Bettina Havig




Bettina Havig




Bettina Havig


Jane Kucko

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Fort Worth, Texas


Lela Alcorn


Jane Kucko (JK): We're here with Bettina Havig whose home is in Columbia, Missouri. First of all, I'd just like to thank you for being here and allowing us to interview you and being a part of this.

Bettina Havig (BH): You're welcome.

JK: And I understand you have several quilts of course on display here, but there's one in particular that you may like to talk about.

BH: Yes. Let me first correct your pronunciation. It's HA-VIG with a long A. The quilt that we're going to talk about is a medallion style. It has a triple frame of Ohio or Variable Star around a central medallion which is a Feathered Star. The Feathered Star was a gift from Marsha McCloskey so I can't take credit for the center. And the rest of them: what precipitated the project was a group of people who attend a retreat in California in January, at Point Bonita. I'm a permanent staff member there and Barbara Brackman and a group of people were there. And they decided they were going to make early 19th century reproductions, but they were working with a 10" block and that was just too big for me. So, I sized down to a six, and they did it by machine and I did it by hand, so it took me an extra year to get mine in place. But that's what started it. I was going to participate with this sort of exchange and going to bring fabrics and trade, so they'd have lots of alternate, different pieces to use. Then I built it so that not only do the Ohio Stars form a concentric triple frame around it but the background fabrics also form a sort of subliminal underlying border. It was a great deal of fun and it is hand quilted. I used a Hobb's bonded wool batt which was a first. I like to experiment with the batting and it was an easy batt to quilt through. I was real pleased with the result.

JK: It sounds absolutely beautiful. What were the colors?

BH: There's a lot of red in the setting, and there was a piece of fabric, a reproduction piece, that was from Northcott Monarch, the designer was Bonnie Benn Stratton, and this piece of fabric was just very attractive to me. It has a very tobacco brown and red color scheme, a medium-scale print, and then the rest of the background fabrics are also reds or have a lot of red in them. But the fabrics in the rest of the blocks are a variety of fabrics, mostly reproduction fabrics. There aren't any old fabrics but there are a lot of reproductions.

JK: It sounds lovely. Now you mention 'your portion.' You hand pieced and then you hand quilted.

BH: I hand-pieced and hand-quilted.

JK: Is that your preferred technique for quilting?

BH: Yes, very definitely.

JK: Do you have any particular position on hand quilting versus machine quilting, or hand piecing versus machine piecing?

BH: Only as a personal preference. I love to do the hand work. I find it satisfying to do it. I find I can probably, in most cases, chose more intricate patterns, do more detailed work, and I love to do the hand quilting. The quilts are more supple and softer and more drapable, and the tops are softer when they're hand pieced than when they are machine pieced. So, I encourage people to try it even if they prefer machine piecing. I think there are occasions when they'll enjoy hand piecing because it is so portable. It's so easy to take and you can accomplish things in snatches of time that would be lost to your quilt making otherwise. So, I encourage it and I teach it, hand quilting I personally prefer. To me, quilting by machine would be work while doing it by hand is a relaxation. It is truly an avocation rather than a job.

JK: When did you learn to quilt?

BH: In 1970, so I've quilted a long time. I had a grandmother on my father's side who was a quilt maker, but I was not of an age to really get into it or learn much about it. She died when I was in high school and we didn't see a lot of her anyway because she lived quite a distance away, so we only saw her in the summertime. I didn't learn from her, but I appreciated the fact that she was a quilt maker. She had made a quilt for each of her grandchildren so there were quilts in our home that she'd made. But when I was expecting my first daughter which turned out to be my only child, I wanted to make a crib quilt. And a woman gave me a stack of truly, truly ugly [laughs.] blocks of little baby woodland creatures that were done in textile embroidery, Chemtex. But I felt here's this stack of blocks and they're useless in this form and no time like the present. So, I sashed them and quilted them and now that quilt stays hidden most of the time. [laughs.]

JK: Does your daughter still have it?

BH: I have it. If she ever asks for it or wants it she certainly may have it but she was not a child to drag a quilt or a security blanket around, so it didn't take a lot of wear. It has a couple of small spots on it but it's in pretty good condition. It's not gotten any prettier, though! [laughs.]

