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Quilts Full of Culture From the Women of Gee’s Bend

Feb 1, 2021

by Stephanie Moise

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Deep in the south is a small, rural community, surrounded by the Alabama River and steeped in history. The 700 or so residents of Gee’s Bend—now named Boykin—are mostly descendants of slaves; for generations, they worked the fields belonging to the local Pettway plantation. Since the early 1920s, the women have quilted hundreds of patchwork masterpieces, passing their expertise and patterns down through the years. Known worldwide as The Gee’s Bend Quilters, their renowned works have been featured in over 20 museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Philadelphia Museum of Art. And for the first time, these expressive tapestries are available for purchase online.

The Gee’s Bend Quilters and their quilts embody storytelling, resilience, and beauty. At Etsy, we’re big believers in connecting through creativity and in the undeniable magic of owning a piece of history. In partnership with Nest (a nonprofit focused on equity in the Makers Movement) and Souls Grown Deep (a foundation focused on elevating Black artists), we are proud to support these incredible artisans, showcasing their one-of-a-kind colorful creations.  

The following story features the quiltmakers in their own words. Read on to meet a few of these talented makers—debuting their shops today in honor of Black History Month!—and discover their beautiful wares. 

Mary Margaret Pettway

“At the end of the quilting process, you can rub your hand over it—you can feel the fabric come to life.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Mary Margaret Pettway posing with her various quilts.
Shop Mary Margaret Pettway’s quilts from Etsy shop Lunky’s Baby, priced from $69

The daughter of Lucy Pettway, Mary Margaret Pettway is a third generation Gee’s Bend Quilter; her children are the fourth. Growing up surrounded by all the talent and drive of the women in her mother’s quilting circle made a big impression on her. “[She] used to have a little clique.” Mary Margaret says. “It would be about five or six of them sitting around, just quilting and talking. They would finish either that day or early morning the day after.” These days, Mary Margaret loves to work by herself; “I’m what my mother used to call, ‘particular about my stitches.’” That precision is something you can see and feel in her finished products. “When you’re done, when you hang that quilt up or spread it out on a bed, it looks so pretty!” she says. “You just want to touch it.” 

Sharon Williams 

 “I quilt because it makes me happy! My favorite thing is when people like them.” 

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Sharon Williams and her quilts.
Shop Sharon Williams’s quilts from Etsy shop Sha’s Shop Gee’s Bend, priced from $96

Sharon Williams remembers the exact moment she started making. “I used to go and sit under the quilt with my momma (Rosalee Pettway), watching her,” Sharon says. “One day, when she had her back turned, I tried to go and sew that quilt myself—and she saw I could make a stitch or two! So, she put me on the quilt.” Partial to bold colors and a fan of freestyling, Sharon has perfected her quilting technique. “There are many different patterns, but I like doing my own thing, just coming up with an idea and going for it. It’s very relaxing for me. I get out there, turn my radio on, and I can sew up a storm!” 

Caster Pettway

“When people look at my work, they know me, the person that I am.” 

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Caster Pettway and her quilts.
Shop Caster Pettway’s quilts from Etsy shop Quilts by Caster, priced from $1,660

To spark inspiration, Caster Pettway goes on walks. “That’s like the best thing ever,” she says, “finding beauty in myself and all around me.” The daughter of Gee’s Bend quilter Indiana Bendolph, and the second youngest of 10 children, Caster quickly jumped into crafting and helping around the house. “Everything my momma did, I wanted to do,” she remembers, “so I learned to quilt. At six years old, I was cooking cornbread and pulling cotton in the field—the smallest one out there!” Today, Caster enjoys making time for herself and her favorite hobby, preferring to work with a Grandmother’s Dream pattern. Her favorite thing about making quilts? “Giving them away!” 

Doris Mosely 

“Quilting is my life right now, I love it!” 

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Doris Mosely and her quilts.
Shop Doris Mosely’s homewares and quilts from Etsy shop Kiara’s Quilt Boutique, priced from $28

Born and raised in Boykin, Alabama, Doris Mosely learned to sew from her mother, Leola Pettway. Though she used to quilt for loved ones (”I love that it helps me provide—making for my family, my friends,” she says), sitting down to stitch has become a joyful pastime, one that Doris loves. “I find beauty in fabrics, colors, different patterns,” she says. “I make my patterns up, and when I have little bits of materials left, I just quilt them together and see how it comes out.” 

