Etsy Journal

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Quilts Full of Culture From the Women of Gee’s Bend

Discover the rare chance to own a one-of-a-kind patchwork piece from the women of Gee’s Bend—a rural, Black community of Alabama quilting legends.

Gee's Bend Quilters
Photo by Stacy K. Allen

Deep in the south is a small, rural community, surrounded by the Alabama River and steeped in history. The 700 or so residents of Gee’s Bend—now named Boykin—are mostly descendants of slaves; for generations, they worked the fields belonging to the local Pettway plantation. Since the early 1920s, the women have quilted hundreds of patchwork masterpieces, passing their expertise and patterns down through the years. Known worldwide as The Gee’s Bend Quilters, their renowned works have been featured in over 20 museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Philadelphia Museum of Art. And for the first time, these expressive tapestries are available for purchase online.

The Gee's Bend Quilters and their quilts embody storytelling, resilience, and beauty. At Etsy, we’re big believers in connecting through creativity and in the undeniable magic of owning a piece of history. In partnership with Nest (a nonprofit focused on equity in the Makers Movement) and Souls Grown Deep (a foundation focused on elevating Black artists), we are proud to support these incredible artisans, showcasing their one-of-a-kind colorful creations.

The following story features the quiltmakers in their own words. Read on to meet a few of these talented makers and shop their beautiful wares.

Mary Margaret Pettway

“At the end of the quilting process, you can rub your hand over it—you can feel the fabric come to life."

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Mary Margaret Pettway posing with her various quilts. Shop Mary Margaret Pettway's quilts from Etsy shop Lunky's Baby

The daughter of Lucy T. Pettway, Mary Margaret Pettway is a third generation Gee’s Bend Quilter; her children are the fourth. Growing up surrounded by all the talent and drive of the women in her mother's quilting circle made a big impression on her. “[She] used to have a little clique.” Mary Margaret says. “It would be about five or six of them sitting around, just quilting and talking. They would finish either that day or early morning the day after.” These days, Mary Margaret loves to work by herself; “I’m what my mother used to call, ‘particular about my stitches.’” That precision is something you can see and feel in her finished products. “When you're done, when you hang that quilt up or spread it out on a bed, it looks so pretty!” she says. “You just want to touch it.”

Sharon Williams

“I quilt because it makes me happy! My favorite thing is when people like them.”

Quilts from Sharon Williams's Etsy shop Sha's Shop Gee's Bend Shop Sharon Williams's quilts from Etsy shop Sha's Shop Gee's Bend

Sharon Williams remembers the exact moment she started making. “I used to go and sit under the quilt with my momma (Rosalee Pettway), watching her," Sharon says. “One day, when she had her back turned, I tried to go and sew that quilt myself—and she saw I could make a stitch or two! So, she put me on the quilt.” Partial to bold colors and a fan of freestyling, Sharon has perfected her quilting technique. “There are many different patterns, but I like doing my own thing, just coming up with an idea and going for it. It’s very relaxing for me. I get out there, turn my radio on, and I can sew up a storm!”

Caster Pettway

“When people look at my work, they know me, the person that I am.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Caster Pettway and her quilts. Shop Caster Pettway's quilts from Etsy shop Quilts by Caster

To spark inspiration, Caster Pettway goes on walks. "That's like the best thing ever," she says, “finding beauty in myself and all around me.” The daughter of Gee’s Bend quilter Indiana Bendolph, and the second youngest of 10 children, Caster quickly jumped into crafting and helping around the house. “Everything my momma did, I wanted to do,” she remembers, “so I learned to quilt. At six years old, I was cooking cornbread and pulling cotton in the field—the smallest one out there!” Today, Caster enjoys making time for herself and her favorite hobby, preferring to work with a Grandmother’s Dream pattern. Her favorite thing about making quilts? “Giving them away!”

Doris Pettway Mosely

“Quilting is my life right now, I love it!”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Doris Pettway Mosely and her quilts. Shop Doris Pettway Mosely's quilts from Etsy Shop Kiara's Quilt Boutique

Born and raised in Boykin, Alabama, Doris Mosely learned to sew from her mother, Leola Pettway. Though she used to quilt for loved ones (”I love that it helps me provide—making for my family, my friends,” she says), sitting down to stitch has become a joyful pastime, one that Doris loves. “I find beauty in fabrics, colors, different patterns,” she says. “I make my patterns up, and when I have little bits of materials left, I just quilt them together and see how it comes out.”