JK: Now you talked about how you had this grandmother that was a quilt maker even though you didn't get to see her very much, that sort of thing, that that was a factor. And it sounds like your daughter was one of the initial impetus for you to start quilting. But obviously you're very passionate about it, just based upon your work and your book and all of the scholarship that you've done. Can you tell us a little bit about how this, if it's fair to say, 'passion' grew?

BH: It's only fair to also give my mother credit. She was one of the most accomplished seamstresses I've ever known. She taught me to sew when I was very young. I made a blouse and a skirt when I was seven and I wore it in public. It's hard to imagine, but I did. And I had done embroidery and lots of handwork as a child. As a young adult I did garment construction. So, it was a natural extension of things that I was already interested in. But when I got into quilting, I really did find that it was a media that I enjoyed more than crochet. I never was very accomplished at knitting. Needlepoint: how many cushions can you do? So, it did really catch my imagination more. And it wasn't very long before a friend asked me to teach her how to do piecing. And that grew into a circle of people. Of course, the comradery gives you support too, and I was staying just inches ahead of people I was helping at that point. And then I began teaching with Adult Education and one thing led to another. People couldn't get supplies and that led to what I call "The Little Red Hen Syndrome": 'Very well then, I will do it myself.' So, I opened a shop, and I taught a lot of people in town. It just was the perfect outlet for the kind of stitching that I wanted to do. And then a friend of mine, who also became part of that early group of people that I was teaching, or that were getting together to extend their quilt skills, she was a very passionate researcher, and she decided that I was going to be her apprentice and so she channeled and pulled me into research where I might not have gone that direction had I not known her. Her name is Carol Crabb. She co-authored a book with Cuesta Benberry where they collected an anthology of short stories, and she was well into quilt research and collection of quilt memorabilia before I was. But I had a great deal of respect for her, and she'd decided that I was the person that she was going to pass this torch to.

JK: The name of that book of short stories isn't Quilt Culture by chance, is it?

BH: No, it isn't. That's a different book.

JK: That's a different one.

BH: This was a book called A Patchwork of Pieces, and it was published in soft cover by American Quilters Society. It's out of print now but the short stories started in the middle of the 19th century, and they stopped, I think 1935 was their cutoff date, mostly gleaned from magazines where short stories were published and a few times from other collections of short stories. But all of them focus on quilts or quilt making.

JK: Interesting. Now you talked about the influence of this and how did you get to Carrie Hall?

BH: I got to Carrie Hall several ways. First, early on, I bought a reprint of The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt. It was one of those very few books out there available, and it was a mainstay, it was a way that I could find new patterns and that I could also identify patterns when I looked at an old quilt or went to a quilt show or whatever. Then in 1978 I went to a symposium at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and they had all of the blocks pulled from the Spencer collection mounted and on display. So, one more step and one more little piece of the puzzle. And then I was a good friend of Betty Hagerman, and she and Helen Erickson tried to get that book into print, so it's been an on-going connection. And then finally when the opportunity arose for me to take over a project that Liz Porter and Marianne Fons started, I just jumped at the chance. I was really glad to do that since I had been a long-time admirer of those blocks. And so, then I followed through, and I completed the project.

JK: And do you have another project in mind?

BH: There's always another project. [laughs.] I have a book proposal that I probably won't do anything with for a few months because in the meantime I'm working on a project with a couple of other people and I'm doing some editing of some quilt information. The format of the project is yet not completely determined, but I'm editing a lot of material that's been collected and our deadline on that is August 1st so then I can go forward with the book proposal.

JK: Interesting. What do you love most about your research? What kinds of things do you personally love?

BH: Well, I'm not sure that there is one thing. I like the quilts. I love the tradition. I like to find out about the women who made them which isn't as easy as it might be. But when it's possible, it's fun to find out about the women who made them and the circumstances in which they made them. But I guess basically if I had to only be able to do one thing I would like, I just love the quilts. Even if they can't speak to me through the voices of the makers, they can speak to me in other ways. And I'm a very traditional quiltmaker. When I design a pattern or adapt a pattern, it's pretty much a traditional thing. I don't do thread painting and I don't do embellishments. The thing that attracted me to quilts, it's sort of like, 'You dance with the fella who brung ya.' I went into quilt making because I love traditional quilts and I am not going to turn my back on that because people think that it's not modern or it's not art or whatever. It's what I love.

