Contemporary America is sometimes referred to as a “throw away” society—worn or used consumer goods are more commonly discarded than reused. In the case of quilt construction, however, worn or partially used fabrics are valued resources, and old clothing has traditionally been a significant source of raw material.
The materials in the hand-stitched woolen Powell Quilt appear to have been fabrics originally used as men’s suiting. Since clothing wears very selectively, and fashion also dictates its useful lifespan, old men’s suits, for example, would be a ready source of material existing in a household. The top’s simple bar pattern (a variant of a strip quilt) was quilted on the diagonal in a pattern sometimes called Baptist Fan. The fabrics used suggest that it probably dates from between the 1890s and 1910. In the mid-twentieth century, Catherine Sommerville, from Aliceville in Pickens County, Alabama, utilized worn blue jean cloth to create a quilt composed of various geometric forms. On one side she used a pattern known as Log Cabin (also called a Pig Pen Variation) and on the other a checkerboard pattern. The various types of jeans fabric is faded from frequent wearing and washing, and evokes the lives of the people who wore the clothing—it speaks to hard work, and the need to conserve and reuse valuable resources.
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