During her twenties, Ada Jones began quilting after taking classes offered through the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service. Formed in the 1910s, the agency taught practical agricultural and technical skills to the state’s farmers and their families. The service quickly expanded to include classes in “woman’s work,” and female extension agents traversed the rural communities of Alabama giving demonstrations on topics including quilting, canning, and nutrition. Jones fell in love with quilting in one of those classes.
Quilting was both a social and practical endeavor in Alabama. Women came together to quilt as a form of entertainment and socialization. But their work sessions served another important purpose as well, particularly during the Great Depression. Jones and other DeKalb County women made and gave quilts to needy families in the community. It was a practice Jones continued for the rest of her life, providing quilts to friends and family alike.
The Extension Service instructors encouraged participants to gather scraps of cloth to make their quilt tops. Repurposing fabric was a common Depression-era practice. Jones’s sister-in-law, Ruby Mae Chitwood, worked in the office of the W. B. Davis Hosiery Company, one of several manufacturers around Fort Payne, the self-proclaimed “Sock Capital of the World.” From scraps, salesmen’s samples, and remaindered socks, the women procured enough material for Jones to produce two quilts. She hand-stitched the sock tops together to form her unique, multicolored quilts. The Extension Service provided fabric for the backing, and Jones filled the quilts with cotton ginned from the family farm.
Women came together to quilt as a form of entertainment and socialization. But their work sessions served another important purpose as well, particularly during the Great Depression. Jones and other DeKalb County women made and gave quilts to needy families in the community.
In 1945 Jones gave the two sock-top quilts to her son, Tommie, as a wedding gift. In the mid-1990s, recognizing the uniqueness of the quilts, the family donated one each to the Alabama Department of Archives and History and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Jones died in 1997, but her story lives on in her simple yet stunning sock-top quilts, artifacts that can teach future generations a great deal about life in Alabama.
This feature was previously published in Issue 131, Winter 2019.
About the Author
Ryan Blocker is museum collections coordinator at the Alabama Department of Archives and History. She was co-curator of “Sewn Together: Two Centuries of Alabama Quilts,” a 2017 collaborative exhibition of the Archives and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.