July: Gee’s Bend Quilters – Housetop Block

Gee’s Bend quilters create intuitively outside the conventions and academic rules of art and quilting. They inspire modern quilters with their bold improvisational approach to design, cutting & construction, along with their use of alternate gridwork & scale to capture both simple and complex geometries in their quilts. Even those quilts based on traditional quilting blocks and designs are liberated and unconventional through their unique approach to use of color and fabric patterns.

“Housetop” 74” x 80” By Loretta Pettway 1963

 This  mostly self taught community of quilters from a small rural part of Alabama has spanned generations. Their quilts that were created for utility from scraps of old clothing and other textiles became noticed and appreciated for their artistry in the later decades of the 1900s. But, they remained little known until 2002 when the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston exhibited the remarkable quilts from Gee’s Bend. The exhibit traveled to other museums across the country and the influence of Gee’s Bend quilts spread throughout the quilting world, influencing quilt designers and makers with their originality and spirit.

Over the years many of the Gee’s Bend quilters have made “Housetop” quilts creatively using variations of the log cabin block.  The July block of the month is inspired by Loretta Pettway’s 1960 quilt, which she constructed from clothing scraps.

July BOM – Housetop Block

The basic Housetop design is constructed like a Courthouse Steps block, however color placement creates rings in the design rather opposing steps.  The following instructions are for a 16” x 16” finished block, but the technique is easily adaptable to other sizes by rescaling the strip sizes or adding/subtracting rounds.

General tips for piecing a Housetop block:

  • Set your needle position for a scant 1/4” seam.
  • Pre-cut all the patches and lay them out on a design board to keep the proper sequence.
  • For each round – sew opposing patches (first A & B, then C & D) 
  • Press away from the center 
  • Pay careful attention to placement as rounds 1, 2 & 3 are symmetrical, but not 4, 5 & 6.

Fabric Requirements

This block has been designed using 8 colors – 2 turquoise and 6 shades of grey. 

Note: The number of fabrics can be reduced to 5 by using the same turquoise for colors 2 & 8, the same light grey for colors 1 & 4, and the same dark grey for colors 3 & 7. 

Step 1: Select & Cut Fabrics

  • Select fabrics and place in order or number for easy identification.
  • Following the Table 1 Cutting Guide 
    • Cut strips to overall lengths 
    • Cut patches needed
    • As you cut, layout patches around center patch to ensure proper placement.
Patch layout

Step 2 : Piece together block (refer to figure 1)

Note: For best results verify your needle position is set for a scant 1/4” seam.

  1. Add Round 1, 2 & 3 patches:  
  • Sew patches A & B to left and right sides of the center & press 
  • Sew patches C & D to bottom and top sides of the center & press
  • Repeat for Round 2 patches and then Round 3 patches.
  1. Add Round 4 Patches 
  • Pieced the two patches (color 5 & color 4) to make the C side patch 
  • Sew patches A & B to left and right sides of the center patch & press
  • Sew patch C to bottom side of the center patch & press
  • Sew patch D to top side of the center patch & press
  1. Add Round 5 Patches
  • Sew patches A & B (color 5) to left and right sides of the center patch & press
  • Sew patch C (color 6) to bottom side of the center patch & press
  • Sew patch D (color 5) to top side of the center patch & press
  1. Add Round 6 Patches to Finish Block
  • Sew patches A & B to left and right sides of the center patch & press
  • Sew patch C to bottom side of the center patch & press
  • Sew patch D to top side of the center patch & press
  • Square up block to 16.5” square to finish

And Finally . . .  here is a small gallery of Gee’s Bend Housetop quilts.