Beth Hartford




Beth Hartford




Beth Hartford


Karen Musgrave

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy O'Bryant Puentes


Woodridge, Illinois


Kim Greene


Karen Musgrave (KM): This is Karen Musgrave. I'm doing a Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories with Beth Hartford. She is from Zion, Illinois, but we are today on September 16, 2007 in Woodridge, Illinois at the Faithful Circle Quilt Show. Beth, thank you so much from coming and allowing me to do this interview with you. It is 2:35 in the afternoon. Beth, tell me about your quilt, "Sundown."

Beth Hartford (BH): My father has Alzheimer's. He has the Lewy Bodies variation of Alzheimer's, and his mother passed away from Alzheimer's. They called it dementia back then, but it was some sort of Alzheimer's. When Dad started really showing significant signs, I just had this idea in my head, this picture in my head, and when I heard about Ami's project, the picture wouldn't go away. My niece traveled to England for school and she took a picture of this window. I think it was somewhere in England at a university, and I when I saw it, I thought, 'that is the window.' The image of my Dad is actually a photograph that my sister Diane took in front of the window in his den where he spent a lot of time before he moved into the nursing home, and this is the view out that window. So I took a picture of the sunset and I overlaid it with the picture of the window and then superimposed my dad on top of that.

KM: His silhouette.

BH: His silhouette, right. It is basically a view that he enjoyed, he loved sunsets, and also depicts his life kind of fading.

KM: Did you hand dye?

BH: The background was actually painted by a friend of mine, Annette Hendricks. I was stuck. I couldn't start this project, it was in my heart and in my head and I couldn't get it out, and she came over one day and she said, if you need me I will help you and she just took the brush and started painting it. I used her piece as the background. It is heavily thread painted beyond that. The thread on top of the painting enriches the painting.

KM: Is the black overlay?

BH: The black is whole cloth, totally overlaid.

KM: Is it machine appliquéd?

BH: It is machine appliquéd. It is a piece of fabric that I dyed.

KM: I know.

BH: The fading.

KM: The fading in the corner.

BH: Right and that was serendipitous.

KM: So it wasn't intentional?

BH: Totally unintentional. It really--it just happened that way.

KM: It adds so much.

BH: Yes.

KM: It does. I love serendipity.

BH: Yes, it is a wonderful thing.

KM: I do. I actually don't believe that anything is serendipitous, but I love serendipity.

BH: It really, it just happened that way.

KM: It is a wonderful quilt.

BH: Thank you.

KM: How did you find out about the exhibit?

BH: I believe it was through Ami's [Simms.] newsletter. I have gotten Ami's newsletter for quite some time and that is where I think I first heard about it. Of course you never think that your quilt is going to be good enough to hang next to all of these very impressive quilters that she invited. I actually found out that mine was accepted into the show when I called her to pay for a little priority quilt that I had purchased, and she said, I have to tell you secret. And she told me that my quilt was accepted, so, that was a pretty good moment. But I couldn't tell anybody. [laughs.].

KM: Not fair.

BH: No, but it was a very important moment for me.

KM: What are your thoughts about the "Alzheimer's: Forgetting Piece By Piece" exhibit?

BH: I think it is fabulous. I am so glad she did it. I think it has really brought quilters together, it has raised awareness, and it has raised a lot of money. [laughs.] It is just a fantastic project. I am totally behind her; I own probably twelve priority quilts that I have purchased through the auctions, [laughs.], because they are wonderful pieces.

KM: Have you made any priority quilts?

BH: I have made five currently, and I have another one in the works. That is from a beading class I took the other day. It has been a really good experience.

KM: The exhibit is to educate and raise money, the book, the CD, the priority quilts, all of that goes for Alzheimer's research.

BH: Right.

KM: What is your plan for this quilt once you get it back?

BH: That is a good question, I will hang it. Yeah, I will hang it in my home probably.