JK: The colors that you select, are they based upon the historical context that you might be designing from or do you work with--

BH: Not necessarily. Occasionally I work with fabrics that have to be categorized as strictly modern color or print combinations, but I'm more attracted to the things that have a classic sense to them.

JK: You talked about having your shop and you gave us some history as to how you got to where you are. Was all of that in Columbia, Missouri?

BH: Yes.

JK: Have you lived there a long time?

BH: I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, but my husband teaches at Stephens College, and we've been in Columbia our entire married life. So, all of these things happened in Columbia, Missouri.

JK: Through all your travels that you have done and your research and all of that, do you see differences from region to region in quilting?

BH: I don't think I see so many differences from region to region as I do from people who have been quilting five years or ten years or fifteen years or twenty years. When I had my shop, for example, that eight years that I ran my shop, you literally could not give a person a kit. They weren't interested in doing what anybody else was doing. They were a little more independent, a little more self-confident about their needlework. And I think as we've broadened the base of quilt making. It seems critical to say that it seems that we've also diluted the skills. I teach people now in workshops in conferences and things whose skills are far less well-developed than people I was teaching ten or twelve years ago. The newer quilters are more reliant on gadgets and tools and other people's designs, and that's fine if that's what they enjoy and they are having fun with it, but there definitely is a difference in the way people approach quilt making if they are new at it as opposed to--and of course a lot of that is just building experience. I also know that there are people who never change that, they are always going to rely on someone else's input in order to execute their design.

JK: So, do you have any concerns or thoughts on where we'll be with this, say even ten years from now?

BH: I couldn't have predicted ten years ago what we would be doing today, so I don't really know that I can see that far into the future. I just hope that people continue to enjoy it and can find whatever avenues within it they enjoy. And what I don't like to see is people being pushed by their contemporaries into making the kind of quilts that they maybe don't enjoy but they think is the only right way to go. They may feel that they have to make art quilts if their friends are making art quilts, or they aren't allowed to make 30's quilts because nobody else in their group is. I just want people to find what they want to do and do it. Keep doing it. Keep passing them on.

JK: With all that you have going on, with your writing and editing and all of that, how often are you actually able to quilt?

BH: Well, I travel about 100 to 125 days out of the year.

JK: Really?

BH: But I usually have something with me so I can be doing handwork as I travel. I don't do handwork in airports because you don't get any peace. You stitch for 5 minutes, and somebody wants to know what you're doing. And then you're finding out what their grandmother did. But I do work in hotel rooms, or I take it with me. So, the rest of the time when I'm home I probably try to spend on the average of 4-5 hours a day involved somehow, it might be generating samples for a workshop, it might be working on a quilt that's just my own project, it might be a gift for somebody. So, there's time in every day probably when I'm home that I do some quilt making or something related to quilt making. I try to do my office work, my letters or correspondence or e-mail in the morning and then the afternoon and evenings I get a lot accomplished. I can be watching television or talking to people because I do handwork, which is a much more relaxed, much more social thing. You can't sew at your machine and have a group of friends around you.

JK: Absolutely. What do you find most pleasing about your work, about quilting?

BH: Probably more than one thing. The work itself, which for me it is the process as much as the product, because I don't feel that I have to turn out a quilt a month in order to be happy. If I turn out a quilt I really love and it takes me four months, that's fine. So, I really enjoy the work, the whole process of the work, the figuring out what I'm going to do, the buying fabric, planning it, constructing it, quilting it, and occasionally giving it to somebody to I can't say 'deserves it' but sometimes a gift, a wedding gift, a baby gift or whatever. [announcement made by Quiltfest organizers over the convention hall loudspeaker.] But I do also enjoy the comradery, the people that I've met through quilting and across the nation, because I have a lot of friends in places that I never would have gone, or I never would have met them had I not been involved in quilt making or quilt teaching or quilt judging. Including places in Germany and Great Britain and Scotland that I would never have gone probably without it. So, it's a complete package. I couldn't just quilt at home and never go out and do anything else. And I couldn't not be able to quilt at home and just be strictly out. It has to be a balance.

JK: Now do you still have your shop?

