Lillie Mack & Marilyn Gordon, Fiber & Design Arts:Fashion - Blackbelt Designs, York AL

In the heart of the black belt of the Deep South, on the western edge of Alabama and just a few miles from Mississippi, sits the small town of York. York, population 2,854, is in Sumter County, population under 15,000 and listed as one of the poorest counties in Alabama.

August 1956 a female was born who never embraced the idea of being poor. She was well aware there was never much money to spend in stores but there was always hand-me-down clothing and leftover scraps to rework and/or play with creating something new, functional, and
usually different than her peers.

Lillie Jean Mack , the second oldest of 7 children, learned to sew by observing her mother. Often she would remake an adult’s dress into two child size dresses. Feed sacks and flour sacks were a source of new fabric to sew with.

"Although two of my sisters also sewed, I was the one that helped to clothe the family. We had no commercial patterns so I learned to eye the body, cut the garment, sew & fit on a live mannequin – the person who would be wearing the item."

After High School and the birth of her eldest child, Lillie began working at the local apparel factory. Twenty six years later, the factories moved to Mexico and she was without a job. Sewing for family members did not fulfill her need to sew and create what she visualized, so she began making quilts, lap robes, and craft items to sell.
All these years of designing and sewing from salvaged materials and I never realized I did anything differently from other sewers. In fact, I felt others were more skilled since I could not work from a pattern. "

This soon changed when she joined Blackbelt Designs, a new fulltime fiber arts workshop that was starting in York sponsored by the Coleman Center for Arts and Culture.

"The same year I joined Black Belt Designs as a volunteer, we visited Kentuck Festival of the Arts, Northport, Alabama. Previous to this excursion I thought art was something people hung on the wall. I had an epiphany that changed the way I viewed my passion, and myself, as I walked the aisles. This exposure to quality arts and crafts awakened me to possibilities. At age forty six, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother I discovered what I had been doing for forty years to clothe family and decorate my home was admired by many people.

Now, I recycle denim jeans into designer jackets. I totally rip the jeans and incorporate unfaded areas into the design of the jackets.

Another fabric of choice is mudcloth from Mali. When people ask why mudcloth, my reply is “I use the African made fabric because it epitomizes what I believe. One can make something beautiful from what they find around them”.

Lillie is listed as one of Alabama’s outstanding artists on

Some of her other recognition includes:
Arts & Humanities Council of Tuscaloosa, AL juried show - honorable mention.
Sumter County, AL Fine Arts juried show - 2nd place
Invited exhibitor Kentuck Arts & Crafts, Northport, AL
Invited exhibitor Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Design Arts Fellowship with the Alabama State Arts Council

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