Myrtle Bartley




Myrtle Bartley




Myrtle Bartley


Ronda Coleman

Interview Date


Interview sponsor


Elkhorn City, Kentucky


Ronda Coleman


Note: In December 2008, Myrtle Bartley celebrated her 99th birthday.

Ronda Coleman (RC): This is Ronda Coleman conducting an interview with Mrs. Myrtle Bartley for the Alliance for American Quilts', Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories. We're at Mrs. Bartley's home for the interview. The time is about 10:10 [a.m.] and I thank you Mrs. Myrtle for allowing me to interview you. Tell me a little bit about the quilt we took pictures of this morning on your bed. When did you make that quilt?

Myrtle Bartley (MB): I've had it made about two years, I guess. I made the top about two years ago and quilting it, I guess I was a month a quilting it then. I have to do my work you know and quilt it in between times. Oh, it's been quilted over a year I guess, a little over a year, I believe.

RC: Where did you get the materials for that quilt?

MB: Well just material that I had left over from my other tops maybe, took I believe it was four different colors and I cut the strips. I had to have different color of strips for each block, you know and had to have them all, have to have them to match and everything. Couldn't put odd strips in, have to have them to compare to each other. I think I just, I don't believe I bought anything. I used material that I had left from other things that I had made, saved. Maybe I had bought some bundles of scraps at the quilting stores or sewing stores. I might have used some of them. I can't remember just where I got each one of them at. I didn't buy anything special I don't think, I just saved what I had left over from other things. Maybe from some aprons and things I had made. I used the material from them.

RC: So, had did you quilt it? We were talking before about the frame and the hoop. How did you quilt this one?

MB: I think I quilted it with hoops, too. It was later in years, and I didn't use the old-time frames then. But now the old-time frames are good if you've got somebody to help you adjust them and hang them. We hung the strips, some kind of way to hang them from the ceiling and one can't hardly do that after it got just me at home. I got me some hoops and started. I think I used hoops on all of this one that you made the picture of.

RC: So, how many years have you been quilting?

MB: Oh, I started when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I've not quilted any now for about a year or six months because my fingers is pretty stiff and I can't see to thread a small enough needle. I [inaudible.] through the needle. If I sew anything I have to use a bigger needle than I like to do because I can't make the small stitches with it.

RC: So, you've been quilting for over 80 years?

MB: Yes.

RC: Who did you learn to quilt from?

CH: Pardon

RC: Who taught you to quilt?

MB: Well, my step, I had a stepmother, but she didn't quilt. She never taught us to quilt, and my mother's sister lived at Elkhorn [Kentucky.] and we lived about 4 or 5 miles away and she quilted all the time, and we would go and spend the night with her daughters that was our age. And she would always have a quilt up, up from the ceiling. She'd have two, she showed us how to start quilting and she'd let each one of us or two or three sometimes can quilt on one up from the ceiling that way. It's dropped from the ceiling, and I guess Aunt Lizie Maynard showed me how to quilt the first quilting I ever done. She's been passed away for years. And I had another aunt that quilted, and she showed us some too, mommy's sister. We helped, oh they was glad to let us quilt cause we stayed all night a lot with the children, the girls you know, and she'd put us at it. That's how I learned. Didn't have no instructors over us or nothing. They just showed us, and they'd say, 'Yeah, you're doing good, you're doing good. Go on. 'And my sister, we lived really hard and we didn't have much to spend and we, our aunts would buy material down at the store and or either get pieces, I don't know I can't remember how they made their tops, where they got their material but they'd fix them up for us and let us take them to our home and quilt them for them after they got us to quilting good you know. You know what; we quilted for a dollar and a half or five dollars a quilt. Times was so hard. We were so glad to get that money. Then another thing, it was entertainment for us. We didn't have things, theaters or anything to go to. We just, our stepmother was really choicey about who we stayed around with so she wouldn't let us go. You know, she was as good I guess as any stepmother was but after she had her children by our dad she dropped, seems like, the affection for us so we stayed at our aunts a lot which was such a great help to us.

RC: Families took care of each other then.

MB: That's right.

RC: How many quilts do you think you've made, over your lifetime?

