Betty Black




Betty Black




Betty Black


Carolyn A. Kolzow

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Nancy Bavor


Salem, Oregon


Karin K. Lightner


Carolyn Kolzow (CK): My name is Carolyn Kolzow, and today's date is October the first, 2004, at twenty minutes of twelve [11:40 a.m.]. I'm conducting an interview with Betty Black in the home of Karin Lightner in Salem, Oregon. Betty is from Dallas, Oregon. We're doing this for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project, through the American Heritage Committee of the [OSSDAR]Oregon State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Betty is a quilter and is a member of Anna Maria Pittman chapter, [NSDAR.] National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Betty, tell me about the quilt you brought today.

Betty Black (BB): This is a baby quilt that I'm making for my new granddaughter. It's a variation of the nine patch. It's about oh, I'd-- [pause.]

CK: What colors are in it?

BB: Well, I chose bright pastels. She's a little dark-haired, dark-eyed girl, and her mother likes dark, or bright colors, and so I, I wanted it to be pastel, but I wanted it to be bright and not baby colors, and so I have a bright pink, and a bright green, and a bright blue and, lavender and some peach and pink.

CK: You thought ahead on that. That's good.

BB: Yes.

CK: She won't just be using that for a baby quilt. That'll go right on into, to being when she's in grade school she'll, I bet she'll still have that.

BB: Yes.

CK: Did you start that very long ago?

BB: Oh, maybe 6 months ago. But I haven't worked on it constantly. I've put it aside, and now I've decided she doesn't need it until winter so as long as I get it done pretty soon, it'll be all right. [some chatter in the background, unrelated - others in the room.]

CK: Well, what special meaning would you say that quilt has for you?

BB: Well, I enjoy doing it. I've made quilts for all of my other grandchildren, and they're old enough now so they tell people, 'My grandma made this for me,' and that's very important to me.

CK: Is there a reason that you chose to bring that one today?

BB: Well, I give most of my quilts away, I don't keep them; and so, it was the one that, that was at hand [laughs.]

CK: You give them to family and friends, or--

BB Yes. I--[pause.] whenever we have anything with--within our group where we're exhibiting them, I never have anything to exhibit, because they're all gone. So, I like to make something and give it away and have somebody use it.

CK: And not only do you give it away, but do you have, sell some of your quilts?

BB: No.

CK: You don't? Okay. Do you collect quilts?

BB: Yes. I have some old quilts that I collect, that I don't use, but I just collect them.

CK: Oh, I see. And how do you preserve those?

BB: Well, I'm not very good at that. I need to learn more about how to preserve them. They're not in very good shape, and I need to our local quilt store in Dallas [Oregon.] has these, [pause.] the boxes and, tissue paper [pause.] [CK in background 'Oh.'] that you can use to protect them with, and I really need to get that project going.

CK: Otherwise, do you find a use for them in your home somehow?

BB: Well, I have quilted like wall hangings, and on, on a table I have a quilted thing that I use, and I can use them on the beds, but mostly things disappear.

CK: Tell me about your interest in quilting - at what age did you start?

BB: Well, I really didn't start quilting until my children left home. I didn't have time when I had children running around, but as they all left home, I had the time to start. [pause.] I've always sewn, but I, I was at a stage where I didn't have to make dresses and cheerleading outfits anymore, and I needed something, and quilting is kind of, being reborn right now. I've always liked quilts; I just didn't have the time for it.

CK: Is the interest heavy here in the Salem area, into quilting?

BB: Yes, it is. You know, there's a lot of quilt shops, and, and I think Dallas [Oregon.] is very much, we have a wonderful quilt shop, and we have several quilt groups, so that, there's a lot of interest.

CK: From whom did you learn to quilt?

BB: Well, books, kind of self-taught; I took several courses. Chemeketa [Community College.] had a wonderful, quilt-in-a-day course. You took, you cut all your strips, they sent you the pattern ahead of time, you cut all your strips, and you went, took your sewing machine, and in a day, you could have a quilt done.

CK: For heaven's sake.

BB: And it was, it was, it was great. And, many people, they were meant to be tied. But you could, take, make the top and take it home and quilt it if you wanted to hand quilt it.

