Self Portraits, Late 20th Century Images
The fabric found in Gee’s Bend quilts often serves as a record of the struggles and opportunities faced by the community, such as the work clothes and feed sacks found in early 20th-century quilts that offer tangible evidence of the sharecropping era. In 1972, the Freedom Quilting Bee, a sewing cooperative based in Alberta, Alabama, near Gee's Bend, secured a contract with Sears, Roebuck, to produce corduroy pillow covers. Made of wide-wale cotton corduroy, the covers came in a variety of colors, including "gold," "avocado leaf," "tangerine," and "cherry red." Production of the Sears pillow covers left little room for personal creativity, as labor at the Freedom Quilting Bee was divided to maximize daily output. Yet despite the standardized and repetitive process involved in producing the pillow covers, the availability of corduroy, a fabric seldom used before by the Gee's Bend quiltmakers, stimulated a profound creative response. Leftover lengths and scraps of corduroy were taken home by workers at the Bee. Given to friends and family or bundled for sale within the community, the scraps were then transformed from standardized remnants into vibrant and individualized works of art. The Sears corduroy that is so evident in quilts from this era continues to show up on occasion in Gee’s Bend quits made today.