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Rosie Lee Wilkins

Quiltmaker

        Meridian, Mississippi (MS), United States    

Rosie Lee Wilkins is featured in the exhibit: Quilting Sisters: African-American Quiltmaking in Michigan.
Rosie Wilkins, who moved to Muskegon, Michigan, from Mississippi in the 1940s, uses the strip and string quilting traditions of her birthplace in her quilts. Wilkins favors the Clam Shell of Elbow quilting pattern, and the Log Cabin, String, and Maple Leaf block patterns.

Wilkins demonstrated her quilting as a participant in the Smithsonian Institution's 1987 Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C., and at the Michigan State University Museum's 1987 Festival of Michigan Folklife in East Lansing. In 1989 her quilts were featured in a special exhibition organized by the Michigan Traditional Arts Program, MSU Museum and the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame in Lansing.

Was the maker a woman, man or a group?

Female

When was the quiltmaker born?

8/3/1911

Date and place of death.

6/24/1994

Ethnic background/tribal affiliation:

African American

Religious affiliation:

New Light Baptist Church, where she was very active making her 7-UP cake and chicken for church fundraisers and suppers.

Occupation (if retired, former occupation):

Housewife, blueberry picker, domestic, cook, power pattern operator.

Where was the quiltmaker born?

Meridian, Mississippi (MS), United States

Quiltmaker's maiden name:

Barnes

Father's Name:

James Barnes

Father's ethnic/tribal background:

Railroad man

Mother's Name:

May Hand

Spouse's/Spouses' name(s):

John Wesley Wilkins

Number of female children:

1

Number of male children:

2

How did the quiltmaker learn to quilt?

From Relative

When did the quiltmaker learn to quilt?

Age 11-19

Other reasons the quiltmaker makes/made quilts.

In MS had county dem. agent taught her quilting, embroidery.

Describe any unique traditions, quilting related customs, beliefs, songs, or rhymes used by the quiltmaker:

From The Quilts of Rosie Wilkins, Improvisational Quiltmaking in the African-American Tradition exhibit , August 1-September 24, 1989, at the Michigan Women's Historical Center and Hall of Fame, 213 W. Main St., Lansing, MI 517-484-1880. Wilkins was invited to participate in the Smithsonian Institution's 1987 Festival of Folklife held on the Mall in Washington D.C. Also in 1987 she demonstrated quilt making at the Michigan State University Museum's Festival of Michigan Folklife. Most of her quilts were given away as gifts to each of her grandchildren and 20 great children. Her house today (1988) is filled with boxes and suitcases full of fabric scraps, partially completed blocks, and finished tops ready to be quilted. "I love the quilting and piecing," she says. "I do my piecing in the winter and my quilting in the summer." Often after fixing her husband a mid-day meal, Wilkins will begin her sewing and not stop until 10:00 or 11:00pm. "I don't keep house... I keep busy doing things." Spending hours each day with her sewing, Wilkins also remains very active in a number of ways. From African American Quiltmaking in Michigan, by Marsha MacDowell, "Quilters who moved north to Michigan almost never bought patterns but rather relied on sharing patterns with friends and relatives, often exchanging them through the mail. One of the rare times Rosie Wilkins bought a pattern was when she was twelve or fourteen years old and lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Her family attended an entertainment show touring the state that featured a girl who did paper cuts with her feet. Wilkins made several quilts in her lifetime from the unique pattern she purchased from the girl." p.45. "Rosie Wilkins made Log Cabin quilts (figure 77) from the scraps left over from other quilt projects, since she 'throws no strings [pieces] away-don't throw no pieces away." p.53. African American Quiltmaking in Michigan pages, 3, 5, 6, 13, 22, 41, 42, 45, 53, 77, 83. Rosie Lee (Hanks) Wilkins was born in Meridian, Mississippi, on August 3, 1911. She and her husband, John Wesley Wilkins, moved to Hattiesburg where all five of their children were born and in 1944 the family moved to Muskegon, Michigan. Wilkins was raised in a family that quilted and, by the time she was twelve, she quilted with her mother and other female relatives. Since then she has made over 100 quilts, selling some at a local flea market and to individuals who hear about her work, but giving most of them away as gifts to each of her grandchildren and her twenty great-grandchildren. She is planning to complete quilts for each of the six young members of the next generation, but claims that it is getting harder to keep up with the growing family. Her house today is filled with boxes and suitcases full of fabric scraps, partially completed blocks, and finished tops ready to be quilted.

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