Gees Bend Quilts
Improvisational Tradition


Black women in many rural Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi communities developed a quiltmaking tradition that has come to be synomous with the Gees Bend quilts. Quilts made in this tradition tend to share certain features such as: bold vertical strips, bright colors, large designs, multiple patterns, symbolism, asymmetry, and improvisation. When studying the features in the quilts of this particular African American quilting tradition, most notably the Gees Bend quilts, many scholars have suggested a linkage to the African textile design traditions.



Gee's Bend, Alabama is a tiny rural community, that, because of its geographic isolation from surrounding communities, as a result of its location in the bend of a river, has been largely left to itself for over 100 years after the end of the Civil War. It comes as no surprise therefore, that many of its traditions, including quilting, remained virtually unchanged well into the 1900s.

The Quilts of Gee's Bend in Context Project at Auburn University explores the history of Gee's Bend, Alabama, and tries to show it in the context of the lives, traditions, and histories of its residents and the Gees Bend quilt tradition.

While all of these features have been utilized in some fashion in quilts made all over America, the tradition of the women in these communities has combined the features in a distinctly unique way. Intensely personal and inventive, the quilts are also of a time, place, gender and ethnic group, adapted according to the artist's own interests and history. Some of the commonly used quilt patterns used by these quilters, include the star, housetop, log cabin, the bar design, and the sampler or everybody quilt.

Gees Bend 
Work Clothes quilt Mary Lee Bendolph (American, born 1935), Work-clothes quilt, 2002. Denim and cotton,
86 ½ x 73 ½ inches.
Collection of the Tinwood Alliance.
Photo: Stephen Pitkin
©Courtesy of libbrosof
Gees Bend 
Housetop quilt Geraldine Westbrook (American, b. 1919), "Housetop"-sixteen block variation, 1982.
Corduroy and Cotton,
92 x 80 inches.
Collection of the Tinwood Alliance.
Photo: Stephen Pitkin
©Courtesy of libbyrosof
Gees Bend 
Blocks, strips, strings, & half squares quilt Mary Lee Bendolph (American, born 1935), Blocks, strips, strings, and half squares, 2005.
Cotton, 84 x 81 inches.
Collection of the Tinwood Alliance.
Photo: Stephen Pitkin
©Courtesy of libbrosof




In 2006, the U.S. Postal Service celebrated the rich quilting legacy of four generations of African-American women in rural Alabama by issuing the "American Treasures: Gees Bend Quilts" commemorative stamps.




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