Emma Mooney Pettway

“It’s the love of the quilt. Looking at the pretty material makes me want to do something exciting.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Emma Mooney Pettway and her quilts.
Shop Emma Mooney Pettway’s quilts from Etsy shop Emma’s Lovely Treasures, priced from $339

For Emma Mooney Pettway, creativity is a part of her family’s heritage. Her mother, Tanzy Mooney, is a Gee’s Bend Quilter, as are her grandmothers, Mary Major and Lottie Mooney—the latter whose quilt was one of ten designs featured on a US postage stamp in 2006. “They taught me how to sew at a young age,” Emma remembers. “I found inspiration just sitting under the quilt, threading the needle.” So it’s no surprise that her penchant for patchwork comes naturally. “It just pops in my head when I piece up fabric,” she says. “I love matching all the colors together.”

Kristin Pettway

“I’m inspired to keep quilting to keep the legacy going.” 

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Kristin Pettway and her quilts.
Shop Kristin Pettway’s quilts from Etsy shop At the Door Quilts, priced from $349

It’s safe to say that sewing has dramatically shaped Kristin Pettway—her great-grandmother is Delia Bennett, the matriarch of one of the largest families of quilters in Gee’s Bend. “All my life, I’ve been around quilts,” she says. “My grandmother was Georgianna Pettway—she was a quilter. Stella Pettway‘s my aunt and she’s also a quilter. My mom quilts a little bit, and now it’s down to me.” A true artist at heart, Kristin is drawn to unique forms of expression—when not quilting, she loves to play the piano! “I find beauty everywhere—I think songs are beautiful, I think flowers are gorgeous,” Kristin says. “I make quilts to express myself, to show this is how I’m feeling.” 

Loretta Pettway Bennett 

“My mother, her mother, and my aunts have sewn the foundation; all I have to do now is thread my own needle.” 

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Loretta Pettway Bennett and her quilted masks
Shop quilted masks from Loretta Pettway Bennett from Sew Lolo Shop, priced from $15

Loretta Pettway Bennett was first introduced to quilting at age six; her mother, Qunnie Pettway, worked for the Freedom Quilting Bee. “At that age, we were only allowed to thread the needles for the quilters,” she recalls. “Since quilting was such a part of [our] lives, I believe the seed of creativity was planted into my genes.” After traveling and living in a multitude of places, including Germany, Loretta’s family has settled in North Alabama, and frequently visits Gee’s Bend. In 2001, she received a fellowship grant from the Alabama State Archive Council on the Arts. “With it, my mother was able to officially teach me the fine art of quilting,” Loretta says. The quilt they made currently hangs on display in the Alabama Department of Archives and History. “It’s very likely that moving around so much influenced my style, but I will let you be the judge of that!” 

Doris Pettway Hacketts

I want my quilts to show my personality!” 

Shop Doris Pettway Hacketts’s quilts from Etsy shop K and K Quilted Treasure, priced from $47

As the seventh of 13 children, Doris Pettway Hacketts has perfected balancing independence and community. “Growing up, I worked in the cotton fields and helped around the house,” she says, but then? “I left the cotton fields to go to college! I’ve always been determined.” Post-graduation, however, she returned to her roots, and her passion for quilting was quickly piqued. “It’s like therapy for me. You get such joy out of it because you use your hands to make it work.” For Doris, quilting is also an apt metaphor for finding your way. “Sometimes your life is going to be colorful, and sometimes, it’s going to be dark. It’s never the same. So when you’re piecing that quilt together, sometimes it doesn’t work. But you don’t throw it away. You just take it apart and put it back together.” 

Lue Ida McCloud

I make quilts for peace of mind, it gives me joy.

Shop Lue Ida McCloud’s quilts from Etsy shop Quilts by Lue, priced from $580

Lue Ida McCloud comes from a big family of quilters. “My grandmother, Delia Bennett, and her sister, Menda Coleman, were quilters. My mother was a quilter, Ella Mae Irby. My sister was a quilter, Linda Diane Bennett. And my sister is Mary Margaret Pettway. All of us are quilters!” At 17, Lue Ida moved to Brooklyn, NY, and worked at JP Morgan for 10 years before returning to Gee’s Bend to help raise her sisters’ children. It was then that she really began to craft. “My grandmother and my mother taught me,” Lue Ida recalls. “My sister, Mary Margaret, too. I used to sit around and observe them.” Her favorite quilt to make is a symbol of all those generations of give and take. “The Robbing Peter to Pay Paul pattern: It’s when you take one color and add it to another color, and take another color and add it to the color before. It’s just Iike life.”

