Heritage Search

Elizabeth "Lee" Graham Jacobs
Folk/Traditional Crafts and Visual Arts Bolton
1996 N.C. Heritage Award Recipient

For eighty-four years, "Lee" Jacobs lived in Columbus County in the Waccamaw Siouan community of Buckhead within two and a half miles of where she was born. Most of that time she was a quilter. "Honey, I could make a pretty stitch when I was eight years old," she said.

"Miss Lee," as she was known to many in the community, learned to piece quilts from her grandmother. Her grandmother's mother was also a quilter. "I reckon it was born in me to love to quilt," she said, and remembered working hard at it even when she was very young. "You can't show a child too early that's wanting to learn," she believed. "My grandma would give me some of her scraps. I'd sit right there beside her. She'd trim hers and cut them little ends and pieces, that's what she gave me to sew."

"But now let me tell you, that's pretty," she declared. "The littler the scrap, the prettier the quilt." "Lee" Jacobs also pointed out other things that made quilts beautiful. "A quilt that's made and put together with many colors, seems like it's pretty to me," she said. Some of the patterns came from her own imagination. As she put it, they were ones that her "mind accumulate[d]." Those were the quilts she liked best.

By her estimate, she made almost two hundred quilts. She gave many of them away. "I loved to quilt and I enjoyed it. I mostly was doing it for a hobby; I wasn't getting anything out of it. But in the long run, it paid off because I was able to give every child I had a couple of quilts apiece. Then I started back and I would give [quilts to] all my grandchildren--seven children and nine grandchildren."

She, like other Waccamaw-Siouan women of her generation and earlier, worked with very few resources and often made quilts just for keeping warm. Younger members of the tribe are now looking at those quilts as documents of family and community histories. "Miss Lee's" quilts helped celebrate weddings, graduations, new babies, and new homes; and they helped comfort families who lost their homes in fires. Many of her quilts raised money for local causes and organizations, according to Brenda Moore, a community developer at the Waccamaw-Siouan Development Association. "You really feel like you have a million dollars if you get one of 'Miss Lee's' quilts," she said, "or one from someone like that that's older in the community and they've been doing quilts all of their life and have taught others that's not even their family members to do quilts. They've told such great stories about quilting. It's in our heads, but it's not written down. If I could get one of 'Miss Lee's' quilts, I would probably guard it with my life."

"Miss Lee," who spent countless hours teaching quilting in the community, inspired a whole generation of younger quilters. She took a typically modest view of her work. "At night, whenever I get ready to go to bed, I kind of think about what did I do today, have I accomplished anything or not. And if you've just wasted up God's good day, you've not accomplished anything. I try to do something with it, you know, that's profitable. And quilting is the thing that'll do it."