Mary Kay (Micki) Batte




Mary Kay (Micki) Batte


Mary Kay Batte discusses a quilt she made for exhibition, completed while she was traveling in the Northwest of the United States. She goes on to discuss the meaning of the quilt for her, and she says that it provides a memory for her about the trip that she took while creating it.




Mary Kay (Micki) Batte


Alice Helms

Interview Date


Interview sponsor

Annabel Ebersole


Arden, North Carolina


Alice Helms (AH): Ok, my name is Alice Helms. Today is September 25, 2011 and I'm conducting an interview with Mary Kay Batté for the Asheville Quilt Guild Quilters' S.O.S Save our Stories project. We're at my home in Asheville, North Carolina and it is 1:35 p.m. Micki, tell me about the quilt you've brought today.

Mary Kay Batté (MB): This is a quilt that I made to put in the Asheville quilt show in 1996. It is hand quilted. The design comes from Trudie Hughes' book On Point--I can't remember the exact name of the book. I did more than one of her designs and I really, really enjoyed working with them. I finished this quilt--it's hand quilted--and I finished it on our way up to Alaska. We were camping. And right before we went over the Canadian border, into Alberta, to get on the Al-Can highway, I shipped it back home from Montana to get it into the show.

AH: So you were sewing in the car?

MB: Quilting. Yeah. And getting the binding on.

AH: Do you do that in a big hoop?

MB: Yep, yeah.

AH: So there you were in the car with a big hoop.

MB: And I wasn't driving.

[both laugh]

AH: Obviously, that's awkward. So, what special meaning does the quilt have for you?

MB: I don't really know if it has any special meaning except for the memory that it does bring, that we were on our way to Alaska and we did that trip. And that was just a wonderful, wonderful experience. Going up and camping all the way up through the Yukon and camping all the way into Alaska. And going back down the Prince Edward--oh, I can't remember the name of that highway. All I remember is that it was muddy.

AH: Good thing you didn't have the quilt with you then. So why don't you just describe it, the color, the patterns, the shapes?

MB: Well, it's called "Vineyard Stars." Because the fabric is the leaves and the grapes of a vineyard. I love the purple and the turquoise together--that just turned my heart on. I thought it was such a beautiful, beautiful combination. So that's why it's called "Vineyard Stars."

AH: And is it machine pieced?

MB: Yes. Yes, it is machine pieced and hand quilted.

AH: Did you use templates for the shapes or?

MB: No. With Trudy Hughes, you don't use templates. That's why I was attracted to her. It's all rotary cut. She has you cut strips and then the diagonals. That's her whole technique. It goes very rapidly. I really enjoyed it.

AH: So, how long did it take you to make it? Well the piecing probably took not too long.

MB: About two or three weeks.

AH: But the quilting…?

MB: The quilting. That's such a hard question to answer because you put it down and walk away from it and come back to it.

AH: You're not punching a time clock.

MB: Exactly. Maybe a year. Like I say, that's a real, real difficult question to ask. I've got some quilts that are ten years in the making because I just put 'em down and walked away from 'em.

AH: And how would you describe the quilting pattern? Is there a name for this?

MB: Well, there's little flowers, there's the wreath pattern, and then I did diagonal lines to accentuate the stars. I liked it, I liked the open area because I do enjoy hand quilting and that could really show off the quilting.

AH: It really does show it off. You have beautiful tiny stitches.

MB: Thank you.

AH: What do you think someone viewing your quilt might conclude about you?

MB: I don't know. That's an interesting question. That I do tiny stitches [laughs]. This was kind of a--getting into quilting, this was kind of a first step into using color. Because I'm a little bit afraid of color. My husband's always saying 'your quilts are beautiful but you don't do the same in your clothing. You're always wearing black and browns.' I really stepped out of the box with this one, for me, and I went even further--as I showed you--with a couple of the other quilts I've made.

AH: So this was made in 1996. So that was a while back actually. How do you use the quilt now?

