Betty Shea




Betty Shea




Betty Shea


Joanne Gasperik

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Cherrywood Fabrics (Karla Overland)


Naples, Florida


Joanne Gasperik


Joanne Gasperik (JG): This is Joanne Gasperik and today is April 14th, 2008, at 10:36 in the morning. I'm conducting an interview with Betty Shea at her home for Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories. Thank you very much, Betty, for allowing me, it's so exciting to get to interview you today.

Betty Shea (BS): Thank You.

JG: Please tell me about the quilt, about the blankie.

BS: The blankie. The blankie is my husband's. I have made that quilt in smaller size for most of my grandchildren and he just keeps complaining that I don't do anything for him, so I decided to make him one, because he likes to lie on the couch in the evening to watch TV and be warm. So, I made it with the colors of the house, in the Florida colors. In our first year he carried it in the car back up north; I told him he was silly. [JG: laughs.]

JG: So, does he have one up north now, too?

BS: No. No. I guess I have to do that too, but I've got to finish my grandchildren's first, [JG: Yes.] I had done number 9 grandchild and my daughter wanted blocks instead of the rectangles as this is. And I was doing it in a hurry, and I didn't like the way my quilting came out. I said, 'You can't have it.' I took it back and I've taken out all the quilting and still have not redone the quilting in it. It is by machine, the quilting.

JG: So, when did you start quilting?

BS: About 20 years ago. My mom was ill with cancer, and I was going through Woman's Day magazine, and I saw the--I guess it was Eleanor Burns "Around the World Quilt in a Day". So, I was out and at Jo-Ann's [Fabric.] Got fabric and started cutting it up using the shears that I had used in college, because I was a Home Ec--what was it? Textile and Merchandise major. And we did a lot of sewing for dressmaking. So, my seams were 5/8-inch seams. My seams were pressed open. And I still have the quilt up in New Jersey. It is heavy as can be. I don't really know what I used for a batting, but it was thick and heavy. I started out with a muslin backing. Didn't like that. Then found other backing, put that on. And I think I did a tie the first time. Didn't like that. So, I did quilt in the ditch, and of course at that point some of the edges got--

JG: In the ditch, out of the ditch.

BS: Yeah, so I've got little patches here and there on the back. But I do still have that quilt.

JG: Yes, right. And how big was it? Bed-sized?

BS: That's bed sized. Yeah. Queen-sizes, no double, big

JG: Isn't that hysterical? All of our first quilts, usually we figured they have to go on a bed, and they have to be big and fluffy, because they have to be warm.

BS: That's right. I don't think this was the fat batt, but it was like a flannel I think I put in it. It was heavy [JG exclaims.] Not the fluffy thick kind.

JG: Now you've belonged to the Naples Guild for a number of years, do you belong to other guilds as well?

BS: I belong currently to the New Jersey State Guild. I joined that last year because I wanted to help them out with their judging. I put one of my little wall pieces in, that I had had in the Naples Quilt Guild show, just to see the difference of their judging. I can't remember the difference right now, but I think it's fun to have different judges give you different opinions.

JG: Very different perspective. Regionally, regionally you get very different reactions from judges.

BS: Well, that's true.

JG: So, are you trained to be a judge as well, or just this was your curiosity?

BS: My curiosity. I was in on the judging this year and last year at the Naples Quilt Guild. The different judges and different way that we had them judge the quilts was very inspiring. I did go to the New Jersey quilt judging, but just on their last day when they were picking Judge's Choice, Governor's Quilt, a couple other things. This year I would like to get up there and get into the beginning and see what they have to say. They had 2 judges working together on each quilt which was an interesting collaboration.

JG: So, just two guilds, do you belong to any Bees?

BS: Well, let's go back to the quilt guild. I did belong - New Jersey in Monmouth County had two guilds. And I joined both of those. But I'm only there in the summer and they disperse pretty much in the summer, so I have stopped those. Before we retired, I lived in Northern Virginia, and I belonged to Quilters Unlimited. There they have a quilt show yearly and it is not judged. You just put in and share your quilt. Helen Carter is one of the founding members of that group.

JG: Helen or Hazel?

