Betty Ellen Hathaway Madry




Betty Ellen Hathaway Madry




Betty Ellen Hathaway Madry


Frances H. Price

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Raleigh, North Carolina


Virginia Pierson


Frances Price (FP): This is Frances Price in Raleigh North Carolina. Today's date is February 3, 2004. It is 2:35 p.m. and I am conducting an interview with Betty Madry for Quilter's S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Betty is a member of the Samuel Johnston Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Virginia Pierson is a scribe and is taping the interview which will take about 45 minutes. Betty, you live in Raleigh North Carolina now. Are you a native North Carolinian?

Betty Madry (BM): No, I tell people I got here as soon as I could but I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, January 24, 1929. I am 75 years old.

FP: Well, tell me about the quilt you selected for the interview today.

BM: This is a Double Wedding Ring quilt with a background of white and blue variations of cotton colors and cotton pieces with big blue four squares in the corners. It is called the Double Wedding Ring.

FP: Did you make it?

BM: Yes, I did in 1980.

FP: Well, how did you decide to make this quilt?

BM: Well, I was interested in needlework. I had done some knitting and some crewel work but it just didn't seem to catch my fancy and after a son's divorce and we got our little 18 month old granddaughter, I had to give up a lot of my volunteer work and my cousin Nancy [Mann.] in Oklahoma City suggested that I begin to quilt and sure enough, that caught on and I love it and I have had a needle in my hand ever since.

FP: Why did you choose this particular quilt to bring to the interview?

BM: Because it is the first one I made.

FP: What are your plans for this quilt?

BM: At the top of the quilt, the part that goes over the pillows, I have embroidered my name and my birth date and Raleigh, North Carolina. I moved here after I married my husband. This is his home. And on the other side is Caroline, the little granddaughter's name and her birth date. In my will I have left it to Caroline.

FP: I especially like the way it is scalloped along the edge.

BM: Thank you.

FP: Tell me about your interest in quilting to begin with.

BM: I watched both of my grandmothers quilt. Mary Sue Holland, my mother's mother, belonged to a quilting guild and she had the frame set up in a room and women from the church would come and quilt and I remember being a little girl in the 30's and 40's about 9-10 years old sitting under the quilting frame, listening to the women talk.

FP: So do you have other quilters then among your family, do you?

BM: Yes, I have.

FP: Will you tell us about some of them?

BM: I was very fortunate to have six of my grandmother, May Camp McQuestion's quilts and five of my grandmother's quilts. Her name was Mary Sue Cook Holland.

FP: Where do you do most of your quilting, at home or elsewhere?

BM: At home. I use lap quilting. My quilting is all done in squares. I don't own a loom, a quilting loom frame and I don't own a sewing machine.

FP: Then you don't think much of machine quilting?

BM: Well, that's fine if the person likes to do it that way, that's fine. I just happen to like to do it all by hand.

FP: About hour many hours a week do you quilt?

BM: About 14. I try to quilt at least an hour a day.

FP: From whom did you learn to quilt?

BM: I didn't really learn from anyone. In 1980, I went to a fabric store and picked out a lot of fabric and got a little pattern book from the store, quilt store and came home and cut out all the pieces and put it all together. It took me about two years and when I was finished I took it back to the fabric store and the woman said, 'Why didn't you come back and take classes?' And I said, 'I didn't know that I was supposed to take classes. I just went home and made the quilt.'

FP: Do friends ever quilt with you?

BM: No. My cousin Nancy does when she comes to visit from Oklahoma.

FP: About how long does it take you to make a quilt?

BM: A year and a half to two years.

FP: Have you made a number of quilts?

BM: Yes, I have made 15 double bed quilts and 14 baby quilts. I have 58 quilts all together in my collection.

FP: Are you working on any quilts now?

BM: I have two going at the moment-a pretty yellow and blue Grandmother's Garden. I have to have twenty of those squares to make a double bed quilt. And then I am working on a Dresden plate. I just began working on it. I have two or three going at one time and always in the back of my head is what will be the next quilt.

FP: When you go on trips, do you ever take them with you to work on?

BM: Oh, I sure do. You can spot a doctor's wife at a meeting sitting in a lobby looking very sad and lonely and I said I am not going to be that kind of girl and so I take my quilting and I can sit in the lobby or in the room and drink a hot cup of tea and just quilt away. It is wonderful.

FP: How has quilting affected your life and the life of your family?

BM: Well, my husband enjoys showing these quilts to people. Also, whenever we have a fund raiser, say for the symphony, or we have a dinner party, people know that they can come upstairs to the quilt room and enjoy looking at all the beautiful quilts.

