Creola Bennett Pettway
Creola Bennett Pettway's quilts favor lucid geometries and frequent modulations in motif. She is a member of one of the largest families of quilters in Gee’s Bend, which includes her sisters, Ella Mae Irby and Georgiana Pettway, and her mother, Delia Bennett, who taught her to quilt.
When I first started out to making quilts, it was with my mother, Delia Bennett. And when she got her some pieces, we sot down watched her. Then we decided we would get up and get o needle and thread, too, and kneel down and look after her put her pieces together. And after she would put her pieces together, I decided I would put me some pieces together, too. And after we put them together, then we looked up at her lap—she had them laying in her lap—to see was my quilt block pieced like hers. She said, “You coming on good, girl.” And we just continued piecing, piecing, piecing, piecing, piecing.
Quiltmakers in Gee’s Bend typically locate the origins for their designs in their heads, and many disavow the use of printed patterns. Pettway describes her mother’s and her own design abilities in just those terms:
She had it in her head, so that’s why we don’t use patterns. I don't use patterns. When I get ready to make me a quilt, I just get me some cloth and start sewing. We had the pattern in our head, and that was the best. My mother had the quilt in her head. She didn't use no pattern. She used her brains!
A deep Christian spirituality runs through the creative lives of the quiltmakers, and many of them perceive quiltmaking as an occasion of spiritual reflection through song, prayer, and meditation. Working on quilts creates for the quiltmakers a special space, a place somehow disconnected from the grind of everyday life, where they can relate to a higher and more transcendent power. Creola Pettway gives thanks for each completed quilt:
There’s praise. Thank God. That quilt I tied just now. I just praise God for giving me the opportunity to sit down and allow me my mind and my health and my knowledge and understanding. When I got through that, now I just got up. I said, “Thank you. Jesus!”
In addition to quilting, Pettway sang with the gospel quartet White Rose alongside fellow quilters Arlonzia Pettway, Leola Pettway, and Georgiana Pettway. For over thirty-five years, the group performed in Gee’s Bend and throughout the South.