CK: Hmm.

BB: And it was fun seeing people this [inaudible.] but it was a good thing. [laughs.]

BB: Yes, I belong to the Piecemakers in Dallas, [Oregon.]. And it's a very interesting group. They, we meet in the daytime, because we're all old [laughs.], and there are no rules. You don't have to be there, there aren't any officers, and a lot of the people don't even quilt, they do needlework and its, it's more of a social thing. We quilt for ourselves; we don't quilt a quilt to go somewhere. Most of us quilt on a hand, frame so you can take it there and we get lots of advice from each other, and lots of, do you, 'What kind of a binding do you think I should put on this?' and, and 'How should I do this?' And it's just a, a wonderful group for other reasons than quilting.

CK: And so that's once a week, is it, did you say?

BB: Yes.

CK: So how many hours a week would you say you quilt?

BB: Well, when I'm very busy, the two hours that I spent at the meeting are about all I do. But I'm kind of like Karin, if I have a deadline and have to have something done [laughs.], then I quilt a lot! I think I quilt more in the winter than I do in the summer. The summer there's other things to do, and you don't really want a quilt laying on your lap. But in the winter, it's kind of nice to sit there with a quilt and work on it, so in the winter I do a lot more.

CK: And would you say in your family there are other quilters?

BB: My sister is a quilter. My mother really wasn't a quilter, but my, my sister does a lot, so-- [pause.]

CK: Tell me about your sister's quilting. Does she like the same types of patterns that you like, or--[pause.]

BB: Yes, I think she does. We do a lot, a lot alike.

CK: What would you say is your first memory of a quilt?

BB: [laughs.] Well, I remember my mother didn't quilt, but she belonged to a women's sewing circle and every once in a while, they'd get together and do a quilt; and I can remember as a very small child, when you have a quilt frame it's just like a tent, and I can remember being underneath that quilt and having two or three of us underneath that quilt. Did you ever get hit on the head with a thimble? And have somebody gong when you weren't behaving? [laughs.] But I remember that it was such a neat place to play under there.

CK: That would be, that would be so much fun. How would you say quilting impacts your own family?

BB: Well, right now there's a, this was laying on the middle of the living room floor because I was trying to decide on the binding, an', you have to walk around the edge of it, and it's going to stay there until it gets finished, because I need to lay it out to put the binding on. But my family's very toler--[does not finish the word tolerant.] it's only my husband, and he's very tolerant of my projects, so. [laughs.]

CK: Well, that's good. Tell me about the binding.

BB: Well, I ended up having to piece it, because I didn't have enough of any one color, but I couldn't decide what color to put on it anyway, and so I just did of all the colors that are in the quilt as the binding and--

CK: Interesting.

BB: So, it will be neat. And then, if you're not, are you a, you're not a quilter?

CK: No, my mother was.

BB: I did learn a neat thing. You know, I used to do the binding and fold both edges, you know, like, you know, like this and then sew one and sew; and what you do now is you just put it on like this, sew it by the machine, then you bring it over like this and sew it by hand and it doesn't show.

CK: Oh, I see, almost as if it's a bias tape or whatever.

BB: Yeah, but if you sew the one, and if you do it double like this, you don't have to turn that edge under and fiddle around with it.

CK: Interesting.

BB: So, it works real well. That's, I learned it in group, [laughs.] the, the old-time quilters know all the tricks.

CK: So, really, one of those groups is kind of like a learning-teaching experience then.

BB: Oh, it is, it is.

CK: Have you ever used quilting to get through a difficult time in your life?

BB: No not really. I don't have difficult times, I don't think, at this point!

CK: That's good! What aspects of quilting do you not enjoy?

BB: [sigh.] Well, I think what I don't enjoy is when I'm not getting it done as fast as I, you know when I need to have it done and I get kind of bored with it, towards the end, and it's like, hurry up and finish it! [sigh.]

CK: Now, you'll be sending this one off. Tell me about [it.] do you take pictures, or [what.] before you send it off?

BB: Yes, I usually take a picture.

CK: And do you mark it in some way that it's from you?

