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African Americans have a long and rich quiltmaking tradition. They have been prolific and imaginative quiltmakersnot timid about planning symmetrical and balanced patterns on the one hand; not fearful, on the other hand, of engaging cloth and color to discover what final result they may suggest.
In addition to the 10 improvisational quilts in this calendar, there is a narrative quilt from the African American practice of telling stories through quilts (August). Many African Americans have also made quilts in the “European” tradition. A stellar example of that workmanship appears with the month of May.
The makers of the improvisational quilts shown here refused to be captive to the dictates of exactly repeating motifs. They found inspiration in the dynamic process of piecing and assembling the colorful fabrics they chose.
Quilt scholar and collector Eli Leon has heard revealing comments in his many conversations with African American quiltmakers
“I don't like to use patterns. I think more so they're a waste of my time because it's other people's ideas, but, you know, I don't like to do the same things over and over, and so I just kind of build my own quilts as I sit at the machine.”
“I'll sew two blocks together . . . and then I'll lay them aside and I'll make two more . . . Whatever it comes out when I put the four together . . . then if that gives me an idea of doin' somethin' different, then I'll just work from that.”
These quiltmakers know the freedom and freshness of variation. Laverne Brackens (whose own quilts, along with her mother's and daughter's, were featured in an exhibit at the High Museum in Atlanta) learned by watching her mother: “[She] could start out on a little design, and she'd make it out into what she want to make it out into. She'll just keep working to it and putting to it until it come out the way she want it.”
Brackens' daughter Sherry Byrd, also a distinguished quiltmaker, finds that measuring “just takes the heart out of things.”
This fearless buoyancy, this full engagement with fabric and design, yield brilliantly dynamic quilts.
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