Lucy T. Pettway
Raised and trained by several of Gee’s Bend’s most serious quiltmakers, Lucy T. Pettway (1921-2004), known as “Lunky,” made quilts for seven decades. Whereas many quilters would develop an approach to quilting early on that remained consistent throughout their lives, Pettway rarely repeated herself. She was curious as an artist and conspicuously sought to explore almost every pattern known to her and to personalize it with her precise interpretation.
As she walked to and from the fields each workday, she carried a pencil and paper in her pocket to sketch ideas and observations. Sometimes a quilt drying on a line or a fence offered suggestions: a variation of the observed quilt, perhaps, or a variation of a detail, or a combination of colors. Something she noticed along the road or from the field might do the same. She sometimes took cloth scraps to the fields so that as ideas came to her while she worked, she could immediately create a quilt block during her rest break.
I was a farmer. I’m the fourth of fourteen children of Mary Ann and Tom O. Pettway. I was born in 1921. We farmed cotton, corn, peanuts, sugarcane, peas, millet—called it sorghum in them days. I plowed mules and steers. If my father was gone, I plowed in his place. Most of the time girls wasn’t let to plow.
We went to school in the old church back then. We didn’t go to school until the last of November. Come out of school last part of March, had to knock cotton stalks, cut bushes, clear up new ground, get ready to break the land and plant. When my daddy got a tractor, I didn’t have to plow no more. I had one kid already by then. I was twenty years. I stopped school at that time but was just in fifth grade. They had ones in the fifth grade older than I was, even.
I farmed right up to when they put the water down. They built a dam down at Miller’s Ferry and that flooded out the land between here and our farmland—we had a piece about ten acres on the hill by the river. We quit farming it then. After that, I just farmed a little around the house. I had lot more time then to piece up quilts and quilt them. I always had taken me some quilt pieces in the fields when I was working there, and when I knock off work at twelve to eat, I make me a block or so till I go back to the fields. When the field days ended, I went to making quilts most all the time when I wasn’t sewing and making clothes for my children to wear.
I started piecing quilts when I was probably about twelve. I loved to sew. I watched my mama, and got me some cloth, and went to piecing. The first quilt I ever made was a "Lazy Gal." I was thirteen. Then a "Nine Patch." Then I went to string quilts, just sewing pieces together. Old clothes we didn’t wear no more, that’s what we made them out of then.
My aunt Lucy, my grandmother’s sister, she was working for the white people across the river in Camden. She give us a book the white people gave her with quilt patterns in it. My mother made some quilts after the book patterns, and I do the same sometime—"Stars," "Monkey Wrench," that’s about it. I mostly made string quilts. I get me my ideas different kind of ways. I used to pass by quilts out on a line, get me a piece of paper and draw a pattern from it, make me my quilt. Mama was one to show me a lot. Mama make a "Snowball," I make me one. I used to go to Martha Jane’s house, my mama’s sister, help her quilt. My aunt Arie, my daddy’s baby sister, she make any kind of quilts. She nursed me when I was a baby. I loved her.
I been piecing quilt tops right up to about last year. I can’t quilt them no more. My head be swimming, like turning around, from high blood pressure. I went to the hospital in 1985 with this thing, found out what caused it. They say 'high blood pressure" but they ain’t done nothing about it. I’d love to go back to quilts. I love to quilt. I love to piece on them. I love to wash them. I love to look at pretty quilts. I got to make me another one.