Freewriting + Geometric Quilt Patterns + Memoir

Freewriting About Designing Geometric Quilt Patterns That Relate To Memoir

Flying Geese Pattern
Traditional Flying Geese Pattern

How can historical geometric quilt patterns tell a story about me and my life? Where do I begin? What’s the connection? I’ll begin with what I remember about quilting with Mama, Yat and Mama Mary. I remember them cutting squares and triangles from old clothes and dyed muslin. I remember Momma helping and teaching short cuts to make cutting faster. I remember stories of “Flying Geese” and why I needed to remember my people hiding out covered with mud in Toisnoit Swamp with the turtles. I remember stories of how to make myself invisible and how to hide in plain sight. “The big troubles that made the people scatter might come again Baby Girl,” I was told with a stern warning. “Know how to keep out of danger,” I was commanded with all my mother’s eyes focused on me.

“Flying Geese” is the only quilt pattern that any of my mother’s knew. The only other quilt patterns I remember are what they called “Sooner” as in sooner be whatever story they made up from the cloth being used. “Sooner” quilts were freeform in bright colors made from irregular cuts of cloth sewn together. Momma hated these freeform quilts because she said they didn’t have a uniform pattern. My momma was a Home Economics teacher with a strong sense of design, pattern and order. I remember my older mother’s letting her instruct them on the “correct” way of doing things, only to revert back to the traditional ways when she retreated to her sewing machine making outfits for us to wear. Momma attended summer school at Penn State to work on her master’s degree, so while she was away all the quilt tops to be quilted during the winter would hurriedly be pieced in her absence. One or two would always be “Flying Geese” but the rest would be “Sooner.” “Keep everybody happy,” Yat would say.

Our “Flying Geese” would always fly east. The story I was told as to the reason was to go east to Roanoke Island. You could never make it to the North to freedom from were we lived. You could only be safe by traveling east. The land trail was on Indian Road, known today as Highway 42. You had only a 50/50 change of making it to the Roanoke River to a dugout if you traveled the land trail. The safest way was down river on the Contentnea. If trouble came you could hide your dugout in the bushes and hide yourself in the mud.

Flying Geese Patterm
Traditional Flying Geese Pattern

So, my geometric quilt pattern will be “Flying Geese” pointing east. As a child I didn’t understand why Roanoke Island was considered a sanctuary. Research has revealed the wisdom of all my grandmother’s stories because Roanoke Island was an end stop on the Underground Railroad. Their was a Freedmen’s Colony of indigenous and African peoples until the end of the Civil War. Unlike Indian Woods, we were free on Roanoke Island. Many Algonquin people lived together the Tuscaroa, Meherrin, Nottoway, Machapunga, Chowanook along with runaway African slaves led down the Roanoke River by Quaker women using “Flying Geese” and “Boat” quilt patterns to show the way. Union troops controlled the Island and we were considered contraband. I have a great-grandfather who was freeborn on the Banks during the Civil War and escaped with his pregnant mother to safety on Roanoke Island. Next, I’ll need to explore the “What If?” possibilities of using a “Flying Geese” historical quilt pattern as a visual metaphor for an improvisational modern quilt design.

Flying Geese Pattern
Traditional Flying Geese Pattern

Clarifying Definitions

  • Improvisational ~ To make, provide or arrange from whatever material are readily available. To compose, execute or arrange anything extemporaneously. (Dictionary.com)
  • Improvisational Quilting ~ To piece without rules. To use a variety of different fabrics sew together incorporating aspects of a style with no clear pre-planned path. (Craftsy) To engage in “creative play” with fabric color, pattern and texture.
  • Modern Quilting ~ “Modern quilts are primarily functional and inspired by modern design. Modern quilters work in different styles and define modern quilting in different ways, but several characteristics often appear which may help identify a modern quilt. These include, but are not limited to: the use of bold colors and prints, high contrast and graphic areas of solid color, improvisational piecing, minimalism, expansive negative space, and alternate grid work. “Modern traditionalism” or the updating of classic quilt designs is also often seen in modern quilting.” (Verbatim from Modern Quilt Guild Website)
  • Modern Art ~ “The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of arts audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.” Gauguain | “Art is a line around your thoughts.” Gustav Klimt |
  • ~ A defined style of art created in the 1920’s until the end of WWII in the 1950’s.

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