BS: Hazel, I guess, because she is the one for the [American Quilt.] Study Group, too.

JG: Hazel Carter.

BS: Right. That quilt guild has about 10 chapters. And each chapter has 50 to 100 members. They meet at different times. Once a month is their business meeting and the other time in the month is their activity meeting. Since I was working then I did not get that involved. My involvement has come as I have retired and come down to Florida.

JG: When you first joined a guild was that as a beginning quilter? What was your motivation to join a guild?

BS: I had already started my first quilt up in Jersey when my mom was ill, as I mentioned. Got that done and one Christmas my husband gave me a Bernina sewing machine, a 1230. I started taking lessons on how to use the machine, because it was so different from my slant-needle Singer that I had back in college. Actually, I didn't have it in college. It was my first expenditure after I got out of college. $300. That was a lot. [JG: Yes. coughs] And that was back in 1955. Then some of the people that I went in class with belonged to this quilt guild and I started going as something to do other than being at home with my children. Even though they were Elementary, Junior and Senior High school. I just needed another Out. [JG: Yes.] So that was my 'Out' at the time. I did not do big quilts then. I was there just basically socially. And there again it wasn't until I came down to Florida that I really got involved in doing things.

JG: I have come to recognize that quilt guilds, when they are large and just have a business meeting, there is no 'Social' per se.

BS: No.

JG: Did you hope to learn more about quilting when you joined the guild?

BS: I had hoped to, but up there I didn't take classes. As I recall they only had classes maybe once a year and that was at the big quilt meeting. And I believe Aloyse said that she taught there one time. Way back and I don't know whether it was before my time, after my time, or what.

JG: Yeah, yeah, isn't that funny how our paths do cross though. You know we don't always recognize this right away. So, but you belong to a bee here?

BS: Yes, I do. There's twelve of us and we're called 'Out of the block', because we are trying to stretch our imagination and not do the regular, what's the word, [JG: Traditional.] traditional quilts. Take the traditional pattern and do something different with it. A year ago, we took the octagon and did things with that. I made kind of an octagon circle and put it on a back of a Japanese jacket.

JG: Yes, I remember. I remember.

BS: - And we kind of put our things in the National Quilt Day display [2007.].

JG: Right.

BS: And then this year our challenge was, we each bought a yard of batik, cut it up into 12 pieces and this is without anyone seeing it. At a meeting divvy them out. You had to use all of that in a quilt. And we had some very exciting different things, balloons, blocks, mine, there [points to a wall hanging on the wall behind JG.] And, what else? Oh, Paula [Lenahan.] put her's in the [ 2008 Naples Guild.] quilt show. And I can say this because the judge did put it in her writing. She said, 'What an unusual selection of fabric in her leaf.'

JG: [laughs.] It made it lively, didn't it?

BS: It would have been very interesting had she known the story behind it.

JG: Yes, yeah. Sure. Sure. Oh, for heaven's sake. I see you make wearables.

BS: Yes. This was a class wearable, using a serger. I don't have that serger, but it was just as a learning experience.

JG: It's a vest with diagonal pieces and basically the diagonals are--

BS: In two's--

JG: Linked together [both talk at the same time.]

BS: Yes, linked together with--

JG: Fancy stitches.

BS: Right. I think at the time we had a soluble, Sulky soluble on the back. We laid them across and did the stitching and washed it.

JG: Was that also in your other group? Or was this--

BS: This was just a class up in northern Virginia.

JG: A class. Okay. And do you make other wearables? Garments? Other garments? Jackets?

BS: Not any longer. I have. Back in the day of Stretch and Sew. My oldest boy was a, I don't know, four- or six-year-old and I made him ski pants, the racing kind. That was the time that you had the stripe down the side, and they were fitted. I still have them. I saved them for his son, but of course--

JG: He has girls?

BS: No, he has two girls and one son, but they don't wear those things anymore. [both laugh.]

JG: They don't ski anymore?

BS: Oh, they ski.

JG: [laughing.] It's out of vogue.

BS: That clothing is out of vogue.

JG: Oh, gosh. So, the plans for the quilt, that's just for your husband to enjoy it and use it and love it and when it wears out will you make him another one?

