Thank You Loretta Pettway
August 26, 2003
So, while you are entering the terminal phase of dementia (by which I am referring to your plan to knit Birch), what am I knitting while on vacation??
Unable, due to the distractions of rescuing children who think they they can swim (that would be Joseph, who cost me my new blog-cam when I jumped in after him yesterday, fully clothed and with camera in pocket), heating up massive quantities of chicken nuggets, ET CETERA, to knit anything requiring row-counting or pattern-squinting, I started a project I dreamed up when I saw the Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibit at the Whitney Museum last winter– a knitted homage to one of those amazing quilts.
I chose a quilt made by Loretta Pettway in 1970, called “Log Cabin”–“Courthouse Steps” (local name: “Bricklayer”). It is made from faded, pale blue denim and dark indigo denim, with white strips. Here’s the start of my humble version of it, as of a couple of days (and a few of those courthouse steps) ago:
It’s getting bigger by the day, and it’s almost sedating to work on it. So straightforward and serene, but never boring. I made myself a rule that when I screw up in some way (as I always do), I will not rip it back and re-knit it, but just let the imperfection be. I’m using my favorite yarn, Rowan Denim, in the pale blue Tennessee, the dark indigo Nashville, and the skinny strips in Ecru. (Except for the Ecru, it could be an homage to you!) I’m using a variation of the Log Cabin blanket instructions in Lily Chin’s Urban Knitter book (a big favorite of mine, as you know). Instead of going around and around, I keep alternating from side to side, 2 strips of light blue and then 2 strips of dark blue. Each strip is cast off after 18 rows, and then the next strip is picked up from the previous cast-off strip and the row ends of the contrasting strips. (Are you still with me?? Knitting is so non-verbal!).
One thing that is making it fun for me is that after every couple of rounds of the steps, I sew in the ends, throw it in the washer and dryer, and see how it looks after fading and shrinking. This gives me an idea of the shape and size. I was hoping it might yield some variations in the colors as the inner steps got washed more than the outer ones, but that hasn’t really panned out so far. What I really need is some recycled yarn from an old, beat-up, totally Gee’s Bend Rowan Denim sweater.
Why did this particular quilt speak to me so? Here’s an exerpt from the Gee’s Bend exhibit book, quoting Loretta Pettway:
“I made all my quilts out of old shirts and dress tails and britches legs. I couldn’t never get no good fabric to make quilts, so I had to get the best of the old clothes my peoples wore….Some people would give me old clothes, and some of them my kids couldn’t wear, and I would tear them up and make quilts. I didn’t think I was too good at cutting out. If I could have got with friends to get me on the right track, maybe. But I just didn’t have friends, so I had to piece up things the way I could see to do. I ain’t never made a real pattern. I just made what my grandmama had made back in those days–“Bricklayer,” “Housetop,” and stuff.”
It’s working for me on all levels.
Thank you, Loretta Pettway.