As part of this partnership, Etsy will make a $50,000 grant to Nest, supporting continued efforts to provide the quilters with the resources and education they need to open, maintain, and grow their Etsy shops. All transaction fees will also be covered by Etsy for a period of time.

To learn more about The Gee’s Bend Quilters and shop their one-of-a-kind works of art, please check out The Gee’s Bend Quilters page, and be on the lookout for the official Gee’s Bend Quilts badge. You can also visit their Instagram page.

Photographed by Stacy K. Allen. Additional photographs by Steve Pitkin, in partnership with Nest and Souls Grown Deep.

Shop The Gee’s Bend Quilters

62 comments

  • lesleychandler2

    Lesley Chandler from sunnyvilledesigns said 98 days ago

    I loved this article. I love the use of patterns and colors. I loved what one of the ladies said. When she gets done you can feel the pattern come to life. I also grew up with a Grandmother who quilted. I got one of her quilts for my wedding. I was not smart enough to give it the care it deserved so it is quite worn out. But, it is a treasure. I say if you get one of these quilts-especially from your family-you treasure it and take good care of it. I applaud these ladies and their talent! Thanks for this beautiful story and pictures.

  • shaileshsaigal

    Shailesh Saigal said 98 days ago

    Beautiful adorable Gees Bend Women (and sometimes men :-) To Black Women by Gwendolyn Brooks Sisters, where there is cold silence no hallelujahs, no hurrahs at all, no handshakes, no neon red or blue, no smiling faces prevail. Prevail across the editors of the world who are obsessed, self-honeying and self-crowned in the seduced arena. It has been a hard trudge, with fainting, bandaging and death. There have been startling confrontations. There have been tramplings. Tramplings of monarchs and of other men. But there remain large countries in your eyes. Shrewd sun. The civil balance. The listening secrets. And you create and train your flowers still.

  • pskmjgg3

    Kendra Dyson from FromTheHearthStore said 97 days ago

    I love the bold colors and patterns. The stories behind the quilts give them such life.

  • w11ymmdfe33oh31e

    Jamiyah from KaydenceKollections said 97 days ago

    This is beautiful and what a great way to kick off black history month. I am here for it. These pieces and stories are amazing. Its the colors for me. Its such a blessing to see these women being celebrated and acknowledged. These women are treasures themselves. Thx

  • k0nux1n52smctg2b

    Olga Gadach from EmbroideryByGadach said 97 days ago

    This is a whole world of beauty and inspiration. You want to have such a dress. It is so cozy and bright. It keeps the warmth of the hands that sewed it and this is the most valuable thing !!!

  • ke3vhbqsotqugq2h

    Svyatlav from SvyatlavSHOP said 97 days ago

    I love the bold colors

  • FieldsOfVintage

    Fields Of Vintage from FieldsOfVintage said 97 days ago

    I love this story! The quilts are wonderful and beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • bedouin

    Nicole from KarmaCodeOne said 97 days ago

    Terrific feature, lovely quilts ~ Beautiful inside and out.

  • kotskulich

    Tiana Kotskulich Precious Embroidery from TianaHandmade said 97 days ago

    I loved these works so much, clear vibrant colors and interesting patterns! Thank you for showing these beautiful creations!

  • YearsAfter

    Sharon from YearsAfter said 96 days ago

    Gorgeous Bold Quilts from Gees Bend! Each is more breathtaking then the next. Your creativeness is an inspiration!

  • z77ibyc5lbgfsz7x

    Jeannie from OneYardBandit said 96 days ago

    I'll have to check these out. I plan on using some of the fabrics in my shop to start making my own quilts, starting out small with baby quilts.

  • gdvip9ohglt1ksqe

    Shelly salyer said 96 days ago

    Very nice!

  • 4yeco7o24hji8t41

    Brotch Designs from BrotchDesigns said 96 days ago

    These are so original!

  • robinbush454

    Robin Bush said 95 days ago

    Beautiful story and the quilts are gorgeous!