MB: It's stored. You know, they say you should sleep under every quilt one time and you'll know if it's a good quilt or a bad quilt by the dreams you have. And I had nightmares under this quilt. I've only slept under it one night and have not slept under it since and have not allowed anybody else to sleep under it. So I have an old antique glass showcase at home and it's stored in that. I pull it out and refold it every now and then.

AH: So what are your plans for it in the future?

MB: I guess somebody will get it. Like I say, it's a little creepy to me. I'm not sure I want to give it to anybody to sleep under. It's very superstitious I know.

AH: Maybe that's just your experience. Maybe someone else…

MB: Well that could be. Wanna try?

[both laugh]

AH: Ok, tell me about your interest in quiltmaking? What age were you when you started?

MB: I was an adult. It was in 1983. I was in my forties maybe, thirties. My girlfriend--I was working full time down in Florida--my girlfriend called me and told me she had found a place where we could learn quilting. And I thought 'you're out of your mind,' because I had another friend that had taken up quilting and I walked out of her house thinking 'you've got to be kidding me.' 'I cannot work on a quilt for years and years.' But I went, she never did another thing and I was hooked. I was absolutely hooked. I joined a little bee down there. I love it because of the networking with other women. I think that's, that has been the best part of quilting. The people I've met, the women I've met. When you retire, and you've been in a high stress job with very intelligent people, you get a little nervous about that. You wonder if you're ever going to have that give and take again. And that has absolutely happened with quilting and with the women I associate with now in Asheville. I work with very, very demanding women that have wonderful sense of humor, that are strict with how they want things done, and have intelligence. I really, really enjoy that part of it. The friends I've made.

AH: So back in the 80s in Florida, there were a lot of active quilters?

MB: Oh yes, Florida's big. I was really very surprised.

AH: I guess I would think, you know it's Florida, it's hot. They don't need blankets. [laughs]

MB: I know. Well you fold 'em up and put 'em away. No, people do use the quilts. Florida can get quite chilly in the winter.

AH: So you learned how to quilt, it was just a beginning quilt class at a shop.

MB: Yep. The first quilt I did, I did the same thing everybody else does. I went out and bought 5,000 yards of fabric and just went absolutely crazy. Nothing matched anything else, I didn't really know what I was doing. I took a color class which was the best thing for me. And things started kind of settling into place. The first quilt I made was a queen size. Actually, I shouldn't say that. I made several small quilts. The first big one I made, I made for my husband. And on the back it says 'thanks for supporting my fabric habit.'
[both laugh]

AH: Does he still have it?

MB: Yeah. Oh yeah.

AH: So it's about 30 years old? Or 25?

MB: Goodness. It didn't get finished for about ten years.

AH: Do you still like it?

MB: Yeah.

AH: So you liked it then and you still like it. That's good. So, how many hours a week do you quilt?

MB: Not enough. It seems like something is always coming up. I plan--my plan for this month is once I get through our quilt show--our quilt show is coming up, once I get through that and get through my husband's birthday, then I'm going to be sitting down and doing some quilting. My grandkids on the other hand…[laughs]

AH: So it's just whenever you can.

MB: Right. And I do knit too so that takes up a lot of time.

AH: Micki, what is your first quilt memory?

MB: My first quilt memory. Probably when I walked in on my girlfriend and she told me she was going to make a quilt. I was raised in Florida so quilting was not in my background. Actually, a few years ago I found out that my great-grandmother was a quilter. I did not know that. And there is a quilt out there that she made, but I didn't get it. I'm a little disappointed in that. But hopefully it has a good home.

AH: Oh, ok. So you didn't have quilts when you were a child?

MB: No, no. Like you said, we lived in Florida. And there was no air conditioning back then.

AH: But your great grandmother was a quilter? Did she live in Florida?

MB: She lived in New York. My mom's from there.

AH: Oh, ok. Too bad you couldn't have known her.

MB: Yeah.

AH: How does quiltmaking impact your family?

