When we set out to talk to those in the know about the best decorative quilts you can buy, many of the conversations had began at, or led to, the same place: Gee’s Bend, a remote rural community in Boykin, Alabama. It’s where Black women, many of whom are descendants of slaves, have been creating quilts since the 19th century, first out of necessity to keep warm. As Kelsey Keith, the editorial director at Herman Miller, told us at the time, “Over the last decade and a half, newfound respect in the art/gallery/museum world for Black quilting, typified by Gee’s Bend artists,” has only continued to grow. That’s because quilts made by the women of Gee’s Bend are considered works of art, and, as Keith notes, many of them are in the permanent collections of museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
But short of traveling to Gee’s Bend, the quilts made there are otherwise normally difficult to get your hands on. Or were — because as of February 1, in honor of Black History Month, Gee’s Bend quilters are offering their handmade quilts for sale on Etsy in partnership with Nest, a nonprofit that empowers makers, and Souls Grown Deep, a foundation that promotes the work of African American artists in the South. There are nine Etsy stores now selling Gee’s Bend quilts, including Caster Pettway’s shop. Pettway has been making quilts for 40 years (or since about the third or fourth grade), telling us, “We’d come home from school, and we’d quilt in the evening. At night when we went to bed, my mama would put the quilts up. I remember we had quilts hanging from the ceiling with a nail, and there were two poles with a rope tied up to the ceiling.” She adds that her pieces can take at least a week to complete, depending on how large they are. “I like to sew each stitch with my hands,” she says. “I feel more relaxed doing it this way, and I can just concentrate better when I’m sewing with my hands.”
Below, we’ve rounded up a selection of investment-worthy quilts from Pettway and other Gee’s Bend makers. Anyone interested in owning such pieces of history should not dillydally because stuff is already starting to sell out. To wit, if you want to see what is still available in each shop, you can simply click on any of the following links: SewLoloShop, KandKQuiltedTreasure, QuiltsByLue, KiarasQuiltBoutique, QuiltsByCaster, EmmasLovelyTreasures, AtTheDoorQuilts, LunkysBaby, and ShasShopGeesBend.
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