QuiltCon Day 3 ~ Quilting From the Heart

The Impact of the Gee’s Bend Quilters’ Faith on QuiltCon

Tonight the  Gee’s Bend Quilters gave the keynote address at QuiltCon.  I felt a bit embarrassed when someone in the audience asked them if the quilts they saw at QuiltCon would have an impact on their quilting or change it in anyway. Mary Ann Pettway simply answered “No,” which I thought was an honest reply to an extremely awkward question.

(edit – I personally found the  question uncomfortable because of what I didn’t hear in it, a respectful understanding that their work has a certain visionary integrity that comes from within. I think many contemporary quilters, myself included, are overly influenced by exterior factors, design/color/fabric trends and what other people are making. An open ended question would have been better put, something like “What are your impressions of the quilts you have seen at QuiltCon?” Wondering about their take on our quilts is certainly valid – and I suppose that was the gist of the original question – the way it was put felt awkward to me.)

Shouldn’t we instead be asking the reverse question?  How will our exposure at QuiltCon to the Gee’s Bend Quilters’ faith as the source of their creative process change the way we make our quilts, or our perceptions of what quilting is all about. What are your thoughts? Not only did the Gee’s Bend Quilters give the keynote to hundreds of attendees, they taught two workshops a day. If you were at QuilCon will the witness of these women impact your quilting on a personal level in any way? Do you think it will shape the Modern Quilt movement as a whole in any way? And if so so how?

The Gee’s Bend women reminded me that quilt making comes from the heart, and that it’s a gift of grace. It was profound to experience quilting as a spiritual matter through their songs, prayers, stories and blessing of permission to “just start sewing” – that we can make things our own way – and it is good.

And in timely fashion here’s a recent article in the NY Times about the quilters and quilts of Gee’s Bend.

Patchwork Doodling Workshop


You can see by these images that this group of students made my job easy today. They just went to town and did their things! The output and diversity was quite impressive. Again, this was the first time I’ve ever taught this workshop and I discovered that everyone does indeed doodle differently.


We began class by doodling for a few minutes and then discussed the process of drawing responsively. The way people doodled varied vastly and it was and in a way wasn’t surprising at all when these differences came out in their patchwork doodles. People doodle with patchwork much in the same way they doodle with pen and paper.


It was also interesting to see when and how the process kicked in for people, how far they could take things until they got stuck, what kind of things got them stuck and what kinds of things they could do to become unstuck. I loved watching the Patchwork Doodling process unfold in my students as much as I enjoyed watching their patchwork doodles take shape.

Improv Handbooks Are Back IN STOCK

Yay! One more day of signing books at QuiltCon. Pick your copy up today. Text your best friend who’s at QuiltCon and ask them to stop by the Stitch Lab Booth #216, and bring you back a signed copy!


This entry was posted in Community, Modern Improv, The Modern Quilt and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to QuiltCon Day 3 ~ Quilting From the Heart

  1. carla bynum says:

    Hi!!!!! Carla again!!!! The president of the Louisville Modern Quilt Guild took your Doodles Class and shared with the group this past Sunday!!!!! She had so much fun and so did I when she shared!!!! She is going to share more next month!!!! Thank You

  2. Sue says:

    I will admit that I did not attend Quiltcon (hopefully I will attend in 2017) so I did not hear the keynote address. But it is my understanding that the quilters of Gees Bend derive their inspiration from their faith. That is admirable and their creativity is undeniable. But I do not derive my inspiration for quilting from a place of faith. My creativity and inspiration just comes from within, from my experiences of life and other people and from what I see and experience in this world. Is that any less valuable?

    • sherrilynn says:

      Nope I don’t think so Sue. Seems like you come from a place of integrity just as the Gee’s Bend Quilters do. That’s okay if you don’t understand that place as being a spiritual practice or expression of faith. I guess for you it’s more about design and an inner sense of style?

  3. Hello, thank you for sharing your experience at and about Quiltcon. I couldn’t be there myself, so I have been enjoying everyone’s take on the various events of this past weekend. I watched a documentary about the Gee’s Bend quilters awhile back. You can see how spirituality is infused into their daily lives and how it just naturally spills over into their quilts. These are the types of quilts I grew up with in Chicago and they are apart of the legacy I hope to continue in my own work.

  4. Hmm…….when does it become an embarrassment to ask about quilters influencing each other? Don’t you hope to Influence others with your work? Don’t you want to be influenced by others?

    How can we always expect to be the speaker and never the listener?

    • sherrilynn says:

      Hi Glen, I think it was the way that the question was asked. It would have been better if it had been an open ended question like “What are your impressions of the quilts you have seen at the QuiltCon exhibition?” And I think it’s clear that the work by the Gee’s Bend women come from an interior spiritual place. Their quilts are expressions of hope, faith and gratitude grounded in their experience of a loving God active in their daily life, and community in Gee’s Bend. They are not so concerned with the design trends of the exterior culture at large. That’s why their visionary quilts have influenced contemporary art practice as well has sparked a revival in quilting across the country. It seems like the questioner missed that – but in fairness – all questions are game. I think the Gee’s Bend women would have been able to elaborate more effectively if the question had been more open and thus reflected an understanding of the integrity of their work.