KM: What was your family's reaction to the quilt?

BH: Actually, I showed it to my dad and he didn't see himself, he liked the quilt, but he didn't see himself. Everybody else immediately recognizes him. It is very clearly his nose [laughs.] and his silhouette. I took it right from the photograph. They are all very much behind the project and the quilts. My sister, Diane, also has a quilt in the project so that it is kind of a family affair.

KM: Tell me about your interest in quiltmaking.

BH: I started as a quilter in 1984; I don't know why it struck me. I had been sewing, my mother taught me how to sew years ago, and I don't know why quiltmaking struck me, but I searched and searched everywhere to find someone to teach me quiltmaking, and I couldn't find anything. It was the dark ages. I would sign up for a class and because they didn't get enough people signed up, they would cancel the class. I lived in an area where there weren't a lot of quilt shops that I knew about, so I got a book and made my first quilt, which will probably never be finished. It was a dusty blue and peach Log Cabin, [laughs.] and the backing is something that a neighbor gave me that her mother had that is more like canvas than anything else. I was hand quilting it, so you can image that this was a difficult process, and I don't know, I probably got half way through it and abandoned it totally, but I still have it. [laughs.] Then I found a quilt shop that used to be in Antioch, Illinois and started taking some classes and really got involved. Then I ended up teaching for them and I took a hand dye class there. It was my very first experience with hand dying and I was totally, totally taken with the bug for hand dying so now I do a lot of hand dying for quilters, and for anybody else who wants it, and I make quilts too.

KM: Do you have a business?

BH: I do have a quilt business, and it is called I attended various shows like this, I have sold at guilds where you go in and they have a speaker. I have a friend who uses a lot of my fabrics in her quilts and she has won a lot of awards with her quilts, and when she goes to speak she invites me along and that is always an added bonus, so I get to sell my fabrics where she is speaking. It is a joint venture that has been very, very nice. I make probably one big quilt a year that is auctioned off at my son's school to raise funds to support his school. I'm on my seventh this year. I have raised from $600 to $2,300. I am hoping this one is going to go for more. [laughs.]

KM: Is this quilt typical of your style?

BH: Actually, this is, I'm not an art quilter by nature. I was always making traditional quilts. That friend that I was talking about before who does all the speaking, she is an art quilter and belongs to the Professional Art Quilters Alliance, that I since have become a member of, and she pushes me in that direction, which is good. So this one totally came out of my head, and I would like to do more of that kind of thing. As I progress, it is a slow progression, but it is coming.

KM: How many hours per week do you typically work on quilts?

BH: That depends. My husband also has a business so I work for him, and I have a son who demands my time. So it totally fluctuates. It is a line of priorities. [laughs.] I wear many hats. I am a township trustee and a lot of other things, so, um, probably not more than eight to ten hours a week, unfortunately, that I am able to get into quilting.

KM: Does that include all of your dying?

BH: No, actually dying ebbs and flows too. If I have a show coming up or something, I will dye like crazy to get my inventory up.

KM: We are all kind of like that with deadlines.

BH: Yeah, and then you get a little sick of it, and so you just kind of put it in the back bedroom for a while and forget about it.

KM: What do your hand dyes look like? Kind of like your tee shirt?

BH: The shirt I'm wearing is typical of my gradations. Sandy Schweitzer promotes me as someone who can make fabrics to match antique quilts for quilt repair and restoration. A lot of what I sell is gradations. I do unique pieces too, because those are the most fun. But I would say the bread and butter are the gradations for quilters.

KM: What advice would you offer somebody starting out?

BH: As a quilter?

KM: Yes.

BH: Probably to decide what it is that you like. See a lot of quilts, decide what it is you like, and then find someone who can take your hand and hold it and guide you as far as achieving what you want to achieve. Start small, start realistically. Don't start on a king size bed quilt with canvas on the back. [laughs.] It is amazing that I ever went on to make another.

