by Sharon Cooper Murray
According to oral tradition the Gullah textile tradition of rag quilting began during the antebellum period when slave women split feed and grain sacks at the seam then permanently attached rags to the burlap surface. This technique of quilting was passed from one generation to the next and during the late 1990's.
I was introduced to this art form by elderly Gullah women on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina. When I walked into the Wadmalaw Island Community Center and saw seven women seated at a table rag quilting. I was immediately sent back to Christmas time and a family ritual of my great grandmother's of placing an old frayed rag quilt on her bed.
I walked over to the women seated at the table and said, “I want to learn how to rag quilt.” One of the women said, “We here on Wednesday come on by.”
I thanked them and returned the following Wednesday and was introduced to rag quilting.
One of the women said, “Sit over there and watch what she's doing and you will catch right on.” I turned to the women next to me and looked at what she was doing, she moved her fingers so fast I couldn't actually see what she'd done.
I sat for a few minutes and quickly realized that watching her was not going to work.
I changed directions and looked at the women seated on the other side of me and she worked a little slower and I finally saw the steps to rag quilting. I placed the strip of fabric over the tip of the nail and pushed it downward to pierce burlap and the fabric slipped to the side and only the nail pierced the fabric. I quickly removed the nail from the burlap backing and tried once more to attach the fabric to the burlap backing this time I punctured a hole in the fabric. After numerous efforts I finally attached one piece to burlap backing.
I shouted “I did it I got it through and tied the knots” a voice on the other side of the table said, “It's about time.”
Everyone laughed and I continued to struggle on....
On May 6, 2015, The Community Rag Quilting Preservation Initiative will host an exhibit featuring the Gullah textile tradition of Rag Quilting from 12:00-1:30 at North Charleston City Hall, 2500 City Hall Lane 2nd floor, North Charleston, S. C.
The exhibit is entitled “Raggin' Then and Now.” Open to the public, everyone is welcome and I hope to see all of you there!!!