BS: [laughs.] He'll wear out before that does, I think. [both laugh.]

JG: What attracted you to quilt making?

BS: I thought it was easy. [both laugh.] Sewing straight lines, although I have found that we don't sew straight lines and there is much more imagination anymore.

JG: Crooked lines are actually easier.

BS: Well, that's true

JG: And curves.

BS: No, fitting, I think, maybe, kind of got me, but I did make my children's clothes, a lot of them. But then I got too busy. After they got a little bit bigger, I think, I had 5 children and when my youngest got in Kindergarten and I started to work. So, that kind of limited my sewing time.

JG: Yes. Sure. Sure. Well, what was your first quilt impression? What was the first quilt you remember seeing?

BS: Hm, I don't remember. I have no idea.

JG: So, no one in your family was a quilter?

BS: Not my immediate family. When I went in the attic, I found that my great aunt had made two Crazy quilts, which I still have. And that was in 1902, 01. I know the date because it was the date of my mother's older brother who was born and died as a baby. [JG exclaims.]
But it has his initials and his date of birth on it.

JG: Oh, how special.

BS: But here again, they were the black, basically black but beautiful embroidery.

JG: Well, a mourning quilt. It would have been a mourning quilt as well, because he died.

BS: Could be, could be. And of course, this was before my mother was born also.

JG: Yes, yes. But so, you still have it and you're caring for it properly. You know how to store it.

BS: It's stored in paper in a drawer at the moment. Also, up in the attic I know and my sister-in -law knows that there are parts of a Dresden Plate or a fan quilt that my great-grandmother may have started. It's not finished. I was always going to do it, but now she says 'You know, if you don't get to it, why don't you let me have it. I'll do it for you.' And right now, I'm very tempted to finds it this summer and say, 'Please do it.'

JG: [nods.] Yes. So, how many hours a week do you quilt? [BS laughs.] All the time? Every minute? Or?

BS: No, no. Sporadically. Sporadically. When I have something to do and I'm under a time restraint, then I do it.

JG: Are you the kind of person who has many UFOs [BS laughs.] or do you start and finish a project? Do you finish a project before you start the next one?

BS: Never. [both laugh.] I have a million UFOs.

JG: Well, 'She with the most UFOs', what happens? [both laugh.]

BS: Yeah, well, we'll see.

JG: You could donate them to the next [Naples Quilt Guild.] auction.

BS: That's true. That is true. I could do that. My youngest daughter has told me that I should will her all my fabric, my stash, because she will become a millionaire if I do that.

JG: That is a problem. You know we do have a vast fortune in our stash. It would be a shame if it would just go by the wayside.

BS: Go by the wayside. Yeah. But someone will get it. My grandchildren may. My two granddaughters that are now 10, when they were six and seven, one wanted a Barbie sewing machine. I refused to spend that amount of money on a Barbie machine, so I bought her a real machine. And she was so excited. She has made a little dress for her cousin, with my help. And she has used the scraps and done things. And now her mom is sewing home dec things. My other granddaughter, my daughter's daughter has made a little baby quilt that I have helped her with, Rail Fence. She's proud of that. She has taken classes in the sewing store in Elkins, West Virginia and has made pillowcases. And she is so excited about sewing.

JG: You planted a good seed.

BS: And her mom still can't sew a button on.

JG: Well, frequently it skips a generation.

BS: Yes, my mother did not sew, because my great-aunt lived with us, while I was a child, and she sewed.

JG: Right.

BS: She sewed coats. She did all sorts of things.

JG: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you planted a seed with your granddaughter. Do you have a project, do you think, that you and your granddaughter will be doing when you get up north?

BS: No, we don't live that close to one another. No, I don't have anything. It's up to them. If they decide they want to do something while I'm there, it's their decision. Otherwise, I can't force them to sit down, and we work.

JG: No of course not. Of course not. You can't force them. But you hope to spark that enthusiasm.

BS: Well, that's true. I will take them to the fabric store and let them look and if they see something that strikes them, I will buy it for them, and we'll start working on it.

JG: How does quilting impact your family? Are they impressed with it? Do they want to inherit your quilts?