KM: I think it is so typical of so many of us.

BH: We start off with something that is huge, huge, yes. I really like the story that one quilter said the first quilt she ever made was Mariners Compass, but she didn't know any better. Now she makes all her quilts Mariners Compass because she loves the pattern, but she didn't know any better. So my advice would be to find what you like and then follow that dream. Find somebody who can help you.

KM: How did you come to dying your fabrics? Just that class?

BH: Just that class.

KM: Just the class? You had no prior interest; did you have an inkling that this was something that you would love?

BH: I had never been exposed to it.

KM: So what prompted you to take the class?

BH: Because it was there. [laughs.] At that point I was a teacher for the same shop and there wasn't a lot that as a student that they could offer me. I didn't need to know how to make a traditional quilt; I needed to know how to go the next step. So that really was the next step for me. This gal came in from Michigan, somebody knew her, and we didn't have any hand dyers around this area. I just loved the results. The first quilt I made with my hand dyed fabrics that I made in that class, I cried because it was a Tumbling Blocks baby quilt and it had a white background and I appliquéd these tumbling blocks in a pyramid shape onto the front of it, and then I marked all my quilting lines with a blue pen and then I spritzed it to get the pen out and the hand dyes bled all over my white background. For some strange reason I had decided to use a wool batting. I don't know why. I don't know where it came from, but I thought this is perfect. It is nice. Well, I threw it all in the washing machine to try to get the marks off from the dye and the thing shrunk like crazy, so I had this ball that I took out to the trashcan and I pitched it in, and then I stood there and I pulled it back out, and I ripped the appliqué off, just ripped it off, and I kept the appliqué. I washed it out properly, got rid of all the excess dye and I remade that quilt and I still have it. I didn't give it away. I was amazed that I actually went back and dyed more fabric, but I wanted to do it right, so it didn't bleed. [laughs.] I'm ornery, I'm German and Irish. My husband says I'm damn right all the time.

KM: Do you still teach?

BH: I haven't taught lately because the quilt shop closed, and so I just don't have an opportunity or venue for teaching right now.

KM: Would you do it again?

BH: Yes. I really enjoyed it. I have taught hand dying, I've taught traditional quiltmaking, um, many classes.

KM: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

BH: Time. So many people work multiple jobs, most aren't one income families anymore, everybody works, so I think that probably the biggest thing is time and having some little moment that they can set aside to do something that they love. You've got your family, you've got your job, you've got everything else that is going on in your life, it is very difficult to find that little nitch in time and not feel guilty about it.

KM: What does your family think of your quiltmaking?

BH: They are very supportive. My son is wonderful, he loves my quilts. He is a good kid. When I made one for the school auction two years ago, I hung the quilt to take pictures of it, and he said, mom, I don't want you to give that one away. It is a twisted bargello, it turned out really, really cool. I said, this is two days before the auction, I don't have a choice. So I made another very similar quilt, and it hangs in the living room. So I made two of the same quilt because he loved it so much.

KM: How old is he?

BH: He is twelve, no eleven and a half, going on eighty. [laughs.] He is a big cheerleader, and my husband as well, he is very supportive of my spending [laughs.]. He turns his back and doesn't say a word, so he is very good.

KM: What are your favorite techniques?

BH: I like color, being a hand dyer I am big into color and black. Anything that is bright. Just recently, this last quilt that I made is very Tuscan and I did a whole lot of free motion quilting on it and I finally made friends with my sewing machine after all these years where I'm very comfortable sitting down and doing very intricate work. I think it was a turning point for me. I'm definitely headed more toward the artistic, non-traditional kind of quilts.

KM: You did a really good job of hand quilting this quilt.

BH: It is machine quilted.

KM: I know, but it looks good.

BH: Thank you. That is straight line, very simple.

KM: It is what was needed though.