FP: What do you find especially pleasing about quilting?

BM: I don't know. There must be something in my genes that makes me feel so calm to quilt and happy. My family in France in the 11th century started a thread company and every generation the women have made either lace or fine clothes or quilts. I like to think about them as I quilt.

FP: What was the name of that company?

BM: Lisle Thread Company.

FP: Is that still in existence today?

BM: I am sorry, I don't know?

FP: Are there any aspects of quilting you don't enjoy?

BM: I don't really love the cutting out the pieces but I know it has to be done.

FP: Do you belong to a quilting guild?

BM: No.

FP: You said you were working on some quilts now, when did you get interested in different fabrics?

BM: When I go home to Oklahoma City, my cousins and I go to all the flea markets and all the fabric stores and we look at fabrics and I'm with them as they choose fabrics and talk about different quilts they are making. Also, my mother was an interior decorator and she was always bringing samples home so I have always been surrounded by beautiful materials.

FP: Do you always use cotton?

BM: Yes, I do.

FP: Is there any reason to use cotton rather than other fabrics?

BM: Cotton is the main quilting fabric, I think. Mainly, I use the cotton because I use very small needles. I like to make very small stitches and the cotton is the best material for that.

FP: How do you feel about machine quilting versus hand quilting? I know you said you do all of yours by hand.

BM: Well, I don't own a machine and I couldn't take it with me on trips. I just love that. Now, if someone else wants to do it by machine, that's fine. I enjoy looking at their quilts also but I just prefer doing it by hand.

FP: Have you ever shown any of your quilts in a show?

BM: Yes, at the fairgrounds one year. I had all of mine out as a fund raiser. But unfortunately, they were selling barbecue sandwiches next to the quilting stand and people eating barbecue would then come over to my quilts and there is something about a quilt you just can't help but touch it and turn it over and look at the stitching. It did some damage to my quilt so I decided to not ever show them again.

FP: I remember you had your quilts on display when we had a DAR Tea at your home.

BM: Yes.

FP: They were beautiful.

BM: Thank you.

FP: Could you tell us a little about your collection? You said you inherited some. Have you also bought some quilts?

BM: Yes, I have. My cousin, Nancy, in Oklahoma City, Nancy Mann, I have 23 of hers and hers are really beautiful. She is quite an artist. I have six of my grandmother Mae's, five of my Grandmother Mary Sue's, 15 unknown, made by unknown people. When I travel, I try to pick up, for instance, recently I bought two in San Antonio, beautiful quilts. Then I have a cowboy quilt from a ranch in Oklahoma. One of my cousins owned a ranch near Mountain View, Oklahoma and every time she would get a new ranch hand she would get some fabric out and stitch together quickly a quilt and I love that quilt very much. Then I have one made during World War I by my first mother-in-law, Sally Ruth Copeland Hathaway. In 1914, her fiancé went to war in France and she made this lovely made this lovely pink and white quilt and she willed it to me in her will. Then I have three made by Mary Garrett, the sister of the famous lawman, Pat Garrett. Pat Garrett was in New Mexico and was the man that shot the outlaw, Billy the Kid. I inherited those three from my step father whose grandmother was Mary Garrett. I have a beautiful silk quilt. It is not in very good shape. Silk is very fragile and rots so quickly. It's my oldest quilt. It's from Virginia. Then I have two that I am restoring. I like to go to flea markets and pay five or ten dollars for an old quilt that is in terrible shape and bring it home, find beautiful, adequate materials and restore the quilts. Right now, I am working on a little boy's quilt that has turtles on it and it is a lot of fun restoring it. One quilt was given to me by a friend who was going through a bad divorce and I helped her a lot. I went and picked her up every day and brought her to my house for lunch and in gratitude she made a beautiful quilt for me. And then I only have two made in North Carolina.

FP: One of the quilts you made that you were showing us was a patriotic quilt?

BM: Yes.

FP: When did you make that?

BM: Well, I was making that red, white and blue quilt at the time of the disaster of the 911 in New York City. I just couldn't believe I would be making that patriotic red, white, and blue quilt at the time of that disaster in September and my fingers really flew after that bad thing happened.

FP: When was it you said someone mentioned your small stitches?

BM: I went to a quilt show in Wilmington, North Carolina and I happened to have a quilt over my arm. I wanted to ask some advice and one of the quilters, in fact she had won a prize that day, said that I had some of the tiniest stitches she had ever seen. That meant a great deal to me.

FP: Why is quilting important to your life?