MB: Oh, when I lived with my last husband, we lived in Michigan and lived upstairs in an apartment. We didn't have a yard to work in flowers or nothing. Didn't have very many friends up there because a lot of them people I didn't want for friends, but after I got to going to church, I learned a lot of people, but I quilted for some of our friends up there and I got five dollars out of a quilt then and I'd quilt one a week up there then. But I couldn't imagine how many. I didn't quilt that much when I was down here [Kentucky.] because I had my garden and my flowers, you know and all. But I just had one child when we was in Michigan, my last one, who came along late in years [laughs.] and he went to school. He wasn't there with me then. That's all I did. Cook a little bit, didn't have to cook too much. He would eat in the cafeteria where he worked most all the time. So, I wouldn't know. I couldn't, I just couldn't count. I don't know. And when I was here, I didn't quilt that much. I did more tedious work too, better quilts you know. That appliqué is slow work and I quilted as good as I possibly could too, but that took more time, you know. So, we quilted in fans most all the time when we first started. That was the style then. Do you have any pictures of fans quilted?

RC: I do have. My grandmother did the fans. Tell me a little bit about how you draw the pattern so you can quilt those fans.

MB: Well, I got some of them from the neighbors. We'd exchange patterns. We'd get one off something and draw it with carbon paper. You know what carbon paper is. We'd trace it. We'd get them from boxes. Maybe there'd be one come out in the newspaper or something like that. We'd draw them through carbon paper and draw them on blocks and cut them out of material and then I'd first, we called it baste them on with big, long stitches to get them in position and then after we got them where we wanted them and we got them right then we'd start quilting you know, fixing them and sewing them together then.

RC: How did--

MB: It's interesting, it's interesting. It's a good hobby.

RC: How did you used to draw the fans?

MB: We just made them by guess. We'd take a pencil and draw the fans. We'd make one big round line this way, the outside line first and we'd usually take a pencil and draw it so if we didn't get it just right, why we could adjust it you know. And after we made the first big one and get it just right, it was easier to draw the next one, didn't have to mark it off. You could kindly follow the rest of them by it.

RC: Where did you get the batting material for your quilts?

MB: Well, we'd go to the Dollar Store or somewhere like that. Sometimes if we had a blanket that was wore so much, we didn't want to use it, we'd make that for the lining to keep from going and buying it. But we did get cotton for some of them. I have before, did you ever hear of tacking a quilt?

RC: Yes.

MB: Well, we'd have some, the batting, the filling inside a worn-out quilt, we'd put in there and tack it. Now we didn't quilt them with that, but we didn't like tacking, but my stepmother would always say, “Well, they're warmer, keep a bed warmer than to have them by hand”.

RC: Because it's like having two quilts on your bed.

MB: Uh, uh.

RC: In that one.

MB: See we had to wash on the board then too and you could wash them too, so the water really circulated, and we really got them clean with that. I don't know if you, I guess you could wash them in the washer, I don't know. Where we had them old time wringer, wringer types, we could wash them on them. We wouldn't dare put one of them in an automatic washer now. We'd be afraid we would tear it up you know. But people back in them days, they used more of what they had, threw away less. They didn't throw away nothing hardly. They conserved it some other way. I believe it'd be good to let everybody have a week like that now to live but, I wouldn't want to see them have to live as hard then as we did. [laughs.]

RC: Right. What type of thread did you use when you tacked?

MB: Most all the time, yarn. Yarn to tack it. You have to use a big darning needle we called them. But now you could use a needle and make little stitches in it with tacking it, I guess but it'd be awful thin. Now there's women today that says, 'I can't quilt, but I can tack.' They learned how to pull that needle through, tack it and tie it, but there's old women comes down there to the Senior Citizens that don't know how to quilt. I said, 'That's silly. It's the easiest hobby you could have. Just sit down, say I'm going to and do it.' But now I'm embarrassed to say, I can't crochet. I never did learn. Nobody never did teach me how. And I never did ask nobody to. [laughs.]

RC: Maybe you should teach some quilting classes and someone else teach crochet classes?

MB: Ought to. [laughs] If I had years ago, yeah.

RC: So how do you piece your quilts? How do you sew the pieces together? Do you use a sewing machine or by hand?

MB: Never put a stitch in with sewing machine.

RC: Everything's done by hand.

