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Thank You Loretta Pettway

Dear Ann,
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:
blogphoto1.jpg
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.
Love, Kay

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. I have done Lily Chin’s Log Cabin Blanket twice, as a baby blanket and as a floor blanket to plonk a baby on, but I’ve never thought of doing it sideways like you have. Thanks for the idea – I could use that for the third one I am planning to do – eventually.
    Wish I could have seen that exhibition – I saw the coffee-table book about it in Borders in Singapore, all sealed in plastic, I found someone who opened up the plastic and hovered over me while I sat and looked at it – and then handed it back !

  2. miss thing —
    so glad to hear that you will let the mistakes live on!! have you been hyperventillating over this decision? blanket looks great!!

  3. Kay–I totally and completely love this. The idea of washing it over and over again is brilliant.
    And as for Loretta Pettway, well. I still reserve the right to road trip it to Gee’s Bend with you, Thelma and Louise style, hitting up yarn stores along the way from Nashville to Selma.
    That quote from Loretta says it all about the source of art–it isn’t always coming from the Rhode Island School of Design, to be sure.
    x0 Ann
    PS Pix from you! Fantastic! Bring ‘em on, soggy from the pool or not. Save your memory card–I bet it will work when it dries out. Helpful hint: a cell phone dropped by a one-year-old in the potty dries out just fine.

  4. ooopppsss…so sorry to hear about the loss of your kay cam. hope that joseph survived the ordeal with his usual aplomb! come back to nyc soon, for knitting is just not the same without you.
    xo
    e

  5. I haven’t seen the Chin pattern, but I love that the way you are knitting it is just the way LP would have sewn her strips together. And aren’t you sweet to salute Ann with your color selection!

  6. Dear Maggi–
    I was so pleased that somebody picked up on the idea that knitting in strips that are cast-off and picked-up, instead of doing it intarsia-style, is more in the spirit of quilting, particularly the ‘string’ method used by many of the Gee’s Bend quilters. Sometimes when I am thinking about such things, I feel I am thinking about it too much and making distinctions that do not really exist. But in this case, the idea of knitting a Gee’s Bend quilt seemed fraught with the danger of a sort of Franklin Mint-style thing–like a cross-stitch of the Declaration of Independence, you know?? So I wanted to do things that made it more ‘authentic’ at least to my way of thinking. Anyway, thanks for the support. (One thing that bugs me is that the use of Rowan’s premium, high-priced, fancyass yarn is not in keeping with the original! But hey–it’s the only true denim yarn, and I did manage to score some knockoff ‘Den-M-Nit’ from Elann.com for $2.88 a ball, so….)Love, Kay

  7. Jill, you know that you were the one who busted open the Log Cabin blanket concept for me by knitting a multi-colored one in Handknit DK!!! (The version in Lily Chin’s book is nice, but all in one color (oatmeal-ish) and therefore a bit subtle for this member of the Church of Kaffe Fassett.) That blanket, which I promptly imitated after seeing yours on Picture Trail, is still my favorite thing I have made. (Picture to be posted here soon.) Glad to hear you are still at it!!!! Log Cabin on, righteous Jill!!!
    (The Gee’s Bend book is a source of inspiration to me all the time–so full of historical and personal info about the quilters in addition to the comprehensive pictures of all the quilts from the exhibition. I think they are selling used copies on Amazon in the UK…..) Love and thanks from Kay

  8. Blimey …forgot to put your log cabin wip pic on picturetrail…shall scan & up-load tomorrow .Have to fit it in between present wrapping .The chick is going to be 4 [ as in FOUR! ] on thursday.How did that happen ?

  9. Dear Emma–
    First things first: What did you get Oliver??????
    BESIDES the dreaded Uh-gi-oh and/or Pokemon cards, I mean. (Wherever do you find them in your remote, windswept as-yet-undiscovered-by-Rowan-stylists site?) He’s young for Uh-gi-oh, but there seems to be no limit to the fascination in his age group and beyond. Carrie says things to me now like, ‘Mommy, this is a RARE card.’ This makes me fear for her when she discovers eBay. Let’s just say I will not be in any position to set limits.
    Secondly, do not feel you have to scan the WIP of Log Cabin Kay for Picture Trail. I have a gorgeous digital pic of it hanging on the hammock, actually looking even better than in real life, which I will post upon arrival on 9/5 of my brand new computer (it survived the jumping-in-the-pool incident thanks to a Frenchie who uploaded it to me and is going to email it back). I sent you the photo of it as a colorful sunlit pile just to make you smile and let you know the stuff I ramble on and on about, really does exist.
    Love, Kay

  10. Even if it is an imaginary blanket, it looks great! Absolutely gorgeous. What I know about quilting could be fit into a thimble (you sew pieces of cloth together and they end up looking puuurty), but the blue log cabin/courthouse steps looks faaabulous! Are you going to make another in Den-M-Knit after you finish the Rowan Denim one? You can never have enough knitted blankies. :)

  11. Kris thanks his Auntie Kay for his lovely bib… in Rowan Denim too.

  12. Hey Polly–I have a photo of that lovely bib here, somewhere…..One is never too young to develop refined tastes such as a fondness for Rowan Denim. And….
    Rene–I am actually cheating by using Den-M-Nit for the ‘Tennessee’ (light blue shade) and the Ecru in my blanket. I am SO confused because Rowan Denim originally was called Den-M-Nit, and because it seems to be EXACTLY THE SAME STUFF. But a lot cheaper at $2.88 a ball from Elann.com. I feel no disloyalty to Rowan because I can never, ever find Rowan Denim on sale and it is so expensive for the yardage–especially if you have a bad habit of using it for BLANKETS and sweaters for XXL, XXTall Hubby. I’m stocking up on Den-M-Nit, in other words. I also tried a ball of Twilleys Freedom, which again seems to be EXACTLY THE SAME STUFF. Haven’t washed the Freedom yet but it is the same exact color as Nashville before washing (for the Gee’s Bend blanket I am actually hoping it is a slightly different color). I found it, thanks to Yvonne from the Rowan forum, who guided me on my maiden voyage to the famous John Lewis in Oxford Street. What a heady experience that was!!!!!
    xox Kay