Emma Mooney Pettway

“It's the love of the quilt. Looking at the pretty material makes me want to do something exciting.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Emma Mooney Pettway and her quilts. Shop Emma Mooney Pettway's quilts from Etsy Shop Match Made Quilts

For Emma Mooney Pettway, creativity is a part of her family’s heritage. Her mother, Tanzy Mooney, is a Gee’s Bend Quilter, as are her grandmothers, Mary Major and Lottie Mooney—the latter whose quilt was one of ten designs featured on a US postage stamp in 2006. “They taught me how to sew at a young age,” Emma remembers. “I found inspiration just sitting under the quilt, threading the needle.” So it's no surprise that her penchant for patchwork comes naturally. "It just pops in my head when I piece up fabric," she says. "I love matching all the colors together."

Kristin Pettway

“I'm inspired to keep quilting to keep the legacy going.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Kristin Pettway and her quilts. Shop Kristin Pettway's quilts from Etsy Shop At the Door Quilts

It's safe to say that sewing has dramatically shaped Kristin Pettway—her great-grandmother is Delia Bennett, the matriarch of one of the largest families of quilters in Gee's Bend. “All my life, I've been around quilts,” she says. “My grandmother was Georgianna Pettway—she was a quilter. Stella Pettway's my aunt and she's also a quilter. My mom quilts a little bit, and now it's down to me.” A true artist at heart, Kristin is drawn to unique forms of expression—when not quilting, she loves to play the piano! “I find beauty everywhere—I think songs are beautiful, I think flowers are gorgeous,” Kristin says. “I make quilts to express myself, to show this is how I'm feeling.”

Loretta Pettway Bennett

“My mother, her mother, and my aunts have sewn the foundation; all I have to do now is thread my own needle.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Loretta Pettway Bennett and her quilted masks. Shop Loretta Pettway Bennett's quilted masks from Etsy Shop Sew Lolo Shop

Loretta Pettway Bennett was first introduced to quilting at age six; her mother, Qunnie Pettway, worked for the Freedom Quilting Bee. “At that age, we were only allowed to thread the needles for the quilters,” she recalls. “Since quilting was such a part of [our] lives, I believe the seed of creativity was planted into my genes.” After traveling and living in a multitude of places, including Germany, Loretta’s family has settled in North Alabama, and frequently visits Gee’s Bend. In 2001, she received a fellowship grant from the Alabama State Archive Council on the Arts. “With it, my mother was able to officially teach me the fine art of quilting,” Loretta says. The quilt they made currently hangs on display in the Alabama Department of Archives and History. “It’s very likely that moving around so much influenced my style, but I will let you be the judge of that!”

Doris Pettway Hacketts

“I want my quilts to show my personality!”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Doris Pettway Hacketts and her quilts. Shop Doris Pettway Hacketts's quilts from Etsy shop K and K Quilted Treasure

As the seventh of 13 children, Doris Pettway Hacketts has perfected balancing independence and community. “Growing up, I worked in the cotton fields and helped around the house,” she says, but then? “I left the cotton fields to go to college! I’ve always been determined.” Post-graduation, however, she returned to her roots, and her passion for quilting was quickly piqued. “It’s like therapy for me. You get such joy out of it because you use your hands to make it work.” For Doris, quilting is also an apt metaphor for finding your way. “Sometimes your life is going to be colorful, and sometimes, it’s going to be dark. It’s never the same. So when you’re piecing that quilt together, sometimes it doesn’t work. But you don’t throw it away. You just take it apart and put it back together."

Lue Ida McCloud

“I make quilts for peace of mind, it gives me joy."

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Lue Ida McCloud and her quilts. Shop Lue Ida McCloud's quilts from Etsy Shop Quilts by Lue

Lue Ida McCloud comes from a big family of quilters. “My grandmother, Delia Bennett, and her sister, Menda Coleman, were quilters. My mother was a quilter, Ella Mae Irby. My sister was a quilter, Linda Diane Bennett. And my sister is Mary Margaret Pettway. All of us are quilters!” At 17, Lue Ida moved to Brooklyn, NY, and worked at JP Morgan for 10 years before returning to Gee’s Bend to help raise her sisters’ children. It was then that she really began to craft. “My grandmother and my mother taught me,” Lue Ida recalls. "My sister, Mary Margaret, too. I used to sit around and observe them." Her favorite quilt to make is a symbol of all those generations of give and take. "The Robbing Peter to Pay Paul pattern: It's when you take one color and add it to another color, and take another color and add it to the color before. It's just Iike life."