MB: I sew everything by hand, yeah. They are people says they can sew good on the sewing machine with them. Now I've got my mother's old sewing machine and as old as I am you can imagine. I was her first child and I think maybe she used it. She did sew and make some on them but not much. She knew how to quilt too but she passed away when I wasn't six years old, so she didn't have a chance to

RC: Right.

MB: to teach us nothing much and she was sick a long time before she passed away with
TB [tuberculosis.]. You know then they didn't have no cure for it like they have now.

RC: So, how do you feel about hand quilting versus machine quilting? Have you seen some quilts that have been machine quilted?

MB: I wouldn't have, I would if I had to, use a machine quilt but I don't like them. No, I don't. I like all hand quilted. All I've got, well I have got an old quilt that's hand quilted, I mean machine quilted. I'll show it to you in a minute. It's into rags now mostly. But I wanted to see if I could quilt one on the machine. It's been years and years ago when they divided up our belongings when our dad died. They had some. My stepmother, I think, had quilted one or two of them, but this one, I thought when I come home and brought that sewing machine. I'll see now what I can do on a sewing machine. I never did do them before and I sewed one on the sewing machine and I've got it, but I don't use it, but I think it's been used. I don't know where I let one, somebody, one of my children lived in the house with me a while. I don't know for why whether it was when they were first married or why, but they used it and they was rough on it. I don't think I ever used it very much unless it was when they was around or something. It's, I sewed it on the machine. It was the first one I ever did and the only one I ever did. I didn't like that you know. [laughs.] I want to show you while we're thinking about it, I'll show it to you. It's right handy here. I've got junk put away.

RC: That's pretty fabric.

MB: Now I made them blocks by hand. But you can tell it's sewed.

RC: It's quilted on a machine.

MB: Yeah. It's sewed.

RC: Did you just free hand the blocks?

MB: Yeah, I made them by hand but the block, the, all that in there [points to appliqué stitches.] I done that by hand you see. But now this, these straight lines you see here [points to quilt stitches.] they're on the machine. Now that's like this one out there that I washed [referring to applique quilt drying outside.].

RC: It is.

MB: But it's by my hand, you know. It ain't--

RC: It's very pretty.

MB: It's [machine stitched quilt.] ragged as it can be. Like I said, they sewed it back. They don't know what it is to take care of anything. They don't know how much work it is anymore.

RC: No. And it's very comfortable. You can tell it's a well-worn, comfortable quilt.
[silence while placing quilt back into closet.] Are there other quiltmakers in your family?

MB: I swear they've just about quit.

RC: I know Mrs. Sue quilts. Up at the library. She quilts.

MB: Yes, she does, and did you get Hazel? She's, lord,

RC: No, I haven't spoken to her.

MB: Her sister-in-law?

RC: I'll have to get her too. I'll have to do an interview with her.

MB: Law, she's the most wonderful quilter you've ever seen. She quilted one or two for me, long back. When I was having my children, I couldn't hardly quilt much and take care of them. We had to wash diapers you know. Back then we didn't have throw aways. [laughs.] She quilted some for me. She sure did. She still quilts and for other people. But she don't have to. She does it because she wants to. But she's got drooped over in the shoulders. She's got, they're not hoops but they're long, rectangular long as the quilt and she can roll them herself, you know. As she quilts one side she'll roll it then like this and ooh she's the best quilter. Make myself ashamed what, how she quilts. Such tiny, I wish you would just go to her house.

RC: I will.

MB: She lives not far from that library over there. [Elkhorn City, Kentucky.] I allowed Sue would have told you about her, but she never thought. She's so busy ain't she? They live, she lives about, she lives right about Velocity Market there right in that lane. I don't know whether it's the last house or they might have been another house built right at that Velocity Market the big store over there right above. I believe it's above the Senior Citizens.

RC: I'll have to call her. I will call her.

MB: She's a good quilter and Sue, she's her sister-in-law too.

RC: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

MB: Pardon

RC: What do you find pleasing about quilting?

MB: Just any of it pleases me. To sit down, you relax, you forget about your problems. The times slips off so fast. You don't eat as much. [laughs] Which we, a lot of us elderly people do, you know. I have to watch that.

RC: We all do.

MB: I have to watch that.

RC: We all do. Is there anything about quilting you don't like?