BM: It is just a continuation of generations of my ancestors before me.

FP: What ways do you think quilts have a special meaning to women's history in America?

BM: Oh, they certainly do. I wish that every woman who made a quilt had signed it and put the date and the city where she lived on it because they really are works of art. My grandmother Mae was a pioneer in early Oklahoma in what was then called Indian Territory. Her parents were from Canada and New York State. It is her ancestor, Jacob Bevier that I went into the DAR on. She married and then they as newlyweds went out to homestead land in Indian Territory. Her husband was a railroad engineer in St. Louis Missouri and only came home about four times a year. Mae was such a pretty little thing. She was about 5 foot two, brown eyes, curly brown hair, looked like a young Barbara Stanwyck but she stayed out there in the prairie in that mud sod hut with her two babies all alone for five years. She plowed with a mule and was very strong. She had a little wagon and walked a mile every day to get water, a mile and a half every day to get firewood. She didn't own an oven, and only had a black pot to cook in but the nearest neighbor was ten miles away. She would walk every Saturday morning to Mrs. Nevil's house because Mrs. Nevil would have biscuits and bread for her. She watched her quilt. Mrs. Nevil started giving her materials and that's how Mae would quilt. She would carry that back to her little mud sod hut and sit there and quilt. Of course in those days nothing to read, no television, no radio or anything and that's how she began quilting out on the Great Plains. An interesting story, when it would rain, if you were living in a mud sod hut, she would put the children under the table because the snakes would get around the flue up on the top of the mud sod hut to get warm and because of the rain they would fall in so she was always careful to have the hoe nearby to get the snake out of the door and to keep her quilts dry away from the rain and keep the children under the table.

FP: Did any of her children make any quilts that you know of?

BM: No, they didn't.

FP: So, in your family, you said your grandmothers and you have a cousin that makes quilts.

BM: Yes, several second and third cousins who also do quilting and we get together when I go back to Oklahoma.

FP: In what ways do you think--I just asked you that one. How do you think quilts can be used?

BM: I have a lot of quilts hanging on doors and also in cupboards and in things like that. I open them, keep them open and have quilts hanging on the doors. I rotate them. When Fourth of July comes, I put all my red, white and blue ones out, and for Easter, the Easter colors. They really are works of art and people should sign them. What I have done is take small little envelopes and sew it to the underside of the quilt with white thread. I don't use a pin, just thread, and then on the inside of that envelope I put everything about the person who made it- their parents' names, their enthusiasms, did they play the violin or the piano, when they were born, everything I know so that it goes with the quilts.

FP: So your quilts are carrying on oral history.

BM: I hope so.

FP: And written history with what you put on them.

BM: Yes.

FP: Do you put use any appliqué or embroidery?

BM: Yes, not embroidery, but I do love to appliqué. That's something I have just recently taken up and I seem to be able to do it all right so this Grandmother's Garden that I am doing now is appliqué.

FP: What about the frogs and the quilt that you are restoring? Are they appliquéd?

BM: Yes. They are.

FP: Have you used any one color more than another color in the quilts you have made?

BM: I do like red, white, and blue. It seems like I gravitate toward that, although, I like pink and blue.

FP: The quilt you brought today, selected for the interview has a lot of blue in it. I can tell you like that.

BM: Yes and after I do the quilting on the colored pieces, then I like to do the background. The background on this one has my husband's silver dollar in the center and then hearts around it.

FP: Have you met any people through your quilting?

BM: No, not really.

FP: When you are sitting, quilting, when you are on trips or on a plane, do people comment?

BM: Yes, at Christmas time, we love to go to the Grove Park Inn in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina in Asheville. Cousin Nancy flies in. We take our children and grandchildren. When the other people in our family are off doing their thing, playing golf or hiking or antiquing, Nancy and I sit in the rockers in front of the great fireplace and we quilt and we talk and talk and quilt. You'd be surprised at the women who stop and sit down with us in the rocker and watch us and then ask how they can get started quilting. We help them and show them how they can get started.

FP: When quilts--when women first started making quilts it was a necessity, was it not?

BM: Yes, for warmth.

FP: And they just pieced pieces together?

BM: Yes.

FP: Have you read anything or studied anything about when that changed and women started using designs in quilts?

BM: No, but an interesting part of the Civil War, when the blacks were trying to escape the South to get to the North, there was quite a story behind quilts that the blacks knew, for instance at night several blacks could travel, say two or three families, down the dirt road and through the woods. If they came upon a farm house that had the Bear's Claw quilt on the clothes line, they knew that that was the sign that was a safe house where they could get food and drink and also go into hiding in the basement and rest before they would proceed on. There's quite a story behind several quilt patterns that did help the blacks.

