Beth Myers




Beth Myers




Beth Button Myers


Sandra Button

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Moda Fabrics


Middlebury, Vermont


Edna Curtin


Sandra Button (SB): [My name is.] Sandra Button and today's date is October 17, 2009. It is 1:50 p.m. I am conducting an interview with Beth Button Myers in her parents' home in Middlebury, Vermont, for the Quilters' [S.O.S.-] Save Our Stories project. We are doing this through the American Heritage Committee of the Vermont State Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Beth is a quilter and a member of the General John Strong Chapter NSDAR. Okay Beth, tell me about the quilt we have today that we've taken a picture of.

Beth Myers (BM): The quilt you have today is a Log Cabin design. It is blue in color. It was made when I was eleven years old. It was made for my biological mother.

SB: What special meaning does this quilt have for you?

BM: This is the second quilt that I ever made. [pause 15 seconds then tape is shut off.] Sorry about the interruption, we had to pause for a baby here.

BM: Okay, so back to my quilt. The quilt was made for my biological mother. It was special because it was a surprise. For an eleven-year-old it was a pretty big gift to give somebody. She had no idea about it. I guess that's why it's special. I can--

SB: Why did you choose this quilt to bring to your interview?

BM: I chose this one because it's one of the favorites. I think I've made about six or seven quilts. It is one of my favorites. I love the color blue and I like the fabric that's in it. I remember specifically picking out the colors for this quilt, the pieces, more so than I remember some of my other quilts.

SB: What do you think someone looking at your quilt might conclude about you? If they knew you were eleven.

BM: Yeah, I suppose they'd think it was something pretty awesome, for an eleven-year-old. Is this a good time to start at the beginning and explain?

SB: If you'd like to, sure.

BM: The reason I got into quilting, probably a question coming up, was because of our neighbor. Our neighbor's name was Pauline Shackett. She lived across the street. And from the time I was a baby she would take care of me, and then of my sister as well, when she came along two years later. She would watch us any time my parents needed her, if they went out, or away. She became our primary caretaker after school hours before Dad would come home from work. In 1987, my biological mother left our house and she and my father divorced. Dad was our--he took care of us. We lived with him. We stayed in the same house. It was not a horrible transition for us. Prior to her actually leaving, she had been coming home less and less and less so it wasn't a big shock. Pauline, our neighbor across the street was there to help out Dad with taking care of us. When we started spending every day after school with her, even summer days with her, it was time to begin some projects. I would say I was around eight or nine and always interested in what she was doing. I should explain was a quilter, a seamstress. She could make anything and everything, from clothing to quilts. I know she made stuffed animals and hair scrunchies. She made a complete wardrobe for our Cabbage Patch dolls. Clothing and all sorts of fun stuff. So, she was always in the sewing room at her house. We were always at her house that's where she took care of us. I watched her. I used to remember asking to iron some of the pieces, whatever it was she was sewing. Then, if there was an easy seam, a straight seam or something, I would get to try. Then she would start having me thread the needle for her. I don't know if she really couldn't see or not, but she said it was hard for her to see.

SB: She was older?

BM: She was older, probably in her sixties or early seventies when she started taking care of us. But anyway, one thing led to another, and she asked if I wanted to give it a try. I said yes. So, we started pulling out fabrics. She had boxes and boxes of old fabrics from all of the many things that she'd made throughout the years. I picked out my favorite pieces. We cut them into tiny little squares. It took me, probably a year, considering I'd spend less than an hour on it after school every day. And I made my first patchwork quilt. It was on my bed at home for years, it even sat on my bed for a couple of years or at least one year at college. I remember specifically I would have to sew some of the pieces back together by hand because they were coming undone. That was my first quilt. Then it was time to make a quilt with an actual design. That's when we chose the Log Cabin. Pauline recommended it as an easy start. I know she had just been making some Log Cabin quilts, too, at the time. So, we went to the store, and I decided to make two quilts. I made one which we have here today for my biological mother. And the other one was made for my father. I never thought about it until today but I, of course, didn't have any money. To buy fabric to make two large quilts is very pricey, especially for a kid. I remember Pauline paying for the quilts and then Dad--I don't think he knew what I was doing but he, of course, paid for his own quilt that was made for him or the fabric for it.

SB: And the other one, too, probably.

BM: Oh, yes, and the other one, too.

