Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Quilts of Gee Bend

Housetop Quilt,  51" x 62" 2012
by jojo sabalvaro tan
based on the traditional log cabin design, the red square represents the hearth of the home.

The first time I came across quilts made by women from Gee Bend  was in a magazine article. I was immediately taken by the very graphic, modern, contemporary, and colorful designs that were also folksy, simple and traditional at the same time.  Gee Bend is an all black community in Alabama that was the site of a cotton plantation in the antebellum days. Sometimes using unconventional quilt fabrics such as corduroy and denim, the women of the town developed quilts in a distinctive bold yet sophisticated style based on traditional quilt designs. They did not work with patterns and relied on their instincts to put together shapes and colors.  The geometric designs were reminiscent of the Amish quilts and are evocative of works by modern artists such as Matisse, Klee, Kandinsky and Rothko, to name a few. They were primarily made for utilitarian purposes but are now collected as great works of American art. For more information, please visit www.quiltsofgeesbend.com/



On a trip to Connecticut to visit a high school classmate almost 10 years ago, I bought a postcard book featuring quilts from Gee Bend hoping to get inspiration to make a similar quilt based on the designs of the original Gee Bend quilt. Then, about 3 years ago I found a kit inspired by a Gee Bend quilt sold at one of my favorite quilt shops, A Touch of Amish. It was produced by Windham Fabrics.  I finally, tackled the quilt and finished the quilt top in less than 2 days.  I may have even been able to pull this off in one day. The quilt gods must have been smiling on me while I was making this quilt because I did not have to use my seam ripper once. If you are a quilter, you know that this is as close to a miracle as you"ll ever get. I think this is a great quilt for a beginner. My first quilt was a log cabin and this is even easier since it is actually just one giant block.

The fabrics provided in the quilt were all hand dyed and I love them because of the nuances the hand dyeing gave the quilt. I used a a sharper needle than usual, #70/10 needle size, since the fabric is of a more high thread count, Similar to batiks, there is no right and wrong side to the fabric which made it less likely to sew the wrong sides together.

The start of my Gee Bend quilt
I did some important preparation prior to starting the quilt like change the needle on the machine, clean the machine, change thread, fill the bobbin.  I used 100% cotton black thread. I also changed the blade on my rotary cutter. I did not need to prewash the fabrics,  but I did press them prior to cutting. As per instructions, I cut all the strips from each color and kept them together by color,  labeling each strip width with sticky tape. The instructions also told me to sub-cut each strip into smaller strips but I decided to do the sub-cutting as I went along. I think that helped me make less cutting mistakes. What also helped is I did not stress about putting the strips together exactly as instructed as long as I maintained the correct measurements in the end. If I had to 'fudge',  it was no big deal.

The kit came with a placement chart and I numbered each block so I can keep track of the sequence of sewing the strips together. I also colored each block on the chart as I finished sewing it.

Placement chart of quilt which I colored as I went along

At one point, I was working with long strips and I pinned my strips together to keep my seams straight and measurements accurate. I decided , I love the colorful  flat flower head pins. They are of a thinner gauge, sharper and glided through the fabric effortlessly. I think they are made by Dritz or Clover.  The flower head is white on one side and blue, neon pink, green or yellow on the other. After sewing each strip,  I was vigilant about pressing to set the seams and pressed them open. I also made sure I trimmed off my loose threads.  I have thread catchers by my sewing machine and cutting area and they came in handy.  After I finished the quilt top, I ended up with a neat sewing and cutting area. Another miracle!! I am also proud of how neat the back of my quilt looks.

Thread catcher/pin cushion I made 
The original quilt top this was based on was called House Top and was made by Rita Mae Pettway.

I do hope that the spontaneous, freeform creative spirit of the women of Gee Bend will rub off on me.


  1. Super interesting blog post! The quilts from Gee Bend are amazing! This is the first time that I have ever seen their work!

    The kit that you used seems intense and complicated. I'm impressed! I love the hand dyed fabrics that you choose. It added a nice touch!

  2. Thanks Pia. I really love the raw talent of these women from Gee Bend. Their quilts remind me of the Ghanaian fabrics, as well.