BH: Exactly. When I sat down to start this quilt (Sundown), I actually quilted the background first and then overlaid the window, and I sat down to do it and I was working on this hill here and there was one part that just wasn't what I wanted, so I walked away. I waited probably two days, then I went back to it and I sat down to quilt it and it worked. It was just right. It was a good thing that I stopped when I did, because what I was doing was wrong. Everybody says this and it sounds very trite, but if you listen to the quilt it will tell you what it needs. [laughs.] Seriously, I firmly believe that in the last four or five weeks.

KM: Do you have a studio?

BH: I do have a studio. It is in my home. A major portion of my lower level is dedicated to me and my stuff. [laughs.] Thankfully my family puts up with that.

KM: Where do you do your dying?

BH: In my studio. When we bought the house there was a room that was pretty much set up for me. There was a washer and dryer, a big sink, and then on the other side were cabinets and a long table that was set up for sewing. It was the only way when my son was eight months old that my husband got me to move. It was perfect. I have taken over the other rooms in the lower level since then. [laughs.] The space is there I guess.

KM: I expand into whatever space I'm given.

BH: There is one long narrow closet with shelves all through it for all my fabric that is really fabulous.

KM: Do you have a design wall?

BH: I do have a design wall. It is just basically the wall as you walk into the studio. I live in what used to be an old schoolhouse, so it is fairly a unique building, and this was the lunch room, so it is a small area. It is probably twelve feet by twenty feet long, but was used by the prior owners as a family room. It is now part of my studio, so I have a large wall that is covered with white batting basically.

KM: How has that influenced your creative process?

BH: You have to step back, you have got to be able to step back and see what you are working on. You just, you can't, when you are two inches away from something, get the feel for it, so it is important that you can step back and see what you need for the next step.

KM: Do you belong to any quilt groups?

BH: I was a member until recently of the Northern Lake County Quilt Guild and I just feel kind of like I outgrew them. Once I became a member of the Professional Art Quilters Alliance [PAQA.], I saw a totally different dynamic. In a PAQA meeting, the business meetings are five minutes long and the rest of the meeting is show and share, and they share everything, every technique, every idea, it is fabulous. It is so much about learning and then you get to go out to lunch with these wonderful women that have really made it in the quilt world and just talk to them one on one and for me it has been perfect in that I have just learned so much by absorption. I rarely have anything to go in and show, but even with this last quilt that I made it was very traditional and I was stuck on quilting it. I knew that it needed to be done, well I thought quick and dirty, because it was an auction item and most people don't understand or appreciate the vast amount of work that goes into a quilt, and so I was just considering just doing an all over pattern, and I took it in there because I wanted some opinions, and that was probably a big mistake, because I spent probably eight times as much time quilting it as I would have if I had not done that. But, they gave me some fabulous ideas and some wonderful feedback, and I think the quilt is so much better because of that.

KM: How did you end up quilting it?

BH: Individually. Individual blocks. Some of the blocks were actually a large scale fabric that had a print on it that was very Tuscan. It has sunflowers and olive oil bottles and cheese and wine glasses and I quilted around those individual shapes. Then I used this one batik fabric that has a little tiny scroll, the biggest ones were maybe a half an inch. I used that fabric in each block in and in its own border and I individually quilted the little swirls. I used micro stippling to push the black back. I used channel quilting in the blocks and one of the borders. Everything was totally custom quilted.

KM: I can understand why you want this to go for a lot of money. I hope you get it.

BH: Thank you. I'm hoping that people appreciate it, because it is a beautiful quilt, it has warm color ways, all the oranges, gold, rust, greens & browns, and of course I off set it with black to really make it pop. It has a fabulous border, and it's got this purple in it that just jumps. It is a really crazy color in the middle of all of these soft warm tones and then this bright purple. Kind of fun. I'm hoping that it does well.

KM: I hope that the school appreciates it.

BH: Oh they do.

KM: Is there anything else you would like to share? Should we touch back on the exhibit or the priority quilts?