BS: Every one of them have had a baby quilt given to them. [JG: Okay.] Now the other things, my wallhangings are not necessarily their taste. But that's alright. I have done Christmas tree skirts and gave one to my daughter-in-law and had one for myself and my daughters got jealous.
'How did you get that?' 'I asked for it.' Well, now one of the daughters has the one that I had. [laughs.]

JG: So it does impact them. Privately at least they brag about your quilting.

BS: Oh, yeah, oh yeah, they like it. And even my husband will brag once in a while. 'She quilts and I golf.' [both laugh.]

JG: That's even.

BS: That's right.

JG: Who has the more expensive hobby? [laughs.]

BS: How little does he know.

JG: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time?

BS: Talking about it just recently, when my younger brother passed away. His wife is an avid quilter. And her mother is an avid quilter. I took my pictures over and that kind of took her mind off his being terminal in the hospital at the time. But I have not sat down and done anything that way. No.

JG: And yet, your beginning was with your mother being sick.

BS: Quite true. Quite true. Because I was there in the house and wanted to keep busy doing something. Yes, you're quite right.

JG: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

BS: The colors that you work with. The designs that you finally come up with. For instance, this quilt that was the challenge [Betty points to it.], when I got all those colors I sat for months 'How can I do it?' What can you do? And then I realized that, cut it up in small pieces and it will go.

JG: Do you find that you're making more of your own patterns, or do you still like to buy patterns?

BS: I prefer doing my own, although, for instance if I want a leaf, I will go outside and find a leaf and trace it. If I want a flower, I will go and get a fake flower and perhaps trace that and go from there. I do like Joan Shay's idea of Appli-Bond, [JG: Yes.] where you get your 3-D effect. I enjoy that.

JG: So, you will see a quilt and you can devise the pattern?

BS: Yeah, I always look for the block in a quilt, to see where I can get -.

JG: Very good. Very good. What do you think makes a great quilt? What draws you? When you go into a quilt show, which quilts do you run up to, that draw you in?

BS: Something that's a little bit unique, a little different rather than the true traditional quilt. I'll look at that and then I get kind of close and look at the--inspect it, look at the joining of points, look at the quilting in it. And knowing what should be done--that makes me very fussy why I don't finish some of own. These points aren't matching. My quilting is sporadic. It isn't even. That bugs me in my quilt, and I see it done well in other people's [quilts.] and I admire them for it.

JG: You can appreciate it.

BS: Right.

JG: I see. So, its design and color that draws you. [inaudible.] Your leanings are toward the artistic picture of a quilt--

BS: Right.

JG: Rather than the traditional, the old-fashioned colors.

BS: Correct.

JG: What do you think makes a great quilt? You touched on that already, I think. What do you think makes a great quilt in your mind? Your perspective?

BS: Well first of all the first impression, your color, your design. And then you get up close and you're looking at the stitching, how it's put together and then the quilting, whether it be hand-quilting or machine. I can tell, of course we all can tell the long-arm and if that is done well, because sometimes that is not done to the way I think that it possibly can. You got professionals doing this work. And that should all be even stitching. There is no excuse for it to be not. And if someone's paying the exorbitant prices that is being asked, [loud machine went by.] I think that's a shame.

JG: Right. So, if long-arm, for instance is done well you would rate that equally with hand and sit-down sewing machines?

BS: Only if it's free-form long-arm. Not the one that you're following the pattern.

JG: Mattress pad. What do they call it? They have a name for it - kaumagraph or something.

BS: I don't know what it's called.

JG: Do you machine quilt as well as hand quilt?

BS: I do more machine quilting. My hand quilting, I have tried, and it's nice, but I don't get those wonderful little stitches.

JG: Were your first quilts hand quilted, or did you immediately--

BS: No. That was in the ditch machine. And then I did one of these rectangle or reverse, quilt-as-you-go, where it's reversed. That, my youngest daughter has. That was her college quilt, and she still has it. And it's in the baby's room.

JG: What aspect s of quilting do you not enjoy?

