Lottie Mooney was born in Brown’s Quarters, a family unit on the former Pettway Plantation in Gee’s Bend. As a sharecropper, Mooney spent her childhood engaged in the hard labor of farming and learning the artistry of quiltmaking under the mentorship of her mother, Bessie Irby. When she married and had children, she assumed the traditional matriarchal role of sewing her children’s clothes and teaching her daughters the value of quilting with recycled fabrics, using worn-out clothing and rice and flour sacks as material for her quilts.
Her granddaughter Emma Mooney Pettway remembers her fondly as a spiritual woman with a generous spirit who was “always quilting and cooking”—ensuring that her family was greeted with a hot meal after working in the fields harvesting corn, peas, and cotton. Letting nothing go to waste, the children collected stray cotton fluff from the ground, teasing out the small seeds, twigs, and stones that would adhere to the fiber; the cleaned raw cotton was then used as batting for Mooney’s quilts.
Although life was difficult for her grandparents, Emma recalled their house being alive with joy, community, and family during her quilting circles and that, before her death, Mooney made a quilt composed of her grandchildren’s clothing that she presented to her son, Minniefield Mooney, Jr.