FP: What is the pint and a half bowl over near your quilts?

BM: That is a thing to keep the dampness out. North Carolina is very humid and I have two in this quilt room where I keep all my quilts. It's a guest bedroom actually but the quilts are in it. You can buy Damp Away at the home improvement stores such as Home Depot, for instance. You pour this white granulated stuff that looks like sugar in the top and then it sits in a bowl and the liquid forms in the bowl and about once a month I empty it out. It is wonderful to keep everything dry.

FP: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

BM: Well, don't use plastic. Plastic traps moisture and dirt and it is very bad. And also, I don't like to see quilts put in an attic. That's very bad. The temperatures are very bad for it. If you do have to store one, the best way is to wrap them in sheets, just white plain sheets. I also refold my quilts ever so often so that they are not folded the same way all the time.

FP: How do you use your quilts?

BM: I have them as decoration around the house, on tables, on the back of sofas and chairs, also on doors and cupboards. I have a couple of cupboards that I keep the doors open and have quilts hanging on each side. I love to have the quilts out where people can see and enjoy them.

FP: Do you go shopping looking for quilts sometimes?

BM: Yes, on trips, especially in other cities it is fun to look. I am looking forward right now to getting a quilt from my cousin, Nancy, for Easter. She is making a quilt for me based on the windows of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. She made up the pattern and I can't wait to see that at Easter.

FP: It sounds beautiful. Do you ever sell any of your work?

BM: No, and I don't give it away either. I do have them listed in my will who gets what quilt. Nancy has also made a beautiful quilt for my son and his wife based on the stain glass windows of the churches in Paris and that's a beautiful quilt.

FP: Do you sleep under a quilt?

BM: Yes, I do. Pat Garrett's sister made these three that I have, and one is the Lone Star. That's one of my favorites and the other one is a quilt that is the Pin Wheel, that's in red and green. I use that on the table at Christmas. Of course, I don't eat on it, but we just use it for decoration. Her third quilt is Cactus and it's done in purples and greens. It's a beautiful quilt and the quilting is really beautiful. She made these in west Texas. Her husband was the first white man to own land in west Texas.

FP: When you go shopping and looking at quilts, what do you look for in a quilt?

BM: I look for one that I don't have, a pattern I don't have in my collection. I love to look at the quilting, turning it over several times. I also want the quilt spread out so that I can examine it all over, front and back, for any stains or anything. Sometimes, I love a quilt so much I will go ahead and buy it even if it does have stains. Just looking, also, you know, New York City, you can hardly find one for under $3,000 but in small villages around in Oklahoma and North Carolina, you can still buy beautiful quilts for around $300.

FP: Have you ever looked for some in the mountains of North Carolina?

BM: Yes, they're beautiful. So many are machine made though so I stay away from those. I do have two machine made quilts that were gifts. One was given to me when the country was celebrating 1976, the 200th anniversary, and it has every state in the union on it as well as the date of when it came into the union. That's red, white and blue. And that's machine made. And then at Christmas time, a friend gave me one that is the flag. That's done in red, white and blue and its machine made. People who don't know me too well might give me a machine-made quilt. I still treasure it but I had rather have the handmade quilt.

FP: You were telling one time, talking about the quilt you made, and you didn't realize the edge had to be quilted as much, do you remember telling about that, that you learned about, that you had to quilt the edge?

BM: The binding, yes. Well, not having taking lessons, I have sort of had to find out things from other people. One of the first quilts that I made I just finished it off and thought that was it and to my surprise when I took it to the quilt shop, she said, 'Well, now you have to put the binding on it.' So, it was fun to choose the materials that would go with the Double Wedding Ring in blue and white, and then quilt it and that's when I made the scalloped edge. Also, on edges, you can make the Prairie points, those are big out west. They are points all over the edge on the outside of the quilt and they are hard to do. Very hard to make and time consuming but beautiful on the edge of a quilt. Now the Bear's Paw that I made recently, now let's see about two years ago, I put a binding of black. It was done in black and red and white, and I put a black forest of trees as the binding so that the bear could run around in the trees. And then I have a cute quilt that has cows on it, and I have a meadow on the back of it so the cows can eat.

FP: Does Doctor Madry, you husband, ever suggest a design for you?

BM: No, he sure doesn't. He loves to look at them though and he's very good about stopping at an antique shop or quilt shop so that we can go in and look.