BH: No, I don't. I ran it for eight years. When I opened it in 1977, it was the only out-state shop in Missouri and it was very early in the interest in quilt making, in the revival in quilt making. I closed it in 1985 for a number of reasons, primarily that I didn't have time for my own work and I wanted to do more travel and I wanted to be able to do a project just because I wanted to do the project and not because I needed to generate a sample for somebody's pattern for the shop or be working on solving other people's quilt dilemmas while I wasn't getting to accomplish anything personally. You get jealous of your customers because you're solving their problems and they're going home and enjoying putting their quilt together and right behind them there's another person whose problem you're solving, and you haven't been able to accomplish what you want to do.

JK: How do you go about purchasing your fabrics for your projects?

BH: With gay abandon! [laughs.] I usually don't often have a project in mind and then go shopping for it. I have a substantial, but certainly not gigantic compared to some people I know, amount of fabric on hand. Sometimes I see a fabric that sparks an idea and I want that fabric to be the nucleus of the selections that I make and other times the idea is first and then I just go and find fabrics. If they are not in my stash, then darn, I have to go shopping! It's not a very organized or deliberate process.

JK: You mentioned that you also design your own patterns and of course you are known for that. Do you enjoy that the most?

BH: I do. I don't design patterns as patterns for sale, but I design, maybe you'd call it freelance, for magazine publication. So the patterns that I've designed have been published in magazine format or in book format, but they are not individual patterns in little plastic packets and that's not what I do. I don't market patterns that way. But I designed the 1999 American Patchwork and Quilting Magazine series which involved having one design for each issue of the magazine and then one design that pulled elements from each of those projects for a final sampler quilt. And I've done some other design work or instruction work for magazines. I did the scouting for the Rodale continuity series which didn't involve any of my quilts particularly but involved me finding quilts for Rodale that they could then use for publication and have instructions written for.

JK: That collection that you talked about for the American Patchwork in 1999, how did you come up with the concept for that?

BH: I'm not quite sure I could reconstruct that process. One of the projects was an antique quilt that I wanted to include to bring a kind of a complete view of quilt making, and the other goal I had was to make sure that within the projects I included more than one technique so I wanted to be sure that I had piecing in the projects, that I had appliqué in the projects, and that I paid attention to the quilting too so one of the projects is whole cloth. There is no patchwork or appliqué involved. And then I knew immediately when they told me that I needed to design a sampler quilt, that my sampler quilt was going to take the form of a framed quilt or a medallion quilt. So, one of the elements had to be something that I could then use as a center and then I had to be able to pull from the other designs to incorporate them in what would have been then concentric rounds on the quilt. So, I knew that going in, and the rest evolved. They needed to see all six project designs before we did any of them, to make sure that there would be what they were looking for and whatever the continuity they were looking for. So, I had to present them with all of those designs ahead of time. So, if that had looked at one and said, 'No, this is not anything we want to do,' then I would have been back to the design process.

JK: Right. It must have been fairly rapid, though, from that point.

BH: From the time that I submitted the designs--because I was invited to do it, I didn't go to them until the final project was complete was about a fifteen-month time period. With Murphy's Law in place, the one project that I hadn't made any fabric selections for was the one they decided they wanted first. And it's one of the quilts that's exhibited here. They had initially asked if I would do a complete year of Amish quilts, and I really frankly felt that that was too much Amish for the general population that that would probably not be of as great of appeal. But I left this one project open and asked them to decide whether they wanted it to take the form of an English stripy quilt or the form of an Amish bars quilt. Because it's vertically--[announcement made by Quiltfest organizers over the convention hall loudspeaker.] it's vertically oriented. And they decided on the English strippy variation and so then I had to go out and find the fabric that was going to do what I wanted it to do for that project. So that quilt was the first one, but it was the last one conceived.

JK: You mentioned Amish. Is there a particular culture or group of people who quilt that you admire?

BH: I've done a lot of work with Amish quilts and that was fairly accidental but still pretty fascinating. Missouri has the fourth largest population of Amish--

JK: I didn't realize that!

