The Alabama State Quilt
Loretta Pettway Bennett with her Pine Burr Quilt
Detail of the Pine Burr Quilt made by Loretta Pettway Bennett
Photos courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama
Did you know that Alabama is the only state in the entire U.S. that has an official state quilt?
In 1997, the Alabama State Legislature gave that designation to a quilt pattern known as “The Pine Burr.” Pine Burr (sometimes called Pine Cone) quilts belong to a special genre (also including Yo-Yo or Cathedral Windows quilts) that are not really quilts in the traditional sense of a top, batting, and backing all stitched together.
Rather, Pine Burr quilts are constructed of folded triangles sewn side-by-side onto a foundation in concentric circles, creating a three-dimensional effect. The resulting design resembles a target, and in fact, that is an alternate name for this type of quilt. Pine Burr quilts require so much fabric that they end up being quite heavy.
It takes a skilled practitioner to create this intricate pattern, and in truth when making the designation the Alabama Legislature was honoring the women traditionally associated with making Pine Burr quilts as much as the pattern itself.
According to quilt historian Cuesta Benberry, "From early to late twentieth century, the Pine Cone quilt was popular among southern African American quilters.” The official proclamation reads as follows:
WHEREAS, the Freedom Quilting Bee was organized as an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement in 1966, one of the few all Black women's cooperatives in the country; and
WHEREAS, the Freedom Quilting Bee has achieved national recognition for its quilts by using designs that come from 140-year-old tradition; and
WHEREAS, China Grove Myles, a farmer, was the only one left in Gee's Bend who could sew the Pine Burr Quilt, a pattern involving hundreds of tedious swatches that unfold before the eye in a breathtaking, three-dimensional effect; and
WHEREAS, Nettie Young, also a farmer, is the only woman now working at the Bee who was among its originators, and who typifies the history of the Black race in Alabama; and
WHEREAS, quilts and artifacts of the Civil Rights era, which will be presented and stored in the Freedom Quilting Bee, will provide an accurate documentation of the events taking place in American history; and
WHEREAS, a love and understanding of the history of our state are enhanced by traditions that have become a part of our way of life and the customs of the American people, and the official recognition of the Pine Burr Quilt will indeed enhance the cultural stature of Alabama both nationally and internationally; now therefore,
in recognition of a meaningful symbol for a state quilt, the Pine Burr Quilt is hereby designated as the official state quilt of Alabama.
The Alabama Department of Archives and History offers step-by-step instructions for making a Pine Burr Quilt. To see them, click here.
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