FP: Has your granddaughter shown any interest in quilts yet, the one that will receive the Double Wedding Ring?

BM: Well, she is 24 now and then I have one 19. Both girls love to come to spend the night at Granny and Granddaddy's house because the room is filled with quilts. [cough. 'Excuse me.'] They like to look at them a lot but so far neither one has taken up a needle.

FP: Well, they probably will. You didn't take up a needle until you were older than they are now.

BM: I was in my fifties when I started.

FP: When you first started. So, they still have time.

BM: Yes.

FP: Have you taught any quilting, taught anyone else?

BM: Not really, just people who, maybe I'm sitting in a lobby of a hotel waiting on Ray at a medical meeting and women will come and sit and want to know how to get started and if we have time we can go to find out where there is a nearby fabric shop and get them started. I love to get women, especially young women, started on quilting.

FP: Do you have any books on quilting?

BM: Yes, a lot of books.

FP: And history of quilting?

BM: Yes, and pictures. I love to get pictures of quilts. People give them to me as gifts, birthday and Christmas gifts and also it shows different quilting procedures that you can use on the bindings.

FP: I noticed on the quilt, the Double Wedding Ring quilt that you brought today, some of the quilting is done like in little hearts, how do you decide how you are going to do the quilting? Which designs?

BM: In this one, in the Double Wedding Ring, I used my husband's silver dollar in the center and even though we have been married for over 40 years, I still care very much for him, and so I put hearts, four hearts around his silver dollar. Now, a lot of red, white, and blue quilts that I make that are patriotic, I will put a star on the binding.

FP: So, you just, as you are making the quilt decide

BM: Yes, what I'll

FP: what you are going to put on it.

BM: And we haven't talked about trapunto yet, Frances.

FP: No, what is that?

BM: Trapunto is when you have, for instance, this quilt over here has a sail ship on it and the ship itself stands out. You put cotton in there and you don't quilt it or anything you just stuff it with cotton. And I have one of my grandmother's, downstairs, that is sunflowers, big sunflowers, and each petal is stuffed with cotton. And that is called trapunto and is a wonderful addition to any quilt.

FP: Well, now, where did you learn to do that or how did you learn?

BM: I taught myself.

FP: Well, did you have a book?

BM: No, no, I just was making this quilt with sailboats, and I thought it would be pretty to stuff each boat with cotton so that it would stand out.

FP: Was it just trial and error or did it work with the first one?

BM: Well, it worked pretty good the first time and as you can see it adds to the quilt.

FP: Yes, it makes it stand out.

BM: Yes. Also, silk is a very bad fabric to you in quilting. This one that I have from Virginia is just fading away and you can see that it's disintegrating, the silk, which is very sad. This is my oldest quilt from the state of Virginia.

FP: About what age is that quilt?

BM: This dates about 1800. It's the Log Cabin made with beautiful strips of silk, but it is disintegrating pretty badly, and it's bound in velvet.

FP: And then it has stitching on it doesn't it? Is that a design?

BM: These two small pieces are just what a young girl might do to practice, and this is called the…I have forgotten the name of it. Anyway, it is just two little strips of material that a young girl would practice on.

FP: Well, is that embroidery on it?

BM: Yes.

FP: It looks a little bit like the samplers they had a long time ago.

BM: Yes

FP: with the different embroidered pieces on it.

BM: Yes, she would use whatever was handy. There's some velvet, some taffeta, some silk.

FP: Well now, where did you get that quilt?

BM: This was given to me by my cousin.

FP: So, you have been interested in quilts for a good while now.

BM: Yes, for over twenty years.

FP: Do you think people are getting more interested in quilting or less so?

BM: Oh, they are and people in foreign countries are taking it up. Some of the most beautiful quilts I've ever seen were made in Japan. The Japanese women are doing wonderfully with their hands and making quilts, and people in England and France and Germany. Even women in Russia have taking up quilting. Of course, you can go to a nearby department store and pay $50 for one made in China now. I'm not sure it is handmade and they are pretty quilts, but I don't know about the materials or anything.

FP: They wouldn't necessarily be collectors' items or anything?

BM: I don't think so, no.

FP: Well, Betty, I believe our time is just about up, but I'd like to thank you, Betty, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Your stories are delightful and I'm sure they will mean a lot to the oral history of quilts that The Alliance for American Quilts is trying to keep going. Our interview concluded at 3:15 pm February 3, 2004.

[After the interview, Betty remembered the name of the procedure of young girls practicing. It is called Crazy Quilts.]


“Betty Ellen Hathaway Madry,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 19, 2024,