1916 - 2010

Allie Pettway


    Allie Pettway was the middle of three quiltmaking sisters in Gee’s Bend (the others being Sweet T. and Lutisha). Her work is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

    I learned quilting by myself, messing up quilts, doing the best I could, you know, by being a young girl and didn’t know how, just piecing whatever I could get, sewing it together trying to make quilts. That’s the only way I learned, and after that, when I got married, after while, I learned pretty good. I got good ideas from my mother-in-law, Henrietta. Me and her sewed together. When I had children I had to do better. Made quilts out of old dress tails, shirt tails, that’s the way I did so the children would be covered up.

    Later on we started quilting up there to Candis Pettway house. I wanted to go up to Estelle Witherspoon, she had the quilting bee up in Rehoboth. My husband was trying to get under Social Security, and they didn’t let me work much up there ’cause they say I couldn’t work and he get the money from the government. Estelle still try to keep me and pay me undercover, but John say, 'No, it’s best you don’t go up there," so I didn’t. Estelle was so sweet, she was so nice.

    Candis started the little group: Candis, Red [Candis’s daughter Qunnie], [Lucy] Mingo, and sometimes my daughter Lola came by—she was kind of young, didn’t come by too much. We sit out there in the yard, under that old sugarball tree, and sew together. You could walk by and see us there most every day. It went on a long time. Then me and Mingo went to quilting right out there in that little house in the front yard. My grandson Frank built it for us. Everybody piece by themselves, you know, but help one another quilt it.

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt

    This book and exhibition are part of a growing family of research projects about the African American community of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, and its quilts. Surrounded on three sides by a river, Gee’s Bend developed a distinctive local culture and quilt design aesthetic. In 2002 the inaugural exhibition The Quilts of Gee’s Bend documented these quiltmaking achievements. Expanding upon that initial exhibition and its accompanying publications, Gee’s Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt offers a deeper look into the women and their art, and a more focused investigation into the nature and inspirations—and future—of the Gee’s Bend quilt tradition.

    Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

    Gee's Bend: The Women and Their Quilts

    Gee’s Bend quilts carry forward an old and proud tradition of textiles made for home and family. They represent only a part of the rich body of African American quilts. But they are in a league by themselves. Few other places can boast the extent of Gee’s Bend’s artistic achievement, the result of both geographical isolation and an unusual degree of cultural continuity. In few places elsewhere have works been found by three and sometimes four generations of women in the same family, or works that bear witness to visual conversations among community quilting groups and lineages. Gee’s Bend’s art also stands out for its flair—quilts composed boldly and improvisationally, in geometries that transform recycled work clothes and dresses, feed sacks, and fabric remnants.

    The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend

    This uplifting, Emmy-winning PBS film tells the modern-day "Cinderalla" story of the quiltmakers of Gee's Bend, Alabama. Artists born into extreme poverty, they live to see their quilts hailed by a The New York Times art critic as "some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has produced."