Common Threads: Montgomery, Alabama

The quilting history and community are rich here in Alabama, and I recently came across a series of programs happening called Common Threads, exploring quilting in different locations around the state.

The first was in Montgomery this week and was really incredible. Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff, an accomplished author and quilt expert, gave a presentation on her Alabama Quilt Book Project. She's writing an extensive history of quilts in the state, and talked about the process of quilt documentation days to gather information for the book. She also showed several of the quilts that will appear in the book, including a quilt made entirely of Ku Klux Kan patches. Sunshine, as she's known, is an exceptional story teller and kept everyone fascinated.

We also had the opportunity to view quilts by African American master artists from the state including Mary Lucas, Mary Maxtion, Mozell Benson, and Yvonne Wells. Part of the archive of the Montgomery Fine Arts Museum, the quilts were really beautiful examples of improvisational quilting. 

I was already pinching myself at how lucky I was to be seeing work by Gee's Bend quilters and couldn't believe there was still more. Next we were given a behind the scenes tour of The Alabama Department of Archives and History. Curator Ryan Blocker showed us some of the highlights of their collection and talked about quilt preservation and restoration. We saw a quilt from the time of World War II, when resources were scarce, made entirely of socks. She even gave us a peek at the wardrobe of former governor Lurleen Wallace.

Saturday morning, Loretta Pettway Bennett gave a workshop on her quilt square the Pine Burr, the official state quilt of Alabama. Loretta is an accomplished Gee's Bend quilter, and it was an honor to get a chance to learn from her.