Quiltmaker Arlonzia Pettway (b. 1923) describes her quiltmaking beginnings and acknowledges her mother-in-law, Jennie Pettway, as an artistically liberating influence.
The first quilt I made by myself, I was thirteen years old at my mama’s house. It was a “Nine Patch.” My mother had taught me to use those old tore-up clothing and make it into plain quilts. Before I married, I was wanting to make pretty quilts, fancy quilts, and my aunt Mattie Ross gave me some patterns to go by. I made up five pattern quilts for my marriage. After I was married, my mother-in-law, Jennie, taught me how to make different “Housetops” and “Hog Pen Pole” quilts and “Lazy Gals,” and how to just follow my imagination. I had not made that sort of stuff, ’cause I thought they was ugly, but when my mother-in-law learned me how to make them beautiful, I didn’t want to make nothing else. I watched her tear up old dress tails and make a quilt any kind of way she wanted to. I kind of put together what I learned from my mama and added to it Mattie Ross’s suggestions. And Jennie Pettway told me, “You don’t have to worry yourself trying to make a ‘Star of Bethlehem’ or any of those things you got to follow a pattern for. Just take what you know and do what you want to.” And that’s what I did, and I do it yet, and it’s a good way, too. It was when my mother-in-law told me I didn’t have to follow nobody’s ideas that I learnt myself to follow my head.