"Basket Weave"

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
84 x 68 inches
Collection of
Souls Grown Deep Foundation

One of the most remarkable aspects of quilts is that so many similarities in shape can lead to such diversity in outcome. Geometry is an integral part of quiltmaking, and what makes the quilts of Gee‘s Bend the focus of so much attention is the seemingly innate ability of quiltmakers throughout the area to “bend” geometric shapes—squares, rectangles, triangles, polygons, and trapezoids—in so many different ways.

Logic tells us that strips, for example, which are, in reality, just extra-long rectangles, would have been used in early forms of patchwork. Formalized quilts, made as bedcovers, were put together from narrow strips of fabric by nineteenth-century quiltmakers in northeastern England and the Scottish border counties. These prototypes spawned an entire genre of quilts called “strippies.“

Even earlier, bright-colored strip weavings were made in Africa, particularly in Ghana. These were sewn together to make larger pieces of cloth, which were worn as ceremonial robes, not used as bedcovers. The influence of these fabrics, or at least similarities to them, shows up in many African American quilts, such as Polly Bennett's 1943 variation on a “Basket Weave,” a masterful quilt for its juxtapositions of colors.