SB: How many hours a week do you think did you quilt when you were working on these? An hour a day, after school?

BM: Yeah, if that. I would say by the time we got home it was around 3:40 and Dad would always be home by five. Of course, we ate a snack, usually watched one of those thirty-minute programs on TV. So, I would say just about an hour every day, so five days a week, five hours a week. If we had homework, I don't really think we had much at that age. We had to do our homework first, before I could quilt.

SB: Yes. Was that your first quilt memory, or do you remember any quilts on grandparents' beds or aunts' beds or anybody else having quilts?

BM: Besides Pauline?

SB: Yes.

BM: Gosh. No. I don't think so.

SB: Are there other quiltmakers among your family or friends? Tell us about them.

BM: Well, my sister, because she was also at Pauline's. I don't think, she never made a Log Cabin. I actually can't really remember. When I was making my two quilts, I don't think she was doing it. Then maybe a year or two later she made her first patchwork quilt. I don't know how many she's made since then. But I know she has quilted more recently than I have. I've done a lot of finishing of quilts in the past couple of years, but I haven't started one and finished it in the same time frame since I've had the babies. My sister has. My stepmother is a quilter and sewer. She's one of those like Pauline that can sew anything. She has made quilts and she has even finished some quilts for some people that either died or couldn't do them anymore.

SB: Your mother-in-law?

BM: My mother-in-law is definitely a quilter. She is a hand quilter. She sews everything by hand.

SB: And promised you--

BM: She is working on a quilt for Madelyn, my two-and-a-half-year-old. It reminds me of a grandmother's fan design. I'm not sure if that's what it is. It's definitely what it looks like. It's made with fabrics that look like they're out of the 1940s. When that's finished, it will be pretty cute. She's wanting to have all of our names, of everybody in my family and her family written on it. I think that's still up for debate. We haven't decided on that, and I almost would rather it just be just the quilt for Madelyn. Then Kenzie, our six-month-old, has just come along and we haven't had a discussion about a quilt for her. But I'm sure it's coming. I know my mother-in-law already has a plan for what she wants to make Madelyn as a wedding quilt, but I couldn't go into detail on it, I'm not sure what that is.

SB: How does quilt making impact your family? Your family at home, with the time issues?

BM: No, I have been able to finish bits and pieces of my quilts, of a few quilts. That of course occurs when babies are napping. That's pretty much the only time. It's not always easy even then. There are other things that I need to get done at those quiet times.

SB: Have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

BM: Yes. Yes, definitely. I was thinking about that earlier when I knew I was going to be interviewed. I don't even know that I would call it a difficult time, though at the time I would have said. It was the year after my first year in college. It was 1999. I was still eighteen years old. My grandmother had just had open heart surgery, something major. She had been in the hospital for weeks. It was time to come home right as I was coming home from college in Kentucky. My parents said that they needed someone to live with her and take care of her. I was going to camp in June so there was one full month that I was free. I'm not sure if I really had a choice in the matter. I think it was strongly encouraged that I do this. It's not that I didn't want to be with my grandmother, but to take care of her and do everything was absolutely, well, it scared me to death. So, I decided that I needed to have a project, something to keep my focus. I decided to make another Log Cabin quilt. Before I came home from Kentucky, I bought all of my fabric and moved in with Grandma in Chelsea, Vermont, up in the mountains. Every day for a few hours I would pull out my stuff. That's the first quilt that I cut my own fabric. I did it all from beginning to end. I pulled the sewing machine out every day. I think I borrowed the sewing machine from somebody. I would set it up on the kitchen table, I remember. That's what I remember. I pulled it out every day. I remember having it out on the floor in the living room and Grandma would be sitting in the chair, and we would watch the Learning Channel. A wedding story and a baby story I think, every afternoon. I would always be doing whatever had to be done by hand during that time. Then I would do my sewing on the machine, usually in the morning. That, looking back on it, was one of the best times of my life, that one month. My grandmother, as I said, lived in the mountains. She lived in a little valley. As she got more and more healthy, we were able to go on the front porch and we would just sit. We would watch the sheep in the pasture. We would watch who drove down the road. That was always a major, major doing. I would start the cookstove, build the fire every morning. Even in the summer it was still chilly, so it took the chill off. So, I learned how to use that. When I did my laundry, I hung my clothes out on the line because Grandma liked to conserve energy. She had her whole life, so we continued it.

SB: Did she seem to enjoy watching you?

BM: Most definitely. Yes, she did. I'm trying to remember if she ever quilted. I'm sure she must have done some because Grandma pretty much did everything. She was a farmer's wife--

SB: I know she did a lot of patching.

BM: Yes, she did have the little treadle machine. She had a box of old fabrics, though. I actually found a pillow that she had. I don't know where it came from, sort of in the shape of a leaf. I copied it, and I used the fabrics from her house. I started that quilt, and I just finished it here about six months ago. That was one of the ones I finished right before Kenzie was born. We were trying to pass the hours once I hit my fortieth week. So back to Grandma. She enjoyed it, yes. She watched me every step of the way. It gave us something to talk about and look forward to. I finished that quilt in that month's period.

SB: Wonderful. Tell me about an amusing experience that has occurred from your quilt making.

BM: I don't know. I think one of the neatest experiences was especially on my dad's face when he received the quilt that I gave him for Christmas. My biological mother of course liked it, too. But I remember Dad, specifically. I don't think he realized I was making him a quilt. She didn't, either, but I think it just meant more to him, maybe. I don't guess that's amusing, but that's memorable.

SB: Yeah. What do you find pleasing about quilt making?

BM: I love to do projects where there's an end in sight.

SB: I'll get her.

BM: You can work for an hour on it a day and always be able to look back and see what you've accomplished. I like that. [pause for 3 seconds.]

SB: We're straightening up a baby here.

SB: What aspects of quilt making do you not enjoy?

BM: Cutting the fabric, when you're getting it ready to sew. I don't think I cut very well. Maybe I've never had the right scissors or the right cutting board or the right blade, I don't know. That's the hardest part, for me.

SB: Have advances in technology influenced your work?

BM: No, not for me.

SB: You know, like the templates and the sewing machines, things like that?

BM: No. Everything that I've used is what I've always used.

SB: What are your favorite techniques and materials to use in your quilts?

BM: Techniques, I don't know, I'm not sure if this is what you mean, but I always tie my quilts.

SB: Uh-hum?

BM: I like that. I find that a lot easier than trying to sew it down or quilt it.

SB: Do you choose light colors, do you choose shocking colors, bright colors?

BM: I'm definitely not bright and shocking. I think I'm more what you would find in a log cabin home. I don't know how to explain it, really. More the earthy tones, maybe?

SB: Uh-hm.

BM: Those appeal to my eye more than anything.

SB: And the materials, what kind of materials-- [both talk at the same time.] cottons, and prints?

BM: Yes, usually floral.

SB: Where do you create? Do you have a studio, a special room where you--[both talk at the same time.] or did you or do you now create?

BM: Well, at Pauline's it was in her sewing room. At home, my [step-.] mom had a spot. I don't really think I really did much quilting with my [step-.] mother. When I was at my grandmother's I just pulled it out on the kitchen table. Now, I have my sewing machine set up in my guest bedroom.

SB: How do you balance your time now in order to maybe have a little time for this? It's obviously a little difficult with two little ones running around as we're having right now. [laughs.]

BM: Yeah, it's hard with little ones. They just don't entertain themselves very well. Nap times, sometimes I can sneak in some right before bed. Or if my in-laws or parents are visiting, there have been opportunities to do a little then because they can take kid duty.

SB: Right. How do you go about designing your quilts? When you're looking at the patterns and trying to lay it out. How do you do that? Some people have a design wall. How do you do it?

BM: I don't know. I've always used the floor. The Log Cabin and Variable Star and Grandmother's Fan, which are the four designs I've used before, you can make very different designs depending on how you turn your squares. I just mess with it on the floor and pick what I like the best.

SB: What do you think makes a great quilt?

BM: [baby sneezes. pause 5 seconds.] For me, obviously, the colors. The design. I don't know, I think that's probably it.

SB: Okay. What makes a quilt artistically powerful?

BM: Attention to detail. The smaller the pieces to me is more visually pleasing. I did my best. I think they turned out well. The quilt I made while I was with my grandmother was a Log Cabin, but it was many more squares. The pieces were very tiny. I always felt that that was my best quilt because they were just tiny pieces.

SB: Where is that one now?

