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Ella Brooks : History Through Art

Ella Brooks believes that quilting is an African American vernacular art form through which the artist is able to share herself and express life experiences and feelings.

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Ella Brooks learned the art of patch quilts from her mother who had learned it from her mother. This skill had been passed on generation after generation since the days of slavery.

Slaves, not able to afford quilts, had patched together used clothing to make blankets for themselves. Putting these random pieces of cloth together in a manner that looked good became not only a practical skill but an art.

Ella was taught how to make patch quilts from her mother but never used this skill until after her mother died. She started to make patch quilts from new odd pieces of cloth and found herself involved in a second career after she retired from being a nurse’s aid in 1992.

Ella’s Patch Quilts in the media

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Article
Feb. 6, 2006 Patches of Love

Sewing came later in life, all the better to reveal quilter’s spirit
Posted: Feb. 11, 2006
Looking at the assortment of quilts that line the hallway and overflow the second-floor bedrooms of Ella Brooks’ home, you might think she has been quilting for most of her life.

You would be wrong.

Brooks went into business making and selling quilts just three years ago. She has been quilting for only 15 years, which represents only the last quarter of her life.

“I retired from being a nurses’ aide in 1992 and was bored, so bored,” she says, speaking in the living room of her house just south of Hampton Ave. on Milwaukee’s north side. “I taught myself how to sew and I enjoyed it. So I decided quilting would be what I would do.”

While Brooks is relatively new to quilting, it has been a part of her past. She has lived in Milwaukee since 1959 when her family moved here from Greenwood, Miss., in search of better jobs and greater opportunities.

“I remember my mother would quilt,” says Brooks. “She made quilts out of old clothes. She did it her way, and I do it my way, but she taught me to use what you have on hand.”

The results are known as crazy patch quilts, and the ones that Brooks creates are full of bright colors and different shapes.

“I’m from the old school,” she says. “My patches are never exactly the same.”

She cuts each piece by hand using cotton fabric she has on hand or purchases at local fabric shops. Some of the fabric is donated by people who know about her love of quilting. She sizes and irons the patches in one room of her home and sews them together by machine in another room.

She makes quilts, placemats, table runners and small tote bags that often are used by women to hold their Bibles when they go to church. For the rest of the article see:

Milwaukee Catholic Herald Article
May 26, 2005 Memories are fabric of life for quiltmaker
By Maryangela Layman Román

Ella Brooks is not one to sit around and mope. When she gets an idea, she springs into action. That energy not only led to her own quilting business, it also led her to the Catholic Church.

Brooks was on the verge of sinking into depression nearly 20 years ago when her mother died suddenly, a day after visiting Brooks at her home.

Then, a working mother of six children ranging in age from 23 to 14, Brooks felt lost without her own mother, a woman she described as her best friend. About seven years later, after she retired from her job as a nurses’ aide, she remembers gazing at a quilt her mother had created from old clothes. The brown corduroy patches may not have been beautiful to look at, but they reflected her mother’s love and caring for her five children.

“She’d make coverings out of old clothes, sewing by hand,” Brooks recalled of her mother’s quilts. “Anything to keep her children warm.”

Seeing the love reflected in the covering and remembering days sitting next to her mother as she fashioned the quilts, Brooks decided to try her own hand at patchwork quilting. For the rest of the article see:

See Ella’s Patch Quilt Gallery for bed quilts, baby quilts, handbags, wall hangings and much more!

Last edited by Bob Graf. Based on work by TeganDowling and Tegan Dowling.  Page last modified on November 08, 2013

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