Alabama Folk School

I have just returned from a trip of a lifetime.  No, no, not an exotic trip to some far flung destination.  I am talking about Nauvoo, Alabama.  
The Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell seems to have been a well kept secret.  From me, at least.  Last winter my friend, Nifty, gave me the heads up on her plan to come south to learn from the ladies of Gee's Bend.   Naturally, I could not pass up this opportunity.  Along with 17 other ladies from all around the country, we made quilts with the guidance of Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway of Gee's Bend, AL.

I had the pleasure of reuniting with Nifty and Tina from Seattle, and meeting Nifty's sister-in-law, Bonnie, from Salem, OR.   I also had the pleasure of meeting Victoria, a.k.a. Bumble Beans,  and Kim from NY after reading their blogs for a long long time. They have both already posted some great pictures and reads. Victoria shared lots of great ones on her  Flickr link  Another new friend, Cathy from Birmingham, AL has posted great pictures and stories on her blog that you will enjoy checking out.  Sweet Diane from Birmingham posted some great pictures on Picasa.  Ann, from Jackson, MS also has a blog and a website.  Jump over to see what she has going on.  So, I am taking the lazy way out.  You must jump over to see their pictures and descriptions.  I promise you won't be disappointed.  
                      But I must tell you about this lady.  Cherrye Parker
left to right:
China Pettway from Gee's Bend, Cherrye Parker from Brimingham, AL, who had never made a quilt, and  Mary Ann Pettway from Gee's Bend.

Cherrye arrived with fabrics that she had purchased in Africa and a sewing machine just purchased, still in the box, with not a clue how to use it!  Not only did she learn to use a sewing machine, but completed the top and began to learn hand quilting.

Just look what she accomplished as a novice sewer/quilter.

My hat is off to you Cherrye!
Cherrye also wrote a very touching note to all after returning home.  With her permission, I am sharing her thoughts:

 but mama said we'd learn to quilt
           a note from Cherrye Fincher Parker

When I was a little girl, mama would sew a few clothes and crochet.
Somewhere along the way she stopped sewing and taught my friend, Juanakee
and me how to crochet...
but mama said we'd learn to quilt.

Mama, Mrs. Lillie M. H. Fincher,  and I crocheted lots of blankets for Cassandra, my sister, Jasmine, my one niece, Mu Dear, my grandmother - Dr. Gertrude C. Sanders, and family friends. We shared good times together completing each others crochet projects. I enjoyed creating the body of the blanket and mama would do the edges and the fringes.....
but mama said we'd learn to quilt.

Years passed fast... work, new experiences, travel, marriages, divorces, illnesses,
job promotions, joys, disappointments, God's grace keeping us strong...time changes a lot of things...
but mama said we'd learn to quilt.

Mu Dear had a stroke at the age of 90 and mama took good care of her for two years until she went Home...
and mama said now we'd learn to quilt.
100 days after Mu Dear went Home, I guess she got lonely because
mama went to sleep and followed her Home too...

Three years later, Grace brought me to the company of some awesome women, representing eight different states and phenomenal quilters from Gee's Bend at the Alabama Folk School.  With my brand new in-the-box sewing machine in hand, no thread, Joy in my heart and my mama's spirit dwelling in me, I worked hard to make my first quilt top. Mary Ann and China showed me how to bring it all together and several of my new friends added a stitch here and there.

Mama said we'd learn to quilt.
We did.
I know she was there.

Each one of you have blessed me.

Love ya'll,

(Cherrye's sister/best friend, Juanakee, passed away 5 years ago from breast cancer.) 

Here we are, in our final hours together, still laughing

And now to the beginning:
Day 1
China is amazed at Victoria - the day has just begun and she has already gotten half a quilt pieced!  

Where do we begin?

(left to right)    
Mary Ann, Bonnie, Tina, Nifty, Barb, Victoria, Cathy

Nifty & Tina stitching away while Mary Ann confers with Bonnie

(Note the extra large classroom with lots and lots of natural light.  It adjoined the cafeteria and made it oh so easy for meal breaks.  The food was just plain wonderful, I might add. 

Mary Ann shows us a top made by another Gee's Bend lady
Using old boxer shorts from my hubby & son (much to their dismay) and cut up for me by Nifty, Tina and Bonnie.  I brought along a bark cloth curtain panel from the 1950's, as well as bundles of Kaffe fat quarters given to me by Bonnie.  This is the beginnings of my Gee's Bend interpretation.

China suggested that I use this dark green along with the bark cloth.  I agreed, tentatively, but secretly, I didn't like the idea.  But then, why did I come here?  Just to do my own thing?  NO, I wanted to dig into the creative thoughts of a lady from Gee's Bend!  So I reluctantly decided to go with her suggestion.  

I am so happy that I did so.  And I think China was pleased too!  Ya think it looks a bit Gee's Bendish?  I promised China that I would quilt it immediately and not go home and stick it in a drawer.  

Bonnie incorporated some blue "flame" fabric given to her from Tina
Nifty's in progress, using pieces cut from her baby clothes made by her grandmother.
Tina's all together, using some blue and white vintage fabrics from her Mom.
Isn't it great!!!!
Okay, so if you have gotten this far, congrats.  Enough for today, but I promise that there will be more to come.