BM: It's gone. I gave it to--he was not my fiancé at the time, he was my boyfriend. I gave it to him. When we broke up, I asked him for it back and he said no, that I'd given it to him, it was his. He wanted it. I kept hoping that if he ever got a new girlfriend that he'd be done with it. Whatever. It's gone.

SB: Do you sleep under a quilt?

BM: No. I also have children in and out of my bed. I wouldn't dare to put a quilt on it right now. I have only easily washable items on my bed.

SB: Did you keep any of your quilts or did you give them all away?

BM: I have three, my patchwork, my grandmother's fan and my Variable Star. I have used all of them as covers in the past. [baby gurgles.]

SB: We have to take a baby break here. [tape is turned off.] Now that you have the baby in your arms, I think you just remembered another quilt that you have.

BM: Sure. When I was about probably eight, one of the first things that I ever did that Pauline got me into was embroidering. I forgot about that in the beginning. She had pieces, little animals, to make a baby quilt. So, I started embroidering. I still can remember the first square I ever embroidered was probably four by four. It was of a cat, and the stitching was awful. Anyway, I learned and every time I did a new one it would get better. Over the years I would get an inkling to do a couple of more pieces. Then I just put it away and never finished it until my first child was born, Madelyn. It was in 2007. My mom came down, my stepmom came down to Kentucky to help me. I had already had her, because she came early. We needed a project to work on because for some reason we were lucky, and she was doing some sleeping. We were needing some projects to work on and we finished that quilt. All it took was piecing the pieces together and putting a back on it and tying it. And that was it. So, we finished that. I finished that, finally. It took me, see I was probably eight when I started and I was about twenty-six when I had Madelyn, so about eighteen years.

SB: [laughs.] What makes a quilt appropriate for a museum or a special collection?

BM: I think people that should end up in a museum are those that design their own. Mine are great, I love my Log Cabins, but it's not something I designed myself. I think that's what it takes to get your quilt into a museum.

SB: What makes a great quiltmaker?

BM: Someone, again, that can design. That has an artistic eye, I suppose. That might be able to really know how to play with colors. Something I would never dream of putting together.

SB: How do you feel about machine quilting vs. hand quilting?

BM: [inaudible.] Because my mother-in-law hand quilts. But for me, if there's a machine that can do the same thing faster, I don't understand why, I would always use a machine. I think it's special that my mother-in-law is taking the time to do a hand piece for Madelyn, and probably for Kenzie, too. But she also has more time, maybe.

SB: And you have to wait a while for it. [laughs.]

BM: Right, yeah. It's been about two and a half years.

SB: Yes. What about long arm quilting. Have you had any experience with that?

BM: No, not at all.

SB: Why is quilt making important in your life?

BM: It's something I can do. It's a skill I have. I have the patience for it. I like projects like that where you have an end piece when you're done putting all that time into it.

SB: In what ways do your quilts reflect your community or region? You mentioned Log Cabin, Grandmother's Fan--

BM: I see Log Cabin, I picture that as being in a log cabin home, which is a big part of Vermont, I guess. I was visiting one today, actually. [baby makes noise. tape is turned off.] The last question we were talking about was?

SB: How your quilts reflect your community.

BM: We're Vermonters. When I think of log homes, like the one I was in this morning. It's fall, we're just past peak, the colors were magnificent, the log cabin was up on the top of a hill. The view was the most amazing view I believe I've ever seen with the greens and the yellows and oranges, and the reds, looking out over it for miles and miles and the mountains. That's the kind of home I picture a Log Cabin quilt being in. You know also, a Log Cabin, the center square, I think it's supposed to represent the fireplace in logs in a home. It usually needs to be a square that's a lot brighter or stands out than the rest of the fabrics in your quilt. So that's definitely, to me, a Vermont thing.

SB: What do you think about the importance of quilts in American life?

BM: I think of the history of quilts. Of course, back a long time ago, the quilts were made when you needed one. You didn't go out and buy a blanket, you made a quilt. The quilts were made from fabrics of shirts and old pants and clothing. [baby noise.] Didn't some people even use sacks to make quilt fabrics out of?

SB: Flour bags.

BM: Flour bags.