Delia Pettway Thibodeaux

“There’s something inherent in the women of Gee’s Bend. Regardless of when we learned to quilt, we’re able to adapt the style and make our own ‘imperfectly perfect’ creations.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Delia Pettway Thibodeaux and her quilts. Shop Delia Pettway Thibodeaux's quilts from Etsy shop Reap What You Sew Nice

A third-generation quilter, Delia Pettway Thibodeaux made her first quilt at 13. “I remember it like it was just yesterday,” she says, “it was a two-toned browned bricklayer made of corduroy.” Today, Delia saves every scrap of fabric possible, (“I don’t like to waste anything,” she explains), and uses them to pass down the family tradition—something that's incredibly important to her. “It makes me so happy when my granddaughter sits by me and puts pieces together and makes her own little creations.”

Joeann Pettway West

“You design around what you have or what’s going on in your life. Even with all the stuff happening in the world, you can still have peace.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Joeann Pettway West and her quilts. Shop Joeann Pettway West's quilts from Etsy Shop Just Sew Joe

As a child, Joeann Pettway West’s house was bursting with creativity. “Both sides of the family are passionate about cooking,” she says. “My mom used to make sweet potato pies, and if you ever had one of them, you would not forget it.” Today, Joeann continues the tradition of both cooking and quilting—after living abroad in West Germany for three years, she returned and worked with her mother at the Freedom Quilting Bee in Gee's Bend. “When I sew, it's like I’m continuing what my mom and grandmother were doing,” she says. “Now that I am getting back to it, I am finding that joy again.”

Stella Mae Pettway

“I make quilts because I love doing it, and I want to do it.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Stella Mae Pettway and her quilts. Shop Stella Mae Pettway's from Etsy shop Georgie's Way Quilts

Born, raised, and currently living in Gee’s Bend, Stella Mae Pettway’s first source of inspiration was her mother. “Georgianna Pettway or Georgie taught me how to quilt,” she says. “I would look at what my mother was doing and work on the corner of her quilts because I couldn't sew good. But I liked it, so I kept at it!” These days, Stella Mae’s inspiration is all around her. “I find beauty in just about anything—looking at different fabrics, imagining how different colors will blend. I like making quilts by myself—that way I can talk to them, I can sing, I can even pray!”

Katie Mae Pettway

“For me, inspiration is simple—an idea forms, I see it in my head, and I make it.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Katie Mae Pettway and her quilts. Shop Katie Mae Pettway's quilts from Etsy shop Quilted by Katie Mae

The 10th of 15 children, Katie Mae Pettway has always enjoyed making. “I was always doing and trying new things,” she says. “I taught myself to quilt by watching my momma. I love to sew, always have, little cloth dolls and different things.” Her favorite quilting material? Corduroy! In her downtime, Katie Mae is happiest when in nature. “I love to garden, raise chickens, and relax.”

Mary Elizabeth Pettway

“When I work, I like to find beauty in different shapes, the way I quilt it, the print of the fabric.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Mary Elizabeth Pettway and her quilts. Shop Mary Elizabeth Pettway's quilts from Etsy shop Limps Quilt Shop

Mary Elizabeth Pettway first learned to quilt from her aunt. “My mom, Flora Pettway, used to quilt when I was young, and she taught me a lot, but I didn’t learn to sew until after she passed,” she says. “When I made my first one, Aunt Ollie helped me quilt it and showed me how. She taught me how to hem it on the sewing machine. And then she taught me how to do it by hand!” Inspired by other quilters in her family, Mary Elizabeth sews to relax. “I sew to go with the flow and enjoy the process. It helps to clear my mind and let me think.”

Cassandra Ann Pettway

“I want the tradition to stay alive in our family.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Cassandra Ann Pettway and her quilts. Shop Cassandra Ann Pettway's quilts from Etsy shop and Nook and Shug

The daughter of Sharon’s Williams (owner of Sha's Shop Gee's Bend!), Cassandra Ann Pettway runs her Etsy shop with her own daughter. “I learned quilting from my Mom, and now I'm working to pass it on to Rachael, who is now starting,” she says. Family is Cassandra’s biggest influence when it comes to making. “Mom inspired me to make quilts, and now, my inspiration comes from my daughter,” she says. “She is so artistic! We find beauty in the quilts, the craft of it. And I love the time we—me, my mom, and my daughter—spend together.”

