quilting, mosaicing, painting, and other adventures in making

Strip Pieced Quilt, Gees Bend Style


Gosh – here it is May already and I was so busy with my own garden and garden jobs that I forgot to post last week! This is a very long post, so consider it two weeks’ worth and then some.

I had an art show at one of our local banks in April. I sold two paintings to a garden client – that was exciting! I’ll write and post more about some of that art in more blog posts – I am so innundated with gardening, I don’t see myself “arting” or crafting in the next several weeks.

The biggest piece in the show was a strip-pieced throw/quilt which turned out very crooked and “arty” – more like a Gees Bend style quilt. That made me happy, because my major quilting inspiration comes from the quilters of Gees Bend (and also modern improvisational quilters.)  But when I hung it I was embarrassed… until I finally just let go and enjoyed its funk and fun. Still, it would be nice to know how to really sew things straight and square up quilts and have the space to do it, although I accept that I may not be the type of person who ever really feels attracted to making those kinds of quilts.

I have to tell you the story of this quilt… I have a couple of grocery bags full of strips that I got in various places. Some looked really “ugly” and I thought I’d never use them because I am not attracted to those duller colors – dusty rose, rusty maroon, mustard gold, olive green, etc.  I usually work with bright, high-key colors. So… I challenged myself to pull out all the “ugly” strips I could find, and then add fabrics that could pull them together into something more beautiful to my sensibilities. That challenge was fun! I ended up loving the result, color-wise.

Rotary cutting still intimidates me – I still love cutting things with scissors. I love the tactile feel of the scissor in my hand cutting into the cloth, and the unpredictability of it all.  I had to safety-pin on a hanging sleeve on hanging day- I know nothing about hanging the danged things on walls. My plan was to use the throw, not hang it. Here are front and back views.



The red on the upper left back is really not that garish; I think my camera card is on the fritz.

I learned some things through the process of making this quilt: not until after I made the mistakes, of course. 🙂

1) If you sew all the strips (strata) together from the same direction, things will become wavy and distorted, as you see here by my pictures. So every couple or several strips, sew together your sections from the other direction.

2) If you are going to sew a curved or widening strip to another strip, you have to cut the next strip in such a way that they will lay flat when sewn together. I kind of remember this concept from sewing sleeves into garments when I graduated from making muu-muus to things with sleeves. I was always amazed that the sleeves would fit into the armholes, because on the pattern it all looked counter-intuitive. So the really wavy “poochy” look comes from not knowing how to fit uneven or curvy strips to each other – yet.

3) The Gees Bend quilters simply took a tuck or dart here and there if things got distorted out toward the edges – which they often do when you do strip borders and medallion quilts – and that straightened things out somewhat. Good to know!

4) When sandwiching the front, batting, and backing, and you’re pinning those together, don’t stretch the backing  so tight that things distort badly and those nice straight lines you envisioned turn into dorky looking diagonals – just crooked enough to look bad, but not diagonal enough to convince anyone that “I meant that!”) LOL . (that happened to my pieced backing.)

5) Thick polyester batting (this came from a garage sale years ago and that’s what I had on hand) is squirrelly, slippery, and a general pain to work with. But – it does have a nice puffy loft, if that’s your thing. Kind of like the Bibendum ‘Michelin Man’ look.


6) When machine quilting, increase your stitch size a bit from your piecing type stitch, and don’t grip the thing so tight that you stretch it all out and distort it, thus making a very lumpy back! Oops. Once i relaxed my vice-like grip and just held things firmly flat, things went better. (As an aside, bigger stitches rip out so much more easily than tiny stitches in a fat polyester batting  – and larger stitches won’t cut into your fabric, tearing it and ruining the quilt – like my too-small stitches might).

7)  Love the process – because each time you do something, it gets a little better and easier; more is learned. If I ever do something like this with a rotary cutter, and get all my seams straight and perfect, it wouldn’t have this same funky arty charm – right? (my favorite quilting book for forgiving myself these imperfections is “That Dorky Homemade Look:  Quilting Lessons from a Parallel Universe “ by Lisa Boyer.

So, speaking of dorky homemade looks – have you ever felt that sometimes your first awkward but honest efforts are more charming than the more technically proficient pieces you make later? When someone says to me, “my 5 year old could have done that,” I beam with pleasure. i LIKE those first efforts. In refining and improving technique, something gets gained, but this one aspect gets lost, and I always kind of mourn its loss. I think that is why many artists keep some of their first efforts. To remind themselves of this – because in the beginning it’s the honeymoon phase of loving the process and that root inspiration, and that critical eye is not so harsh. You are just happy that you did something, start to finish. For now, I’m happy with my homemade, kind of dorky quilting efforts.

Time to go out and earn some gardening bucks…. Happy Crafting!


2 thoughts on “Strip Pieced Quilt, Gees Bend Style

  1. That last paragraph sums it all up, Salim. Its the difference between an artist, like yourself, who can accept and celebrate the serendipity of the outsome, and a craftsperson, like myself, who worries about perfecting the technique. I continue to work at getting to a freer place of creativity. I love your work and all the different paths you find to create beauty!

  2. Connie; Thank you for your kind words, but I have to differ with your estimation of yourself as an artist. Of course you are an artist, as I am! You have given food for thought (and the subject for the next Blog post.) More about this subject then and in future blog posts, because what you bring up here is at the core of any and all discussions on art vs craft. i see no difference. sorry for bad typing – cat on lap & only one hand free!

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