MB: [laughs] Financially. I think… how does it impact my family? Well, the fact that I have a whole room to myself probably impacts the family. And anybody that comes to visit, all the grandkids have to sleep up in the quilting room so things just kind of get shoved aside so they have room on the floor. The other way that it impacts the family is that all but--I have seven grandkids, and all but two have made their own quilt. Including the boys. So I think that's the biggest impact, that the kids know what quilts are and they appreciate the quilts. In fact, I just had a grandson come visit this morning. I dragged him up here one year when he was about 16 years old. I told him I would fly him up, but he had to work the quilt show. When I mentioned to him that the quilt show was coming up next week and he said 'I am ignoring you. I am never talking to you about quilt shows.' Because I worked his little fanny off. So I don't think he's gonna come over for the show.

AH: He's not hooked.

MB: He's not hooked. He's one of the ones who has never made his own quilt. But they all have a quilt that I've made.

AH: So you were quilting before they were born. So your grandchildren have all grown up with you quilting.

MB: Right, they all know how to work the sewing machine, they've all played with fabric.

AH: While we're on the subject, why don't you describe the room that you quilt in?

MB: It's an upstairs loft. It had a design wall. I had to take it down but I can put it back up. It's kind of portable. I have my cutting board set up, fabric
is organized by color in the closet when it's not spread out on the floor. I have a bookcase that holds several quilts and my quilting books. I play music up there, sometimes watch TV, and play with fabric.

AH: So it's everything you'd want it to be, it sounds like.

MB: Yeah. Yeah.

AH: And you have a design wall?

MB: I do, I do. It kind of comes up and goes down. When I have company, I kind of jerk it down because it's not the most attractive thing. [laughs]

AH: Micki, have you ever used quilts to get through a difficult time?

MB: Umm…. I don't even know how to answer that. [pause for 2 seconds] I've had, I've used my quilting, the ability to facilitate quilting to help others. But not necessarily myself yet. Well, actually I take that back. Yes. When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, the first thing I had to do, I had to make her a quilt. And I knew I didn't have much time. So I put together a top and I tied a quilt for her. I didn't have time to quilt it. And I took it down with me to Florida. And I lived with her for her last 3 months. And she slept under that quilt in her last days. Another thing, I lost a friend recently to ALS. I went over to the house right after she passed and her friends had gotten her prepared to be taken. And when she was taken from the house, she was under her favorite quilt. That made us all feel really good. It was just such a comforting thing. That they did that instead of what they would normally do.

AH: And was it a quilt that she had made?

MB: Yes.

AH: I've never heard that before. That's a wonderful idea. What do you like most about quilting?

MB: I like the handwork. And I do like making the tops. I've never caught on to machine quilting, I'm not good at it. I know that, so, since I do like making the tops and I don't seem to have enough time in my life to do hand quilting as much as I'd like to, I make the tops and I get them machine quilted now.

AH: Uh huh. You pay someone to do a longarm.

MB: Right.

AH: So, I think you just told me what you do not enjoy. Machine quilting, right? So, what groups do you belong to?

MB: I belong to Beaucatcher Quilting Bee, which is the oldest bee in Asheville. I think they've been around, gosh they've been around since the mid 70s I believe. And actually a lot of the charter members of the Asheville Quilt Guild were members of Beaucatcher. The guild from that bee. And then I belong to the Guild. And no others.

AH: So what do you do at the Beaucatcher's Bee? How often do they meet?

MB: They meet once a week. You just sit around with a bunch of women and talk. There's no structure, there's no special special projects. People work on their own projects, get a little help if you're getting ready to baste a quilt, you always have a crew there to help with the basting. So that's good. And eat. Lots of good food.

AH: Do people bring machines?


AH: So it's all handwork.

MB: All handwork.

AH:But you have tables that you can use for sandwiching quilts.

MB: Right.

AH: So you meet weekly? That's nice.

MB: Yep. I don't always get there, but they do meet weekly. [laughs] I always go to the first of the month though. That's when the food's there.

AH: Oh, is it a potluck?

MB: Yes. And Southern women know how to cook.

AH: So tell me about the Asheville Quilt Guild? How long have you been a member?

MB: I've been a member since 1994. We moved here--we moved to Asheville in 1993 and I joined in 1994. It was a smaller guild when I first joined, it
had 125 members off and on. And then in one year it exploded, it doubled. When the baby boomers retired. The guild is active in a lot of community efforts. I think they made something like--and you can correct me if I'm wrong--over 300 quilts were given to the community this year. The guild also hosts the Asheville Quilt Show. Which has just gotten bigger and bigger. When I first joined we held it in the gymnasium at the Carolina Day School. I was chair the last year we did that and we could barely move in there. Then we were invited out to the North Carolina Arboretum and now we've outgrown that. So we have moved to the Ag Center this year and see how that works. But it's a very, very active guild. Very diverse. I think that we are beginning to cover the spectrum of not only traditional but art quilts. And also age groups. I've noticed that we're getting a lot of younger members. I think that's a good thing, a very, very good thing. Because I'd hate to see quilting die out again like it did in the 50s and 60s.

AH: Do you think that this area has maybe more active quilters than some other parts of the country? Or even parts of the state of North Carolina?

MB: I think it does because good quilters like to live in the mountains too. It's like the medical community. We have a great medical community because good doctors like to live in the mountains. Obviously quilting has been in the Appalachian mountains for a very long time.. But I think the reason it's grown so much in the last 10 to 15 years is because of all the women--and men--coming to the mountains to retire and then working on their art.

AH:Did you belong to a guild when you lived in Florida?

MB: No, I did not. I belonged to a bee. We were called the Black Sheep.

[both laugh]

MB: We all worked. We met at night once a week. We wanted to get away from structure, we didn't want any organization. There were about 15 of us. We met at the school once a week. Didn't have a president, any of that stuff. We didn't want it because that's what we were trying to escape from, during the day.

AH: Do you think it's important to have organizations like the Guild, like the Asheville Quilt Guild,as well as smaller groups?

MB: Yes. I know a big group like ours can be very intimidating. I know it was for me when I first walked in. And I think the bees, especially if you're new to the area or new to quilting, I think getting into a smaller group where there are mentors who will help you and encourage you, is what gets lost in a big guild. Although, you do have the wonderful teachers that come in and speak. Those women and men are wonderful, but they can be very intimidating. So I think the bees are extremely important.

AH: And there are a lot of bees in this area too, I've noticed.[pause] Maybe we've already answered this, but do you have a favorite technique that you work with?

MB: Well, I like contemporary fabrics, geometric patterns, applique is not my thing. I'm so glad some people like to do it so I can look at it. I'm not the least bit interested in trying it. And I kind of like to explore that and go more contemporary than I have. But that opportunity hasn't come up yet. But it will.

AH: What do you think makes a great quilt?

MB: I know what the judges think makes a great quilt. I think what makes a great quilt is the love that goes into it. My granddaughter was here this summer, and we did a local shop hop. She went on the shop hop with us and almost broke the bank buying fabric. A few days later my husband and I were invited out to dinner. She's 14 years old and I said 'do you mind being left here by yourself?.' She said 'no that's fine.' I had cut up her fabric for her, and when we got home that night she was done. She had a lap quilt done. Finished. And she is just so excited about it. And so pleased with herself. And I think that maybe that's what makes a great quilt, the pride that it brings to the quiltmaker. Like I said, I know what the judges think makes a great quilt.

AH:[interrupts] And they don't measure that quality do they?

MB:[interrupts] Right. No.

AH: That's the unknowable to a judge. Judging an anonymous person's quilt.

MB: Exactly. But I like--if they're wonky, that's fine. It's the pride. That the quiltmaker has in herself..

AH: What do you think makes a great quiltmaker?

MB: Somebody that likes chocolate and red wine.
[both laugh]

MB: I guess that's up to the individual person. I enjoy sharing the work I do. I've facilitated classes out at Camp Bluebird--I don't know if we've talked about that already--which is a retreat for cancer patients. I've done that for years. They have one quilt that survived the fire. It was in the fire that we had here recently. I have it at the house airing it out. The people came in, they were not quiltmakers and didn't know what they were doing but we used Wonder Under and they made the most fabulous quilt. Each block is very, very individual and we are doing a second quilt right now. We are going to be tying it. Campers did the first quilt in 1998, and then we did other things, but for the past two years they have been working on blocks. Those blocks have been assembled and they're going to be tying those quilts. It's the memories of the people and what they're going through that they show. Another thing that I've gotten involved in is organ donating. The families of organ donors make quilt blocks in honor of the donor. Every year LifeShare has a dinner that brings these families together. I have taken it on to put those blocks into small wall hangings that areshown around Asheville.