Cathy Michelle Mooney

“It amazes me how you get the needle and thread to work to make those stitches, and then those stitches come together to make a complete something!”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Cathy Michelle Mooney and her quilts. Shop Cathy Michelle Mooney's quilts from Etsy shop 3 Thimbles and a Needle

For Cathy Michelle Mooney, sewing is a relaxing way to connect with her family history. “I make quilts to show the world that no matter where you reside, whether it's in the Deep South or the big city, your passion and talent can be shared with the world,” she says. Cathy credits her mom for inspiring her to sew. “The more I watched her, the more I got it down. After I got out of high school, I took a little break. But every time I’d go home, I would see my sister, momma, and all of them quilting. Soon I said, ‘Well, I think I want to get back into sewing!’”

Veronica Lavette Saulsberry

“I enjoy letting my hands create what my mind sees—and the freedom it gives me to express myself.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Veronica Lavette Saulsberry and her quilts. Shop Veronica Lavette Saulsberry's quilts from Etsy shop Oh Lula's Creations

For Veronica Lavette Saulsberry, sewing is a chance to learn more about loved ones. “Spending a lot of time with family got me into making quilts,” she says. “I learned from my mom, grandmother, aunt, and my mother from another mother—my inspiration comes from all the people I grew up around, listening to all the stories they told behind the meaning of the designs.” Each quilt Veronica crafts is a link to her ancestry. “ I am proud of who I am and where I come from,” she says. “The beauty of my quilts comes from all the ones I've seen and helped make over the years.”

Mensie Lee Pettway

“What I do is what they call ‘patchwork.’ I call it ‘this and that.’"

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Mensie Lee Pettway and her quilts. Shop Mensie Lee Pettway's quilts from Etsy shop America's Way Quilts

Mensie Lee Pettway was one of the original makers in the Freedom Quilting Bee. “It was about twenty or twenty-five of us,” she says. “I worked at The Bee the whole time, up to now. My job was mostly to cut the patterns. I would cut three or four quilts a day.” After a brief break from quilting, Mensie is back and more inspired than ever. “I make my own designs,” she says. “I take this, take that, take patches, blocks, strips, laying my pattern as I go. Sometimes I make a bunch of blocks and put them together. Sometimes I start it at the bottom and go up like a stepladder. But I never seem to do it the same way twice!”

Claudia Pettway Charley

"My heart guides my work, and each quilt tells a different story.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Claudia Pettway Charley and her quilts. Shop Claudia Pettway Charley's quilts from Etsy shop Gee's Bend Place

Gee's Bend Quilter Claudia Pettway Charley's biggest inspiration is her family. "I would play underneath my grandmother’s quilting frame—which covered most of the living room," she says. "Today, I continue to quilt alongside my mom." The fourth-generation maker also taps into creativity by allowing herself to be present. "It usually comes from my emotions or my surroundings. Beauty is all around if we pay attention!"

Francesca Charley

“Everything my family has made leaves me happy because of the beauty behind each piece.”

A collage of Gee's Bend quilter Francesca Charley and her quilted creations Shop Francesa Charley's quilted creations from Etsy shop Gee's Bend Way

For Francesca DeNae Charley, heritage and craft are intertwined—the fifth-generation maker's family has been quilting for over a century! "It all started with my great-grandmother Malissa Pettway," Francesca recalls. "My mom would bring me over to my grandmother's house, and my grandma would slowly show me how to sew without pricking myself." Now, Francesca enjoys building on her family's legacy in her own creative way. "I love having the freedom to choose my colors, and no two pieces are alike. I know I'm not repeating something from the past."

As part of this partnership, Etsy will make a $50,000 grant to Nest, supporting continued efforts to provide the quilters with the resources and education they need to open, maintain, and grow their Etsy shops. All transaction fees will also be covered by Etsy for a period of time.

To learn more about The Gee’s Bend Quilters and shop their one-of-a-kind works of art, please check out The Gee’s Bend Quilters page, and be on the lookout for the official Gee’s Bend Quilts badge. You can also visit their Instagram page.

Photographed by Stacy K. Allen. Additional photographs by Steve Pitkin, in partnership with Nest and Souls Grown Deep.

Stephanie Moise image
Stephanie Moise

When she’s not writing copy at Etsy, Stephanie is a part-time actor, a boundless traveler, and a synth-pop devotee.

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