MB: No, there's just too long hours you sit and quilt, bout all I know that's not interesting. [laughs.] You let something else go maybe, that you need to do. [laughs.] Let the weeds grow up in your flower bed more. [both laugh.]

RC: Do you have any favorite quilt patterns?

MB: I don't know. I might have some I've not, see I've been away from it a year or two and I've got some in there, but I wouldn't know which ones are favorite. Do you take, do you pick up patterns too, do you? No? You could refer them, but they could whoever wanted them could.

RC: Exactly. The one that I saw earlier that was appliquéd, did you make that up yourself?

MB: I made it all myself, that I've got.

RC: It's a dove? Is that what it is? The bird that's appliquéd on the quilt.

MB: Yeah.

RC: Is it a dove?

MB: Yeah, I made all that myself.

RC: So, you free handed that? You drew it out yourself?

MB: Yeah, I draw them. I cut them out of the material, the leaf and the dove and all that's in there. I cut that out. It's hand cut. It ain't bought out of the store cause you can tell some of them is not like the others. [laughs.] I'm not good at cutting at all, I'm not.

RC: I'm not either.

MB: I try. [inaudible.]

RC: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MB: What kind?

RC: What do you think makes a great quilt? What would [make] you say, “That's a great quilt.” if you were looking at it?

MB: I don't know. There's so many different ideas. I really can't tell no name for them.

RC: Have you ever been to a quilt show?

MB: I think I have. I believe we went to one down at Prestonsburg [Kentucky.] one time. I believe the seniors did. But there's so many you know you don't get much out of it, there's so many. I bet Sue's been to a lot of them 'cause she knows every trick and turn. Don't she now? Seems like. And she crochets too. I've got a cover over my machine in there that she made and give me about I guess it's been about 8 or 10 years ago. And then I've got some plats made out of, I don't believe they're exactly crocheted, some kind of knit that she's made, you know and give me for Christmas. I cherish them, even if they are old.

RC: What's happened to most of the quilts that you've made?

MB: Crocheted what?

RC: What's happened to most of the quilts that you've made?

MB: I don't know hardly how to answer that.

RC: Did you give them away or?

MB: I sold a lot of them. I've sold hundreds of dollars' worth of them because back then we needed the money.

RC: Does your family have some of your quilts?

MB: Did, who?

RC: Your family, do they have some of your quilts?

MB: I have four children. One of them passed away though, the boy but his wife lives right up here, and I have to share with her the same as I do the boys. And when they married, I made all of them six a piece, six a piece. I doubt, I don't know if they've got any of them now. I doubt it, they're not very conservative. They might I couldn't say either way. I don't know. I just don't know if they have.

RC: What would you like to see happen with the quilts that you have now?

MB: Divide them with my children. I guess grandchildren. I think the children, they just go for these blankets now. They don't want quilts. So, I don't know if they'd even want them or not. I guess they would. I know when this one of my granddaughters got married in Michigan and they gave her a shower, if you don't give them a lot of money for a shower, they think you ain't nothing and I didn't have a lot to give and I told her mother, 'Now, I don't have a lot of money to give Tonya.' She kindly laughed, she said, 'You know what she'd rather have than any money, any amount of money you could give her?' and I said, 'No, what?' She said, 'One of them nice quilts you've got.' And I did. I give her one of them. And I've give all my grandchildren the best ones. I've not got my best quilts now because as old as I am according to nature I can't be here much longer.

RC: How do you take care of the quilts that you have?

MB: I take care of them with kid gloves. [laughs.] Yes, I do. I know how they're made. I wash them good and wash them carefully and I don't lay them down in the floor and let nobody stomp on them and serve their desserts and things on them either. [laughs.] If I see them doing one of mine that way, I'll tell them, 'No, get something else to use.' [laughs.] but they don't, if they made one and went through the work, they would be more careful. Now this lady up here is a good quilter but she don't quilt no more, won't fool with them. She's got electric blankets on her bed. She quilts good. She's got some real pretty ones that she made. She probably would show them to you but she's different from what she used to be.

RC: Well, Mrs. Myrtle I do appreciate you letting me talk with you about quilting and this is the end of the interview, but I want to continue talking with you.

[this interview was about 30 minutes.]


“Myrtle Bartley,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 21, 2024,