  • x8qnpozo

    Anna from LissiKids said 95 days ago

    original blankets! thanks for sharing

  • Ciaffi

    ciaffi from ciaffi said 95 days ago

    Wonderful!!! Congratulations!!! :-) :-)

  • 6ocbjarv

    Musicornio Arte y Música from Musicornio said 95 days ago

    We loved them! It´s so beautiful! They are so inspiring. Go, go, talents up... "Sometimes your life will be colorful and sometimes it will be dark.."

  • snezanagolubova

    Snezana Golubova from PureHomeDesign said 95 days ago

    Lovely quilts! Beautiful story. Awesome colors!

  • 6enjgg37bvvghjfi

    Gianna Kebarg from kebargart said 94 days ago

    The patchwork quilts are awesome !!!!

  • fg5g7b77ppphvu8i

    RS Ißlàm said 94 days ago

    This is a beautiful ring.. It is made your life comfortable and feel very good.

  • senfgb0kzulnrcac

    Eloisa Mendez said 94 days ago

    Hermoso y original para las peticiones del público

  • tdph5389a13evrni

    Michael from BckyrdDesign said 94 days ago

    I loved this article

  • gilliannorthcott

    Gillian Northcott from esanivintage said 94 days ago

    I love the grey and white quilt. Very calming.

  • judydehavi47

    Judy DeHavilland from BellBottomBags said 94 days ago

    I have been quilting for about 20 years now. I have been inspired by the bold designs and use of color ever since I learned about the Gee's Bend Quilters Cooperative. Thanks for keeping up this wonderful tradition! Judy of Bell Bottom Bags

  • kitschens

    Susanna Nousiainen Studio from StudioSNou said 94 days ago

    Pictures has so bright beautiful light that goes well with the bright tones of the quilts, very beautiful!

  • z69hgea8uvg6na6o

    Frost McBlizzard from HandmadeRockJewelry said 94 days ago

    I'm inspired.Truly wowed.Your quilts are amazing!!

  • w9onq5njre097xeh

    Yolo Yolooo said 94 days ago

    wow

  • qcmw67kf

    Elena from DarkBlueCatArt said 93 days ago

    Oh, these blankets are so sunny! I love them!

  • maryj17629

    Mary Bond said 92 days ago

    Absolutely beautiful work ladies!

  • 48z2cnhky6tw4ca4

    Natalia from PaintingsFromWool said 92 days ago

    This is a whole family saga! It's wonderful when the secrets of mastery are inherited! The result is beautiful products. Perfectly matched color combinations.I admire this woman!

  • Palooza

    Zalooza from Zalooza said 92 days ago

    Beautiful quilts, history and inspiration! : )

  • PuddleDucksandRoses

    Tammy Stewart from EllasCottageCompany said 92 days ago

    I love the art, the beauty and the stories from Gee’s Bend Quilters.

  • kanauh

    Leslie Heath from kanauh said 90 days ago

    Wonderful!

  • ig7mfyxc

    Get Hired Now - Resume Writing from GetHiredNow said 90 days ago

    A lot of beauty and inspiration here. My grandma and nan used to quilt, brings back memories

  • szqxiqfs

    Rexanna Wright said 90 days ago

    I have always loved quilts & these are so beautiful! I teach 4th graders & we are starting our study of The Underground Railroad & the messages hidden in quilt patterns. I am so excited to see these artists thrive & continue such a special gift handed down from generation to generation! Thank you for keeping this art alive & thriving!💗

  • h5hoa44s84u0pqqt

    Joanna from EnsoYugenArtistry said 90 days ago

    It is truly inspiring and empowering to see the amazing works of art by such talented women. It is also heartwarming to read their individual stories.

  • mendllbp

    Posh Park from PoshPark said 90 days ago

    These are simply beautiful!

  • nj9y3o8c

    Yana from KristallSilverStudio said 90 days ago

    inspiring!

  • 8roak3di

    Jacqueline from rugsdallas said 90 days ago

    I love all this

  • 7coqywsi

    KsushaS from PatternAmigurumiKsu said 90 days ago

    Thanks for sharing these stories. Their words are very close to me as a creative person. There is a lot of love and warmth in the blankets. Good luck with their store

  • 2kk0a1zp

    Savannah from DesignsBySavShop said 89 days ago

    This is probably one of my favorite features to date -- So beautiful and full of so much heritage and culture. I love this!

