Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Tillery, Halifax County, NC
Adell Davis lives in Tillery, two miles from the place where she was born in 1920. She and her six siblings grew up helping their parents farm. In those years preceding and during the Depression, residents of rural Halifax County learned to make efficient use of whatever materials they had on hand—a philosophy that was especially evident in the way that women used fabric.
Her mother was a skilled seamstress who regularly made quilted comforters, assembled from two pieces of cloth and batting. “She would invite people to come over,” Davis remembers, “and [she would] cook dinner, and [they would] help her quilt it.”
When she married, Davis’s husband’s job in the logging woods meant that she had to tend to their corn, cotton, peanuts, and soybeans crops––as well as their six children. When the oldest child was ready to go to college, the Davises raised hogs, in addition to their crops, to raise tuition money. They were able to put that son through college at North Carolina A&T. In time, five of their children would graduate from A&T, and one from East Carolina University.
In the late 1970s, when all their children had left for college, Davis became interested in taking up a creative pursuit. “I like to keep busy,” she says. She began gathering with her friends Nettie Hill and Sally Lyon to make quilts. They made all their quilts by hand, as Davis still does today—both the piecing and the stitching.
Like those of her mother’s generation, Davis is resourceful in her quilt-making; she primarily uses scraps from friends and family. She has only purchased fabric for one quilt––a large, intricately pieced quilt with a central eight-point star motif. Adell Davis’ quilts feature bold patterns, but extremely delicate, precise hand-stitching. Once, she remembers, a friend told her that she was picky. Davis responded, “I was taught, do your best. Don’t half-do stuff.”
Her quilts are not made for sale, but for family. She has made and given a quilt to each of her six children and eleven grandchildren, and to one great-grandchild. When one of her sons passed away, the family established a scholarship at A&T in his name. Davis made and raffled a quilt annually as a fundraiser for the endowment, raising thousands of dollars to help Halifax County children attend college.