  5. Tina J says:


    Thanks for covering the QuiltCon is such great fashion! I am not surprised at all that your book sold out! I can hardly wait to get my hands on the book. I love improvisational quilting. I had a break-through year last year, working on the quilt score from you and attending a Gees Bend workshop-all in one year! WOW-my quilt life is forever changed!

    I love seeing all of the color and the wonderful creations! Please keep them coming. Also, could you tell me if I could purchase a pin from you.


  6. Sherri, Gee’s Bend and your improvisational style have been major influences in how I proceeded from total beginner to not-quite-beginner in the last couple years. I realized that corners didn’t always have to be precise for love and caring and creativity to shine thru. A fine quilter in Hillsboro Oregon told me one day, “Your quilt; Your rules!” Well, that lightened the load of perfectionism that was trying to engulf me that month like nobody’s business. I came out of my funk and went to Create-Town after tossing my strict-ruler. I have loved every minute of it since.

    Thank you for what you have taught us and freed us up to do in our own ways.

  7. V. Bobro says:

    Hi Sherri, loved your doodle class. It was me who asked the “extremely awkward question” about how Quiltcon might affect the Gee’s Bend quilters. And I consider the question a thoughtful (or at least stimulating) one, particularly since the “how will Gee’s Bend quilters affect attendees?” question was already being asked (a lot). I was curious to hear from them about their process and influences. After all, they are just regular people and artists who *will* be influenced by their daily experiences. The rest of us are soaking in the vast array of amazing quilts at Quiltcon, and will be inspired by what we see! … Why would they be different? And, in fact, though Mary Ann quickly answered “no” at first, and said– everyone is unique and has their own artistic style… She ended by adding that, in fact, she loved all the colors and would be broadening her color palette. One of the highlights of Quiltcon is the intermingling of ideas, aesthetics, and design, and the rising up of interesting debates (arguments?) about “what is modem quilting?” and where are we going? And even more philosophical discussions about the nature of art vs. craft, and process vs. product. It’s my hope that instead of my question being embarrassing, that it contributed to a wider conversation about how we evolve as artists and makers. Taking risks with our conversations is as important as taking risks with our fabric.

    • Erika says:

      This makes a ton of sense to me. Is it not the very nature of improv that we are all open to each other? Thus the question is just an invitation to express that experience.

    • sherrilynn says:

      Yes – I think your question is reasonable. I was uncomfortable because I didn’t hear in your question, and didn’t feel that many people got the fact that their work has a certain integrity that comes from within – and that’s what improv is about – finding your interior integrity, or authenticity. I think many contemporary quilters are overly influenced by exterior factors. So perhaps that’s what made me feel awkward. That’s just my perspective and experience not everyone’s. It did seem to me that many QuiltCon attendees had a difficult time understanding that the Gee’s Bend quilters’ faith/evangelism and their quilts are one and the same expression – not everyone but many – and that does bug me. Sorry to shine a spotlight on your question but it was one way to bring this larger discussion to the table.

  8. Tubularsock says:

    EVERTHING comes through grace and spirit and the way that happens is through the improv practice of Yes, and . . . .

    The Gee’s Bend Quilters may find themselves surprised in the future ……..

  9. Janet says:

    I remember when I first saw a Gees Bend Quilt and how it affected me and how they still do to this day. It’s like I can’t get enough of seeing them and trying to absorb them. The wonderment that comes with my awe of how they were composed and the way they speak to me is spiritual in a way. I approach quilting as a necessary activity that I need in my life as much as I do food and water and a glass of wine now and then.

  10. Sue Kelly says:

    Sherri Lynn, thank you for giving some of us a nice vicarious visit at QuiltCon. The Quilt Doodles look like so much fun I think I will doodle some today! I very much resonate with your discomfort around the question to the Gees Bend ladies. We should all be so lucky to arrive at our art as authentically as they seem to have done…as you say, through grace and spirit. I think you have arrived that way, too. I love that you want to help us to our own expression. Keep up the good work!

  11. debby says:

    Thanks for sharing these reports from QuiltCon. I so wish I had come this year. I am a huge “fan” of the Gees Bend Quilters. They have had a profound impact on my quilting. And I am so excited for your success with your book–can hardly wait to get my own copy! Your doodle quilting class makes my hands itchy to doodle.

  12. carla bynum says:

    HI!!!! Wow!!!! The doodle blocks look amazing!!!!! Looks like so much fun!!!! Thanks for sharing pics!!!! Wish I had been there!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *