Billyevan Benton




Billyevan Benton




Billyevan Benton


Jane Kucko

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Fort Worth, Texas


Shira Walny


Jane Kucko (JK): This is Jane Kucko. Today's date is May 20th, 2001, and I am conducting an interview with Billyevan Benton of Fort Worth, Texas in conjunction with our Save Our Stories project. And I'd just like to start by saying thank you for coming and being a part of our project.

Billyevan Benton (BB): Oh, I've enjoyed it so much. I love it.

JK: Wonderful. It's 3:35 in the afternoon and you brought a really beautiful quilt here and I'd like to start by you telling us about it.

BB: Thank you. Okay. We've been married a little over 50 years, 53 now, so I made it for our 50th wedding anniversary and each block tells something about our lives.

JK: Go ahead and choose a couple that you really like and tell us about--

BB: Well, I'll start at the first. Would you like me to?

JK: That's good.

BB: Okay. I was a teenager when we got married, believe it, singing on the radio with the Light Crust Dough Boys so here's the microphone and the music.


BB: And KFJZ, I was also on the church program KFJZ. My husband, who I didn't know at the time, was an ice skater and instructor and even skated one year with the Ice Capades. He was also a young teenager at that time. He went into the Marine Corps and here's some of his insignias.

JK: Yes, very nice.

BB: So then, after he came out of the service, we met. We got married March 20th, 1948. My maiden name was Gober, his was Benton. Here's the wedding bells. Okay, he liked horses and had a horse, and this is him on Ginger, his horse. That was me when I graduated, and I went to work in an office as the secretary after some secretarial courses and so there's my typewriter.

JK: It's wonderful.

BB: So then, we've always belonged to Bethel Temple Church. There's our church. We had a little boy, Michael, in 1951 and here's his rocking horse that we still have, always sits with the Christmas tree every year.

JK: That is wonderful.

BB: This is him in first grade. My husband was in the contracting business, and we always had a station wagon, so there's the car. So then, we had a redhead little girl and that's her over there. That's Melissa. And her favorite toy was the gingerbread man, and we still have him. This is her at about 1st grade because she was always dancing and twirling around like little girls do. Michael was a little league baseball player, and this was on his uniform. Then in high school, he was all around cowboy and this is his horse Sujack. He was an Appaloosa. So, this signifies the house we've lived in 40 years.

JK: 40 years? Amazing.

BB: So, they grew up there. So, this is the redhead Melissa, and she was Miss Fort Worth and she's a singer. She graduated from Texas Wesleyan then College, now its University, with her degree in 1980. This signifies all the dogs and cats down through the years that we've had, and there's been several. This is Christmas with our 4 stockings, that's at our fireplace where they always hang every year, and this is the grandkids.

JK: Ah, that's wonderful, you have four.

BB: Four.

JK: Three are girls.

BB: One boy.

JK: One boy, oh Shawna of course is a girl.

BB: Shawna, Lark, Jordan, and Chase.

JK: Wonderful. Well, this is a lovely quilt.

BB: Thank you.

JK: Tell me about how you chose the colors, the pinks and the blues.

BB: No special reason other than I thought they would go in the bedroom well.

JK: Great. Now you obviously designed all this of course.

BB: Oh yeah.

JK: So, do you design more of your own quilts, or do you work from patterns usually?

BB: Well, I've done both. I did the hand quilt before this.

JK: Tell us about that that sounds interesting.

BB: Okay, I cut all of my blocks, white blocks, and I mailed them to all of the cousins and aunts and sisters and everyone in the family, both sides, only kinfolks. And I had them draw their hand and appliqué it onto this block and embroider their name and the month and day of their birthday and send it back and then I put it together.

JK: Wonderful. So how many hands did you have?

BB: I think about 50 are on it, I forgotten exactly, there's a lot. Way over half of them have since passed away, this has been several years ago and of course, my mother was still alive at that time and, you know, a lot of the older ones. So it's very special.

JK: It's a real treasure. Now tell me, how did you get into quilting?

BB: Oh, just I've always been a secretary and that was my way to relax at night would be to sit and embroidery or appliqué. I first got started making baby quilts. I made each of mine before they were born, a baby quilt, that they both still have. And then when the grandkids come along, I begin making the baby quilts for them, so it's just, you know something to do.

JK: So how long have you been quilting?

BB: Oh, probably 40, 45 years. [laughs.]

JK: Is that right? That's wonderful.

BB: My mother and I would, you know, work on them together.

JK: Did she teach you or--

BB: Well, yes, she did a lot, not necessarily the embroidery and things but she taught me how to put them together, yes, it's all because of her. She was a special lady.

JK: That's very nice. Now are you from Fort Worth?

BB: Well, I was born in Cleburne, but I lived here all my life.

JK: All your life? Tell me about one of your first quilt memories.

BB: That I made, you mean?

JK: Or anything that reminds you quilting?

BB: Even before I married, I bought a double wedding ring quilt from a very elderly lady that lived up the street from us at the time and put it in my hope chest and my daughter has it now in her living room and its very, very old. My mother made a silk quilt out of all silk and briar stitched every piece together, it's gorgeous. She has it. So, you know, I made each of my kids then, a quilt, when they begin to get older. My son had horses and I made his, every block had a red barn, he had a barn and it's red and I made it in the shape of his barn. Hers is--she was reading a book about an old lady that was talking about the Rose of Sharon so hers is the Rose of Sharon and its appliquéd. And just, you know, just the hobby, just something to do. [laughs.]

JK: Sounds like you do all kinds. Do you have a favorite technique? It sounds like you do appliqué and embroidery--

BB: No, it's just sitting, watch TV and embroidery. I usually miss maybe something that happened [inaudible.] [laughs.]

JK: [laughs.] [tape stops and starts.] How do you select the types of fabrics, the types of colors that you use in your quilt? Even, where do you purchase your fabric?

BB: Oh, just anywhere, anywhere. This I tried to pick something that would look old for this one because I knew Melissa would probably, get it, my cousin said, 'Oh it will have to be Michael's because it has Benton on it and that's his name.' and she said, 'It's my name too, I didn't change my name.'

JK: In listening to your story, it sounds like it's very important to you to document your family history.

BB: It is, it is. My family has always been very important.

JK: Is that--do all your quilts have some connection to family symbolism?

BB: I guess they probably have had. I'd never thought about it, but I guess they have. The baby quilts, let me think, Shawna's was a rocking horse out of velveteen. A great big rocking horse and then I pieced around it, you know. Lark's was the unicorn and the castle was like in the clouds.

JK: I'm going to stop--[tape stops and starts.]

BB: Chase's is some, has a cowboy hat. Jordan's is, what was hers, oh it's just a little rabbit, a little checked rabbit that is eating a carrot and he's big, big as a baby quilt.

JK: Oh, how cute! I think it's wonderful you design all your own quilts.

BB: Yeah, well, I have a lot of them. I'm making a butterfly one now. I've made a Dutch Doll and I have the Old Dutch Doll, I saw several up there that would be Old Dutch Dolls like I have.

JK: Do you have several quilts going on at the same time or do you start and finish?

BB: Usually I start and finish because if you don't it's hard to go back and finish. I just got through doing a solid cross stitch embroidery.

JK: Printing [inaudible.]

BB: Solid cross stitch embroidery.

JK: Oh really? Oh, my goodness.

BB: And it's in 3 shades, it starts with pink and goes to red and to maroon. And I bought it about 35 years ago and I was overwhelmed every time I would look at it. I just thought I'll never do that. I'll just shut the door. But since I've retired, I have done it and it is about finished, but it has not been quilted yet.

JK: It sounds beautiful.

BB: It is beautiful, it really is, but oh, it was so much work.

JK: There's a lot of time.

BB: Never for sale. Never. Only for love. [laughs.]

JK: [laughs.] Well how many hours a week do you quilt?

BB: I would just, here and there. No special time.

JK: When you have time?

BB: Yeah and of course my husband lost a leg last year and he needs a lot of work right now, so I'm afraid I'm not devoting much time to it. I did the embroidered one, I kept saying I am going to finish this, if I don't, I never will. So, every night, I would do a little bit on it. I made myself. And he'd say, 'show me how much you did,' each night. Because he took an interest in that too. The border is just solid cross stitch, and it will fit a king size bed and, so every night, he'd say, 'How many more?' And I'd count how many more circles I'd have. So, he took an interest in that and I would sit with him.

JK: Do you think that helped you get through what must have been a difficult time?

BB: Yes. Oh, it's been so devastating; it's almost unreal but yes, yes. You have to keep your hands busy.

JK: Alrighty, let's see. How do you think quilting has impacted your family?

BB: Oh! They love it! Yeah. [laughs.] My daughter and granddaughter anyways. [laughs.]

JK: Now does your granddaughter quilt? Do you think she'll take an interest in it?

BB: Probably not. [laughs.] I think these younger ones don't like anything like that. [laughs.]

JK: Now you told me, I think earlier, you did used to sew as a young girl?

BB: No. I don't sew, not really. Hand work, I've always done a lot of hand work, embroidery and needlepoint, cross stitch and all that, but no, not to sew and make a dress. My mother did.

JK: Do you have any of her quilts? Oh, you mentioned a crazy quilt?

BB: Yes. I've had, she did the silk quilt. She liked like she called a nine patch; do you know what that is?

JK: Sure do.

BB: She made a--the last one I guess she made was a bicentennial from scratch and it was made with red, white, and blue. In fact, I gave it to my son just recently, I said, 'this was one of the last one's nanny did and I know, it will mean something to you.' So, she liked pieced quilts she would not have sit down and embroidered them. She pieced them.

JK: Well, tell me what do you enjoy most about quilting? And then I'm going to ask you--

BB: Doing the top. [laughs.]

JK: Now do you machine? Do you hand?

BB: No. I hand, this one is hand quilted.

JK: Beautiful. And so, do you usually hand piece and hand quilt is that what you usually do?

BB: Yes, when they're quilted, they're hand quilted. The machine quilting is pretty but it's not like what we used to be

JK: Do you see any trends in today's quilt making that concerns you about the art--

BB: I think they will go completely to machine quilts.

JK: Does that bother you?

BB: Yeah, I think they're getting away from the old. And they're buying materials with things, pictures and things and going around that, and that's not appliquéing, you know, not to me. But of course, I'm old, so, you know.

JK: We've heard that same thing from other quilters we've interviewed so I think you're right. What do you enjoy least about quilting or is there any part of the technique that you don't like to do?

BB: No, I don't think there is anything. I don't know of anything. Once I get started, I make sure it's started to get done.

JK: To follow--Now do you usually, you talked about this quilt you brought with you where you did buy the fabric for that quilt. Do you usually buy the fabric for the quilt, or do you have a large fabric collection?

BB: Oh no, no. I don't have any fabric. I just buy it when my quilt is ready to be quilted.

JK: Interesting. I'm taking notes, so sometimes I have to stop, I'm sorry.

BB: That's alright. [laughs.]

JK: What do you think makes a great quilt?

BB: I think something that means something to you. In putting something in it. I think we've gotten away from using quilts, we don't use them on the beds, we don't need to anymore, you know? I lay them at the foot of the bed to be pretty, but other than that, we don't use them.

JK: So, you look for the meaning in the quilts or what that means to that person.

BB: Yes. My mother made a Texas star, but it's pieced. There was three girls in my family, two sisters several years older than I am even, and for Christmas one year, not too long before she passed away, she made each of us a quilt.

JK: How wonderful.

BB: And it's the Texas star. And of course, I worked for the state of Texas for 20 years so that has very special meanings to me.

JK: Absolutely. What do you hope happens to your quilts? You talked about your daughter and granddaughter.

BB: Oh, I want them to be passed on of course, t to my children, t my family.

JK: What do you think the role of museums are for preserving quilts or quilt history?

BB: Oh, I think that's great. If somebody maybe doesn't have anybody to leave them to, then leave them to a museum maybe someday, one of mine will end up there. [laughs.]

JK: There you go. To tell your story. Have you traveled very much? Have you have an--

BB: Just, oh we used to go on good vacations, you know. Not anywhere, not out of this country.

JK: Do you usually go to quilt shows?

BB: No, I've never been to one before.

JK: You've never been to one? Well, welcome.

BB: Oh, well, thank you. And I've just loved it, I'm going to see about maybe joining, when I can. I would like that--

JK: So, you're not a member of a guild?

BB: No.

JK: Okay.

BB: But she invited me up there and I said, 'Oh, I would love it if, when I get him to where I can leave him.'

JK: Right.

BB: I just might do that.

JK: Well, we would love to have you apart.

BB: I would love it.

JK: I think you would, you--

BB: Because I've missed working and so I would like that very much.

JK: Camaraderie and friendship and all that.

BB: Yes.

JK: That's great. We look forward to having you, that's for sure.

BB: Great.

JK: Let's see, well you've talked about this a little bit already but I'm going to ask anyway and that is why is quilting important to your life?

BB: They're just pretty I just love to have them around. And I think we should keep the old. I think American's are too bad to throw out the old and get the new, you know?

JK: That's right.

BB: Like they do buildings, you know, tear them down and build new.

JK: When you look at the quilts as you have this afternoon, what kinds of things go through your mind?

BB: Oh see, everything that's on here.

JK: Just a couple more questions, particularly your experience you told me at the beginning, I believe, you've been quilting for like 40 years and you weren't for sure, something like that, what role do you think quilting has played in the role of women throughout history?

BB: Well, I'm sure that way back, if they quilted it was because they had to have them for cover. And I think that's been--and they certainly used their imagination even then. And used the materials they had because they didn't have a store handy to go to. My dad's family came to Texas in a covered wagon, and a cousin of mine has a quilt that my grandmother did and so imagine, you know, I'm sure they didn't have money or anything else to buy fabric if they had a place to go buy it. Probably they did with, I know my mother used to say, 'Oh well we used what we had.' [ background noise.] They always used unbleached domestic to line them with for their backing and these old quilts All have that. And they used flour sacks for, you know, with the colors and things. Very pretty though.

JK: They used what they had on hand, and they were just as beautiful weren't they.

BB: Oh yes, they were. They were. So, I think that's very special, you know, that they used--and I'm sure they had to have them for cover because the winters were much colder.

JK: Do you keep a journal? I mean, you have so much history, so much family.

BB: No, I don't. But my family is pretty well documented even though you don't ever hear that name, not around here very much, but we do have a national Gober reunion every two years and they come from everywhere and--

JK: On your quilt with 50 hands, I mean you knew a lot of your family and how to reach them.

BB: One year, in fact, we did blocks they sent out. And all of the family did a block and had it put together and raffled it off. I would love to have it, it was wonderful, you know, but I thought that was neat.

JK: Absolutely wonderful. It's been a real pleasure talking with you.

BB: Well, you too! Are you a student now?

JK: Actually, I teach interior design at TCU, but I am working on my PhD at Texas Women's on Quilt History.

BB: Oh, that's wonderful.

JK: So, this is very meaningful to me.

BB: This redheaded girl of mine is a teacher.

JK: She is?

BB: A high school teacher.

JK: Oh, I admire her then. [laughs.] I really do.

BB: High school drama. [laughs.]

JK: Now is there anything you would like to add before we close?

BB: No, oh no. I appreciate you talking with me so much, it's been wonderful.

JK: And I'd like for the record to know that you came as a response to an article that you read in the newspaper, and I think that says a lot for you, that you're so interested in quilt history.

BB: Yes, I did. I saw it in the paper.

JK: Well, I'd like to thank you for being a part of our [Quilters' S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project and our interview is concluded at 4:00 and let's go--


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