BH: Sure. I am a big purchaser of priority quilts. [laughs.] I have quilts by Sandy Schweitzer, Beth Ferrier, Stephanie Nordlin, and Ami Simms. Ami is going to think I'm some sort of stalker because I think I own four or five of hers but in reality, I am just a big fan of her bright colors. [laughs.] I have other priority quilts as well.

KM: Do you collect any other quilts?

BH: I have a fairly large collection of antique quilts, but I haven't bought any for a while. I guess I reached my critical mass, I don't know. I don't have a good place to display them, so I feel like I'm not doing them a service by sticking them in a closet, so I haven't bought any antique quilts for a while. But these little ones are so much fun. Very, very collectible. My plan for them is to do a wall in my dining room where it is just covered with these little quilts in a collage of some sort.

KM: That would be cool.

BH: Some day.

KM: What do your priority quilts that you donated look like?

BH: I did two water color crosses, obviously small water color crosses. I did made little flag quilt one for my dad. Some years ago, I made a very large bargello flag quilt and my dad really liked it. He was in the military so that quilt became a Christmas gift for him one year. He loved it. It hangs on the wall of their home. When he went into the nursing home I made a smaller version that hangs over his bed, so he would feel as if he was at home. As a priority quilt, I made a little tiny one that is a little mixed up and it is called, "When the Wind Blows Too Hard I Get Confused." I made another one that was actually just an experiment that I did at a PAQA retreat where I took Tsukineko inks and made a design just like you would when you were a kid that looked like stained glass. Just draw two lines and made all these little blocks, and then I colored them in with the Tsukineko inks and then I took very narrow black bias and followed the lines, went over the lines with the bias binding and just stitched it down, and that was another one. The last one was using left-over fabric from another project. Just fun little pieces to do. Very fun.

KM: It goes for a great cause.

BH: Right and they are quick. You can try new techniques, something you never tried before and it makes it really interesting. There is very little invested, and if it is awful, then you just move on. [laughs.]

KM: Ami was wonderful. I think it just speaks so well of the quilt community.

BH: I'm astounded at the amount of support that has come from quilters. Ami's initial goal was $75,000 and she was going to be over the moon with that, and now Sandy Schweitzer has kind of kicked her in the behind and said I think we can do more. Now the goal is $500,000, and she is getting there. The crazy part is that she is going to get there.

KM: Not only that, the fact of getting to find the cure.

BH: Well the money is what is needed to pay for the research needed to find the cure. It sounds like there are some serious break throughs, as far as a cure. I'm frightened for myself and for my family after seeing the history of my family. My dad and his mom, so it is frightening that this could happen to us.

KM: Do you think about that much?

BH: Yeah I do, actually it is kind of weird, but I do. You forget your car keys or whatever and it is just like oh my gosh it hit me now. [laughs.] It is tough. My mom is thankfully fine, doing very well. I guess I'm going to take after her. [laughs.] I have a choice.

KM: That is the thing about this disease, is that none of us gets to choice.

BH: That's the thing and it is sneaky, very sneaky, and sometimes it is too late to do anything about it before it happens. My dad went downhill very quickly. You could see the signs, but it was very rapid, within three months he totally went over the edge to not knowing where he was or who he was with and being very confused.

KM: I don't know if that's.

BH: Easier or harder, yes. It is tough. But health wise, physically he is in very good form.

KM: Again, I don't know if that is good or bad.

BH: Exactly. That is the hard part, how long do you live with this? That is the nasty part of this disease is that it steals your mind but not your body, or takes a lot longer to lose the body. It is not a good thing, and I hope they do find some sort of cure and I'm going to do everything that I can to help.

KM: Thank you for sharing and stop interviewing--

BH: And stop crying.

KM: I have to go find a tissue because I gave you mine.

BH: Thank you Karen.

KM: I am going to conclude this interview at 1:05.


“Beth Hartford,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 24, 2024,