BH: --in the United States. They're fairly low profile but they're close to me, they're within 25 miles of where I live. There's one of the largest of the communities. I was curious in 1980 when we were posting a symposium, and I wanted to pull together a presentation that had some regional importance, and I wanted to know if there was a Missouri style, and that's what got the whole thing going: if I could identify a Missouri style of Amish quilts the way we can supposedly identify Pennsylvania Amish. It turned out that all of the styles that people identify with Amish were present within that Amish community, and I started to learn that they're very fluid and they're not grounded in one place for their entire lifetime necessarily, so there's a great exchange of ideas and patterns and concepts of quilt making. I've done probably more with Amish-style quilts than with any other single style but still that has not been an exclusive area.

JK: Interesting. I could talk all day with you because you're fascinating, and I know I don't want to. I have a couple, three more questions. Are you okay with time?

BH: Yes.

JK: I would like to talk to you about or ask you what you think makes a great quilt.

BH: What I think makes a great quilt: I do a lot of judging but when you are judging you're not necessarily choosing that quilt that is a great quilt. So, for me the thing that makes a great quilt is exemplary workmanship, a good sense of color and balance, and what I consider to be a quilt that will have appeal today and ten years from now and thirty years from now and a hundred years from now. And a quilt that if you are standing 50 feet away from it, it looks wonderful and it pulls you right up to it, and it still looks wonderful at five feet. So, for me those are the things that make a great quilt.

JK: What makes a great quilter?

BH: A great quilter: I don't think it is necessarily experience or passion for it, but I think it's respect for it and willingness to take the project on and carry it out the very best that they can for however long it takes. And to do good, to represent themselves in good workmanship styles. There are lots of techniques out there that I don't think are going to be long-lasting and the people who specialize in them I don't really consider great quiltmakers. I think they're good marketers or innovators but not necessarily good quilt makers. So, I think a good quilt maker is a person who produces that great quilt, who's capable of producing that quilt that has the longevity of being well done so it's not going to fall apart, appealing for a long term and treasured by family and still appealing no matter how long it lasts and people are looking at it.

JK: When you talk about longevity, what do you think the role of museums are in terms of that being a place for quilts?

BH: Museums are difficult places. Textiles are harder to care for than other sorts of artifacts, so they are in many cases between a rock and a hard place. They can do more with less money for other kinds of things. So, I'm grateful that there are places like the Museum of American Quilters' Society in Paducah [Kentucky.] and the Lowell New England Quilt Museum, the San Jose Quilt Museum. Places that have focused on it. But there are also mainstream museums that have wonderful collections. I think it's unfortunate that those museums don't always realize how much more appealing their quilts are than some of their other artifacts, and so because they're harder to care for and harder to deal with in exhibition, they don't get them out very often. And when they do, they usually find that the response is more positive and more popular than the response to other exhibits. And even with that said, they turn around and put them back in storage and then don't get them out for another ten years. There are museums that haven't had their quilts on public exhibition in my recollection. People don't even know they have collections because they've had them stored out of sight so long.

JK: What do you think the world of quilting has been through women's history? Do you have any comments on how they've used that?

BH: Currently there are women that I know whose identity is really built around the fact that they are quiltmakers or that they have gotten into quilt making and in some cases have made quilts that have won substantial prizes and have gained a new kind of respect not only from their husband and family but their friends. But in the long term, I think women who've made quilts over the last 200 years didn't consider themselves artists, were very unselfconscious about the work they were doing. They were making a utility item, and whenever possible, as beautiful as possible. And for those reasons we don't know who some of those women are because they didn't consider themselves to be doing anything that was either going to be important or lasting. I did find in some of the data base that I built with the Missouri project that women who quilted often lived longer than the average life expectancy. One of the things we tabulated was, when we knew it, the age of the quilt maker. And when we knew the age of the quiltmaker, we found that they had a substantially longer life than the standard life expectancy of that period. Which may simply mean that women who have an outlet of some kind of craft, needlework, whatever, just are more comfortable and because they have that outlet, maybe it's a release. I don't know. That's a study somebody else will have to do. But we did find that the average of the quilt makers was 81 in a time when the average life expectancy for women was in the mid 60's.

JK: That is fascinating.

BH: So, if somebody ever followed up on that, it would be interesting to see the result.

JK: Absolutely. What's the next quilt you're going to make?