BB: Yes, I usually put a label on. I like to put on who it's to and that it's from Grandma Black and the year. So, it'll have a record. I have some old quilts that are not dated, and I don't know who made them, and that's very discouraging.

CK: I can see where it would be. Well, what aspects of quilting do you enjoy a lot, your favorite part maybe?

BB: I think planning. I enjoy planning the colors and planning the pattern and thinking what I'm going to do. I think I enjoy-- [laughs.] I think I'm a planner more than I'm a doer!

CK: What do you think makes a good quilt?

BB: Well, I think you need good, sturdy material, and a nice choice of colors and one that fits the person that it's going to. [chatter in the background, unrelated.]

CK: Now are you a, a, a hand, do you piece by hand?

BB: This is, this one is pieced by machine. I like to piece by machine and hand quilt. It gives it a hand-quilted look, but still, to me, when you piece by machine, it's sturdier; it'll hold together longer than if it's pieced by hand--

CK: Yes.

BB: And it's quicker. Because you just cut this and make a strip, see, these three colors? You make a strip of each one, and then you cut it.

CK: Oh.

BB: You see what I mean?

CK: You make it sound easy. Right.

BB: And so that's really easy to do.

CK: Oh.

BB: And the same way with this, this binding: I just make a strip of each of those colors and then I cut it, instead of--

CK: From there--

BB: Sewing each little individual piece together.

CK: What makes a quilt artistically powerful in your mind?

BB: Well, a nice selection of colors. I once had a, somebody tell me there's no such thing as an ugly quilt, that they all have something that's interesting, either a pattern or, or the colors, and I, I think that's true. I've really never seen something I would call ugly. But an outstanding one is the colors, and the workmanship, too. I always look at how it's quilted.

CK: What would you say would make a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

BB: Oh, something that was unusual, maybe a certain period of time. Now I've seen quilts that were made during the Civil War, and there's a, a distinctive color in the, in the fabric during that period of time. Or a certain, area of the country tends to make certain kind of a quilt, you know, that would work in a museum. I don't worry too much about those in-the-museum ones. I just, I'm more interested in ones that are going to be used and enjoyed.

CK: What would you say makes a great quilter?

BB: Well, a lot of people look at the size of the stitch, you know, if it's a tiny little hand stitch, or how many they produce. I think the biggest thing about a quilter is just enjoying quilting. I don't think you need to grade them on whether they're a great quilter or a poor quilter, if they're doing it and they enjoy it and [laughs.] that makes a good quilter.

CK: And how do these people learn the art of quilting, do you figure?

BB: Well. [pauses.]

CK: Well, like designing a pattern, or choosing fabric and colors?

BB: I think some people have an eye for color. I have people in my group that just--I mean their quilts, their colors, they put colors together I'd never put together, and they look great. And people are different. And we have one woman that works with bright colors, and we have another one that works with soft colors, and, and they're all interesting in their own way. And so, it's just what you like, it's not, you know, there's not that much difference, and--

CK: Tell me about long arm quilting.

BB: I'm not familiar with long arm quilting. I'm wondering if it's a form of machine quilting. I think that's what it is.

CK: And so, you told me that, that, you do hand quilt.

BB: I started out, when I first started to quilt, I tied them. And, I mean, there are people that just throw up their arms, 'A tied quilt is worthless.' To me tied quilts are very attractive. And I started out tying, and then I went from tying to maybe tying the corners and embroidering the, or hand quilting the center, and I'm just really now getting into all hand quilting, which I think is the most rewarding of all kinds of quilting is the hand quilting. It'll last forever.

CK: And you don't mind the time it takes?

BB: No. Well, that's why I do baby quilts, there's more. [laughs.] I would recommend anyone start out on baby quilts because they don't lose interest and they get them done!

CK: Do you find yourself doing other things at the time that you are hand quilting?

BB: Yes

CK: Radio?

BB: I watch TV.

CK: Why would you say quilting's important in your life?

BB: Well, I get a great deal of satisfaction out of quilting, seeing the final product and having someone appreciate it and I just enjoy doing it.

CK: Are you from this area?

BB: No. I'm from upstate New York.