  • fortheloveofree

    Sherre Perdue from bysherrep said 83 days ago

    I found out about Gees Bend Quiltmakers through Ulla Johnson's Spring 19 collection. They were one of her inspirations. I've felt connected since. Im so glad they are on here now. Black people are so talented and being from Alabama it makes me so proud of anything that comes from us. I hope they know they are talented, strong, and positive women who inspire me to keep going on my journey and being proud of where Im from and always standing up for myself. Hope to buy a quilt one day.

  • lpj6yi6e3g80661t

    Young Wun from Morningtonoon said 81 days ago

    Wow! I have a friend whose mom does beautiful quilts and blankets but she's shy to put them up. I'm sending this article pronto!

  • jeanpirnik

    Jean Pirnik said 81 days ago

    So happy that Esty gave them this resource to be successful.

  • roma1411a

    Ronda said 81 days ago

    Love their story...will definitely be buying one...

  • alexandrakeblish

    Alexandra Keblish said 80 days ago

    Such amazing, strong women who have not only created treasures, but are treasures themselves!!! Thank you! The stories they share are a legacy to our nation and a joy to learn about. These women managed to stand the test of time and their quilts will too!

  • wn7s7hvc

    Dennis said 78 days ago

    Beautiful. It would be interesting if some of the message quilts could be recreated. I would love to have a couple hanging in my home.

  • 71h3nvc1vrfzl2pp

    Jean Scheidemantel said 78 days ago

    Beautiful work ladies! I am envious and respectful of your talent and patience.

  • mhmlhqfl

    Andrea from Pachywear said 77 days ago

    As a quilter I am elated to see this tradition being carried on, quilting is an art and these women are the best. Hope to visit some day.

  • iqjewcw3auj9x8a4

    Angela-marta said 75 days ago

    Soo Beautiful!!!

  • izinhemg

    Glenna said 75 days ago

    As lovely as these quilts are, they nothing in comparison to the pictures of the ladies who made them. Please go back and look at each of them again. The pride and joy shines in each and every face. The ladies and gentlemen associated with your group are artists, memory keepers, and story tellers. 🪡🧵 well done indeed.

  • fdvi435c19gfvhbz

    Mycel from BemyneEnterprise said 73 days ago

    I love the colors! Beautiful story!

  • VintageUnderTheSun

    Sue Howell from VintageUnderTheSun said 73 days ago

    I gifted some of my Mom's vintage fabric to the ladies in October 2004, when they were in Norfolk,VA introducing their traveling exhibit @ The Chrysler Museum. It was an honor to share a part of my Mom's fabric collection with these talented salt of the earth gifted artists.

  • xo0dolb4

    Svetlana from ToysMagicStore said 73 days ago

    Very nice blankets!

  • lhirdyga

    Elena from TeddyStoreStudio said 73 days ago

    Delicious blankets! Thank you for the article.

  • j4pgiwqp

    Irina M from TheWorkOfIrina said 73 days ago

    Очень красивые одеяла!!!

  • hg235rixiogapudw

    Yvette said 68 days ago

    Beautiful quilts, and beautiful stories!

  • 03f7gkny

    Marina from MacraMeMix said 63 days ago

    cool!

  • pqguyqwo

    Vlada from BeeNovaShop said 53 days ago

    Nice 👍🏼

  • u3zvpkx5lzz7je51

    Gina B. from SpringsOfJoyArt said 50 days ago

    What a pleasure to read wonderful stories like this! Beautiful ladies and their quilts. Thanks for sharing!! I love to learn stories about sewing people because my mother used to be a clothes maker and embroiderer.

  • pdzfr5qxnhgnc49w

    The Gilded Homestead from TheGildedHomestead said 48 days ago

    I don’t know what is more beautiful; the women, the quilts or the generations of love and history. These women are truly inspirational and their talent is beyond amazing.

  • pdzfr5qxnhgnc49w

    The Gilded Homestead from TheGildedHomestead said 45 days ago

    What a beautiful article. These women are not only beautiful but have honored their craft, their multi generational foremothers and their dedication to honoring their history. I want a quilt because of it’s beauty. I want a quilt to support my fellow artisans. I want a quilt because it is a historical piece that carries with it herstory. And, I have added the town of Boykin (Gee’s Bend) to my summer travel bucket list.

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