A precocious quiltmaker who was artistically mature in her teens, Essie Bendolph Pettway (b. 1956) is the daughter of Mary Lee Bendolph (b. 1935) and granddaughter of Aolar Carson Mosely (1912 - 1999).
"I was looking at my mama sewing back when I was seven, eight—might have been younger—and I was thinking I want to do that for myself. Maybe I was twelve or thirteen when I made my first quilt. I have a family with a lot of peoples quilting—my grandmother, a lot of aunts, my mama—and I picked up a lot from watching them and learning what they was doing.
"I work at American Apparel up in Selma. I do pick-work; I make army coats. Camouflage. I sit at a sewing machine all day. I like doing it, I love my job, but at times it get a little stressful. I come home and sew. But that’s different. That is work, this is pleasure. Sewing at home give me peace of mind and a challenge. I make quilts here at home, and pillows, curtains, bedspreads, dresses. I used to make clothes for my two children, Felicia and McDuffy, but I stopped after they got to a certain age and didn’t want to wear homemade.
"I’m a good worker. Been working hard most of my life. I went to the fields when I was six. Used to pick squash and cucumbers, okras, cotton. Ain’t never did no pulling-corn work. After we chopped the cotton, we laid it by for a while, and went to school about a couple of months before going back to the field. It all depend on how we did our work in the field, what time we finished our work, we could go to school pretty regular. I finished twelfth grade, got my diploma.
"I get pleasure from my quilts. I enjoy seeing other peoples enjoying my work. I enjoy doing good work. Everything I make got to be right to the point. My son is in the Air Force. I made him a quilt out of old camouflage material, and he loved it, and the sergeant was persuasive to try to get it from him. I’m happy people appreciate what I do."