BS: The thing that I have the hardest problem with is deciding what motif or how to quilt a quilt. Directions always say, 'Quilt as you please.' Well, how do I please? I don't know. Do I do a design? Do I do in the ditch? Do I do straight? When you're doing an art quilt it's a little difficult how to decide how to go about it. I think that's my hardest part. I have no problems putting bindings on. I enjoy that.

JG: That's after you've finished it, your UFOs [laughs.]

BS: Well, my UFOs haven't gotten that far yet. I'll enjoy that when I get to it. [both laugh.]

JG: I'm teasing you, just teasing you.

BS: Actually, I did a binding in the train going up North in December, because I gave my little, one of my grandsons a little square thing that was the [pause.] the curved thing. Oh, Drunkards Path. I put net over one side and put letters in it. So, it was an alphabet quilt. I was doing the binding in the train going north.

JG: Oh, yes. Yeah. It's a happy moment when the binding goes on because--

BS: Then it's finished.

JG: It's done, then it's finished.

BS: The label was already on. It was just finishing up that.

JG: How do you think great quilters learn the art of quilting? How do you think? Or how do you recommend, when someone comes to you and wants to learn? What do you recommend? How do you recommend that they learn quilting?

BS: Well, starting by something simple. Just putting it together and [pause.] I started Samantha just by doing the Rail Fence, just a straight line. And of course, straight lines are not easy, as you said, but I ended up chopping it off and making it fine. You don't need to do the binding; you do an envelope. And for the quilting on her little doll quilt, hey, we just did a couple lines of fancy stitching down without worrying about how it goes. And you've got your three layers, you've got them sewn together, and they're happy. Just do something simple. And the more you do the better you get. Then you start understanding and then you start getting fussy [laughs.]

JG: But being kind to yourself is also important and consider it the learning experience and then move on.

BS: That's true and taking classes. As you get going taking all sorts of classes and pick up one or two techniques either from the teacher or your classmates.

JG: Do you get it from television as well?

BS: I used to watch Alex Anderson all the time. Now she's only on at 7:30 am a couple days a week or something. I don't know. Other than that, actually, Marty Michell "Quilts That Sizzle". I started one of those. And I've got that all in pieces. I'm trying to get the little squares all the same size at this point. Then I want to put it together. I don't know how big it's going to turn out. I did several squares, and I never even had the idea of how many I was going to do. Just the luck of the Irish, how it comes out. [laughs.]

JG: Yes. Why is quilting important to you? What does it do for you?

BS: It's relaxation. It's a social gathering with lots of wonderful other ladies and I don't know; it's pleasing; it's a pleasing art form.

JG: Do you think that your quilts reflect your community? Do you think that you make Florida quilts as opposed to sometimes northern quilts? Do you have certain colors?

BS: I have come to enjoy the brights and the sea quilts. Of course, I life on the Jersey shore, so I still have a water and marine type color fixation, sand, shells, lighthouses. Other than that, the brights are what I like, rather than the woody tones. [airplane flies overhead.]

JG: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life, past and present?

BS: That's a tough one. Well, past, they were utilitarian. They were made to be used. They were made out of feed sacks, as some of my clothes when I was a child were made out of. They were made out of scraps left over from your clothing. And also, if the ladies in a community got together it was their social bit, as our quilt guilds are our social today. Again, the colors show what was popular in the different eras as we go along. Quilts were used to wrap the wounded in the different wars and used for burials too. That's probably why we don't have too many from the Civil War and the Revolutionary War around.

JG: Do you feel, because of the history do you feel that quilts should be used and inevitably used up? Or do you think that some should be preserved?

BS: It is nice now, looking back at some that had been preserved. So, yes, let's keep one or two in each area. Have a time clock of different kinds of quilts. And the American [Quilt.] Study Group that's going into it is having a tough time now identifying some quilts because of where they are, the condition and people not signing them. I think labeling is a very, very important piece of information and will help people in the future, for those quilts that last or even a part of the quilt that lasts.

JG: Yes. But you give - you make gifts for quilts? You make them for your grandchildren; beyond that have you made quilts as gifts?

BS: Yeah, as a matter of fact we had an exchange one Christmas, and I did a little wall hanging of the Christmas tree as a quick little gift. I couldn't think of anything else to give and we were under a $5 limit, and I had the fabric. I put together a little Christmas tree on a quilt.

