's Bend. More than half of residents live in poverty and without electricity, internet access, or plumbing. If you can't get your hands on one of their bespoke quilts, you can also make a donation of any size through Souls Grown Deep, which will help to train quilters on marketing, business, and sales strategies and provide professional photography for the quilts, as well as free computer and internet access. "Establishing an eCommerce presence will for the first time allow for us to sell our quilts outside of the Bend, and lay the groundwork for sustainable, long-term economic success of quilters, our families, and our community," says Mary Margaret Pettway, one of Gee's Bend quilters.
And for Caster Pettway, this newfound exposure has come as a pleasant surprise. "I am 67 years old! I have been quilting since I was about in the third or fourth grade. And all this is just awesome. It helps keep me going and thinking clearly! Keeps my mind sharp," she says.
Handsewn Cotton Quilt, 74 x 73 inches
Shop Now: Handsewn Quilt by Emma Pettway, $5,440, etsy.com.
Handsewn Cotton Quilt, 25 x 24 inches
Shop Now: Handsewn Quilt by Doris Pettway Hacketts, $150, etsy.com.
Handsewn Cotton Potholder, 12 x 11 inches
Shop Now: Handsewn Potholder by Doris Pettway Hacketts, $27.96, etsy.com.
Handsewn Cotton Quilt, 103 x 101 inches
Shop Now: Handsewn Quilt by Lue Ida, $2,200, etsy.com.
Handsewn Cotton Quilt, 46 x 44 inches
Shop Now: Handsewn Quilt by Sharon Williams, $1,105, etsy.com.