SB: In what ways do you think quilts have a special meaning for women's history in America? It's like you were saying, they used--

BM: They did what they could. We didn't just go out and purchase a blanket. You didn't just go out and purchase fabric all of the time. It was very expensive. I don't really know all the details of it, but we didn't always have the luxury of even having cotton. At least up here having to use more of the linens and wool. That's, to me, sometimes tricky to work with. Women in history definitely knew how to use their resources. When an adult outgrew or could no longer wear an item, they might cut the fabric down and make a child's piece out of it. When that was finished, they would turn that into a square for a patchwork quilt. They definitely used their resources.

SB: How do you think quilts can be used?

BM: Well, I used to hang a big quilt on my wall. So, they can be used in a decoration. Obviously on a bed. I like putting quilts at the foot of the bed. We used to, even before I started making quilts, another thing I just remembered that I used to make with Pauline were place mats. I made a set of place mats for my aunt one year for Christmas. I drew her name, I guess, out of the hat. I know that she still has them sitting on her coffee tables. I was probably about ten at the time. So that was about twenty years ago. So, quilts can definitely be used for that.

SB: Is that how Pauline first started you in sewing? [both talk at same time.] Doing those little ones?

BM: It's funny. The more I talk the more I remember. Yes. It was sort of the embroidery first, then I even think we made stuffed animals. She had little templates to use. It was just easy sewing; we would turn them inside out. From there we went to making place mats and napkins. That was where I first began doing that.

SB: So, if it wasn't good, you could cut that section off and use something else?

BM: Yeah.

SB: How do you think quilts can be preserved for the future?

BM: We need to keep passing them down, take care of them. I think what we're doing right now is an important part of preserving our quilts. Telling stories of them, finding out about those that made them, and taking pictures of them, taking care of them, keeping them. Storing them appropriately. We're able to do that nowadays.

SB: What has happened to the quilts that you have made for those of friends and family?

BM: The one I made for my dad is on the bed at his cabin in Chelsea. The cabin is based out of the early 1900s. They have no electricity in it, no indoor plumbing, not really. They kind of do, in the kitchen sink. It's there, in their cabin, and it fits really well. The other quilt that I made for my biological mother has never ever been used. It is folded up in a bag. She says she doesn't want to damage it. I would rather she use it, but that's okay. And then the quilts that I've made, my Variable Star, Grandmother's Fan, Patchwork Quilt are all stored right now. They have had their turns on my bed and I'm sure they'll come back out again.

SB: And we know about the one from the fiancé.

BM: Yeah.

SB: What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

BM: [baby noise.] When I go to the fabric store now, I am amazed at how expensive the fabrics are. You can buy cheap fabric, but it's never as pretty, it doesn't really go as well with some of the others. The fact is, you can buy a brand-new bedspread or comforter for cheaper than you can make your own. [baby noise.] At least I've had that experience. They're just made cheap these days. They're easily washed. [laughs.] [baby noise.] I think that's the biggest part, they're manufactured in so many numbers now. [baby noise.]

SB: You've talked about some of the patterns that you've made. Let's talk about the things you'd like to do now, that the girls are getting bigger and you have more time to sew. Since you're choosing to be a stay-at-home mom right now and not teaching. What patterns, what interests you to continue on with your quilt making?

BM: I would like to take a lot of the fabrics that I have, that I've accumulated over the years and maybe make another small patchwork quilt. I have just finished one for Kenzie with some fabrics I bought at Ben Franklin's here in Middlebury [Vermont.] when I was in High School that were on clearance, I think. So, I have a lot of things like that that I could probably make a crazy quilt with. I know it's not quilting but I would like to make clothes for their dolls, someday. And maybe a blanket or two for them.

SB: What are your favorite patterns in quilts that you've seen? You've talked about Pauline's quilts. What are some of the things that stand out in your mind, the patterns you'd use or others in your family might have used?

BM: It seems like there's a maple leaf one or it looks like a maple leaf. I love that. I like the Grandmother's Fan, the one that I made. It looks harder. It looks complex, but it's not so I really like that one.

SB: And you have lace on that too, don't you?

BM: Yeah.

SB: Beth, I want to thank you for your time, and we want to thank the girls for giving us a little time to do this. Is there anything else that you would like to add to this interview?

BM: I don't think so.

SB: Well, thank you for allowing me to interview you today as part of the Quilters' S.O.S. - Save Our Stories project. Our interview concluded at 2:30 p.m., on October 17, 2009.

[interview concludes.]


“Beth Myers,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed June 21, 2024,