JG: Do you document your quilts as you're making them?

BS: Yes.

JG: Do you photograph?

BS: Well, I photograph everything.

JG: Ah, yeah.

BS: And I keep them in a book. [Betty shows a journal.]

JG: Oh, yes, a journal.

BS: A journal, And I try--well this is [BS pages through the book looking for something.] I try to keep the things as we go.

JG: Ahhh, yes.

BS: This is an interesting one that Jane [Pfaender.] just gave us as a challenge. She took this picture [Betty shows a picture of Van Gogh, "The Starry Night", 1889.] divided it up in squares and this was my section.

JG: Vincent Van Gogh.

BS: Vincent van Gogh, and I got this square section of the picture to.

JG: Okay.

BS: We saw the blocks yesterday. I have a picture of it in my camera. I can't help you right now with it.

JG: Ah, yes.

BS: My swirls had more orange. The other ladies had a lot of the pale yellows. But Jane will put it together with some Angelina fiber, tone it down.

JG: I see. So, you will actually try to recreate your portion of the picture as close as possible?

BS: As close as possible.

JG: Ahhh, I see.

BS: We had a meeting yesterday at the Bee and everybody had their part, and it was amazing how it turned out.

JG: [exclaims.] So, how do you think quilts can be used?

BS: Other than the traditional, on the bed, keeping you warm? Wallhangings. Whether they be small or large, as little things to put on the door, instead of a wreath. Change them monthly. Miniatures, of course can be for your doll houses, for the children to use for their dollies in their carriage and things like that.

JG: What do you think the future of quilting will be? Do you think it will be as prominent? Do you think there will be different directions we take as quilters?

BS: I think right now we're going into the fiber arts. We're getting into three dimensional. We're getting into really painting with cloth, more than the traditional keeping yourself warm. Very decorative.

JG: Is that a direction you're taking?

BS: I think I'm going more that way. Although I still think I would love to make a quilt to go on my bed. I've tried appliqué. That's interesting. My points are horrid, but as someone said, in nature points aren't always points. We can get away with it.

JG: Absolutely. Have you dyed your own fabric? Have you done that? Have you experimented in that direction?

BS: No. But I've looked at it and in fact Jennie Zipperer, I did join her group although I've had a hard time getting her internet connection. True, then I don't have time to sit and watch the shows and do all the things she wants us to do. But she's a fascinating gal that's a lot of changing fabrics around, with the dying of it. Yes, I tried the painting or the dying that way, not dipping whole cloth.

JG: Well, you've painted. You've experimented with dimension.

BS: Oh, yeah. I like dimension.

JG: Well with Joan Shay - the other Shay.

BS: It's spelled differently, which I told her at the time. [both laugh.] That's her husband's fault. It's my husband's. And Bonnie McCaffery. I took her class, and she uses silk flowers, although she pats them down to make it more one-dimensional or two-dimensional rather than the three dimensional.

JG: We're actually coming to the end of the tape. Is there something that you thought I would ask you that I did not, that you would like to elaborate on now? A message that you would like to give for future quilters or for people listening to this interview.

BS: The main thing is to join a local club. Get involved. Don't just sit back and listen. Get up there and do something to get to know people better. You learn a lot from other people. If you just come to a meeting and sit there and leave, you don't learn anything. You can see some things you think you've learned but you haven't. You've got to get involved.

JG: Well, you have. You've done the shelter quilts and as a guild member you've been active in many aspects.

BS: I have and doing the demonstrations at the quilt shows, I've gotten to know a lot of the quilt shop owners. I get to see all their demonstrations. I get to see the demonstrations that our own quilt members give, which I think are fantastic.

JG: That's the idea: educating as much as you can.

BS: Right.

JG: Well, Betty, our time really has come to an end.

BS: Oh, boy.

JG: I hope it was as enjoyable for you as it was for me listening to you. I do thank you for your time, I appreciate that you took the time for me. The interview is over at 11:21 [am.].

BS: Thank you.

[interview ends.]


“Betty Shea,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed July 24, 2024,