CK: Oh, I didn't realize that. Would you say that the quilts that were you quilting then in upstate New York?

BB: No.

CK: It was only here?

BB: Yeah, it was only since--

CK: Would you say that your quilts here reflect this region that we live in?

BB: No, not really. I think I'd probably be doing the same thing no matter where I lived.

CK: Okay. What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life, are they important--quilts important?

BB: Oh, yes. I, I think it's a way of, passing on things. I have, a grandson who's 16, and the first quilt I made him is now passed down to his cousin who's two, and she's still dragging it around.
[CK agrees.] I just think that there's continuity there, because Grandma made me a quilt.

CK: In what ways do you think quilts have special meaning for women's history in America?

BB: Well, I think it shows, you know, the different fabrics, the different, you know, stages in their lives. I have a quilt in the car I want to show you that has what they call linsey woolsey on the back. They ran wool in the one direction and linen in the other. The wool was for warmth and the linen was for strength. [cookoo clock in background.] And, you know, you can see all of this in the people who know about quilts can date a quilt from the fabric that's in it, and so there's a great deal of history in a quilt you can tell that way.

CK: And that one must be in your collection. Do you have other sewing memorabilia that you've collected?

BB: Well, I have my grandmother's treadle sewing machine that still works, that, I packed across the country on top of the car [laughs.], with, questions at every gas station that we stopped in! [laughs.] I have, oh I have a lot of odds and ends, baskets, and various things. I'm an antique collector of old things.

CK: Do you sleep under a quilt?

BB: Yes.

CK: And you, you said give them away as gifts. How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

BB: Well, I think we're getting more ways of preserving. I'm, the kind of quilts I make I want somebody to use them. I, I've been to quilt shows, and you'll see these quilts that you know are old and you can still see the pencil markings on them, so you know darn well they've never been washed, they've never been used. What good is that? I want a quilt that will go in the washing machine, and that the kids can play with, and [pause.] I have a story to tell you. I made my granddaughter a doll blanket, a quilted doll blanket, it was a very, very cute thing, just a little thing, and the next time I went to visit her, she had the doll blanket, and she was covering up her dog with it! And then she laid on top of it! And at first, I thought. Oh, my, I should just snatch that up and say, 'You're not supposed to do that.' Well, she wasn't a child who liked dolls, but she liked her dog, and you know, she was playing with it and she was using it. And that's been 8 years ago, and that blanket is still going strong. Her sister's putting it on the dog now!

CK: So, there are lots of uses!

BB: You know, so, and I know I've told people that, and they say, 'Well, well, why do you let her do that?' Well, why not? You know? Do you want your memory, your grandchild's memory of you is 'Oh, you can't use that, you have to keep it,'? [laughs.]

CK: I like your idea. Have you kept track, well, you mentioned the, the one quilt that had been handed down to a cousin. Have you kept track of other quilts that you've made for family, of what's happened to those quilts?

BB: Well, I'm assuming they are, using them! Most--I see most of them, do you know what I mean? They're-- [pause.] they're family that I visit, and they still have them, so-- [pause.]

CK: When you give a, a quilt, do you give them special instructions?

BB: No. I try to make them sturdy enough so they can wash them and take care of them. My daughter-in-law even, I made them a, a quilt, and she said, 'Betty, when you come, could you fix this quilt? The dog got on the bed and [laughs.] made some holes in it.' So, I try to keep some scraps of the quilt on hand, because I never know when I--[pause.] What I was, see, there again, that was another example of, she was so afraid to tell me this, but she's using it. I mean, isn't that what's important?

CK: And you anticipated that you might need some repair pieces?

BB: Well, I had to scrounge those out, but since then I've tried to keep a few on hand. That was one of my first quilts and it was a tied one, and they don't hold up as well as the, the hand-quilted ones. The dog can't get his toenail in there and ruin them.

CK: Right. Can you think of anything you'd like to add to this interview?

BB: No.

CK: All right. Well, I thank you, Betty for the interview. We have done this as part of the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 12:05 [p.m.] on October the first, 2004.

[tape ends.]


“Betty Black,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed May 27, 2024,