BH: There seem to be two running parallel. I got involved about 6 months ago with a project. Barbara Brackman was going to be giving Carrie Hall blocks, appliqué patterns, to her local guild as block-of-the-month patterns and she said casually, 'I wish I could find people to help me make samples.' And I said, 'I can make a sample,' thinking I was going to make a block. Then I got a little packet from Barbara saying, 'This is how I plan for people to set their quilt, but you can set your quilt any way you want.' I thought, 'I kind of remember this conversation, but I don't remember volunteering to make a quilt.' But then I thought, 'Hey, it's a block a month. How hard can that be?' So those blocks are done and I'm working on the border. And then I've been working on a folded-cutwork appliqué quilt that will have 9 blocks with kind of turkey-red print in the blocks with different neutral backgrounds and a pieced--[announcement made by Quiltfest organizers over the convention hall loudspeaker.]-- pieced sashing.

JK: They both sound just absolutely beautiful. Are those the only two you have going?

BH: No.

JK: Do you want to confess anything? [laughs.]

BH: Well, I've got a lot of tops and finished tops that are part of quilt workshops that I teach, so if I have to count those, there are probably 20 or so quilt tops that are fully constructed. They are so much more portable as quilt tops and when the process that you're working on is to just teach them the top, they will stay tops for a while. I just about 4 months ago completed a sampler quilt in a sampler format for the British Patchwork and Quilting Magazine for a series of patterns there. So that quilt is done. I'm working on the quilting for a quilt that is a wedding gift for a niece so there's always lots of plates spinning.

JK: How'd you get connected with Britain? I heard you've traveled in England and Scotland.

BH: Yes, many years ago, probably close to 12 now, I met one of the two women who was editor. [announcement made by Quiltfest organizers over the convention hall loudspeaker.] Anyway, I got acquainted with one of the editors. [announcement.] One thing led to another. Then I was working with Silver Dollar City in Branson. I worked with them for 18 seasons, and we were looking for English quilts for a special exhibition. So then I arranged the timeframe so that I could get to Britain in a timely way to wind up the day before I had to go home again at Quilts UK which was also a project of these two women who had started the British magazine. They put together a quilt competition called Quilts UK and as the years have gone by, I've gotten better acquainted with both of the editors, one in particular. In 1998 I judged the Quilts UK competition, so I got to do a little more traveling then and it's really just a wonderful networking. The quilters that I meet in various places, when I can help them, I'm glad to, and sometimes it works the other way.

JK: You are the member of a local guild then?

BH: Yes, I belong to a guild in Columbia called the Booneslick Trail Quilters Guild. It's called that because the Booneslick Trail, which was a trail that, not Daniel himself, but his sons plotted out across Missouri, and it's actually the route that then Highway 40 took, and Interstate 70 takes now. And the guild is named for that kind of regional-place name. That guild started in 1978. I had my shop. There were a lot of people who really wanted to be able to get together. So, I just found a place and we said, 'Anybody who wants to come can come, and we'll see what we get going.' And 13 people or 14 people showed up and the guild grew out of that.

JK: That's wonderful. What role do you think the guilds have?

BH: I think it's pretty important. People who aren't involved in a guild are missing a lot of the energizing and a lot of the stimulation that they need to keep their quilt making fresh and keep their energy up. If they don't belong in a guild, I can see I think it would be easy for them to get distracted by doing a lot of other things and not get back to a quilt for months at a time. But because guilds have programs and they're learning and there's Show & Tell, and there's an impetus to get things done so that people can see what you've done. I think they're an important factor. I would encourage anybody who belongs to guild to be as active as they can in it because they'll get more out if they put more in.

JK: Thank you. [directed to the project chairman.] Do you have any more questions, Kay [Jones.], that you would like to ask her? Is there anything you would like to elaborate upon or a question perhaps that I haven't asked?

BH: No, offhand I can't think of anything. Just constant encouragement of people to get involved. If they don't want to make quilts, then there's lots of ways they can get involved by collecting quilts, preserving quilts, making sure that their families appreciate the quilts that they own. There's a lot of ways besides making a quilt.

JK: We really appreciate your time away from the show and being able to talk to you. And I'd like just to thank you, Bettina, for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' Save Our Stories Project and this interview is concluded at 12:12 p.m. I failed to say at the beginning that we started at 11:35 a.m.


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