"Housetop"—"Postage Stamp"

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Cotton and cotton blend
97 x 85 inches
Collection of
Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Mensie Lee Pettway described the way she begins to construct a quilt: “I start out with about an eighteen-inch block. That block give you a start with the color and design. I may put that block at the end or in the middle, and then I may go around and keep going around until it got big enough. Sometime I may make a bunch of blocks and put them together. Sometime I may start it at the bottom and go up like a stepladder. But not ever the same way twice.”

Her "Housetop"—"Postage Stamp" quilt from 1996 demonstrates this technique. The bottom of the quilt contains a sequence of solid rectangular strips that announce the quilt’s palette. Mensie Lee builds with small blocks around the perimeter—like walls of a house—a series of rectangles and squares. The use of small postage-stamp pieces of fancy decorator upholstery scraps salvaged by the quiltmaker gives her work a look of opulently jumbled abstraction, yet close examination reveals a carefully constructed “Housetop” pattern of concentric squares and frames.