AH: This is a local group?

MB: Mmm hmm. It's LifeShare at Mission Hospital.

AH: Oh, ok.

MB: And the blocks will tug at your heart. They really will. And they go from--I think the youngest organ donor is 10 and the oldest is in his 60s. So you can be an organ donor for a long, long time.

AH: So, what do you think--why do you think quilting appeals to people who have suffered a tragedy? A disease or a medical tragedy?

MB: I don't know if--I think it's a way of expressing yourself and the feelings that you're feeling. And the fact that quilts last. They go into history. People take care of quilts and they'll be here long after we're gone. I love going into antique stores and finding a really nice quilt and you wonder about the quiltmaker. I've brought a few of those home, just because I can't stand to see them sitting in the store.

AH: [laughs] I know. It's not right. So undignified.
[both laugh]

MB: I think they need a home.

AH: I agree. Are there any quilters whose works you're particularly fond of or drawn to?

MB: Well, let's face it. We have some of the best quiltmakers in the United States right here in Asheville. We are so lucky. I love the humor of Linda Cantrell's, and the precision work of Barbara Swinea is amazing. I've been lucky enough to call her a friend and been out in her studio and seen her work and learned so much from her. And she's been a great, great mentor and she's encouraged me quite a bit. As far as, far-flung, I think any quilter that gets to finish her quilt and be proud of it is amazing. And if you don't finish it, that's ok too. I've sent an awful lot of UFOs to Goodwill hoping that somebody else will pick 'em up and continue on.

AH: Well that's interesting.

MB: I don't hang on to the quilt in progress if it isn't working. Because if I do, I get bogged down in it. And if I'm tired of the fabric or it doesn't talk to me anymore, I don't let them sit there. I just let them go. I go through my fabric stash about once a year and get rid of stuff that I know I'll never, never use.

AH: So maybe once someone sees that unfinished quilt top in Goodwill they think the same thing you do you see an antique quilt. [laughs]

MB: Could be.

AH: Hopefully they take it home and they finish it so that it's a cycle. [pause] Why is quiltmaking important to your life?

MB: Again, because of the connections. The networking. I don't know, if we had moved to Asheville--my husband actually came home, he was born here--if we had moved to Asheville and I hadn't had quilting I'm not really quite sure how I would have made the connections I've made, the friends I've made. And I think you probably feel the same way.

AH: Yes.I do.

MB:It's real important. Especially fabric shopping together. [laughs]

AH: What has happened to the quilts you've made your friends and family? Do you know?

MB: Well, most of 'em. I actually saw my 23 year old granddaughter's baby quilt when I went to visit her in Texas the last week and it's very, very fragile and thin but it's still there. I made a quilt for a real, real good friend who was having her first grandchild and they were so excited. They camp with us. I made my friend a quilt so she could keep it in the camper and her granddaughter--it turned out to be her granddaughter--could always have a quilt in the camper. Well, apparently her granddaughter took it home when she was a toddler. And as I understand it, it has about 6 inches square left of it. She has loved that thing to death. But luckily her aunt took up quilting so now she has some new quilts.
AH: Uh huh Do you worry about the quilts you've given to people?

MB: [interrupts] No. The only thing I ask is that don't take them to the beach. Other than that, it's not mine anymore. Once you give it away you give it away.

AH: And you think it should be used.

MB: Oh, absolutely. The antique quilts I buy I use on the beds. Yeah, they absolutely should be used, and loved, and hugged, and cuddled. I make all the kids, when they graduate from high school, a quilt. And I put on the label, any time you're feeling lonesome just crawl under these. And baby quilts. I've made baby quilts for my nieces and nephews and I put on the label--because people will take those quilts you make for the baby and put them away. I say that this is for them to sit upon, play upon, do anything they want to upon it. It's their quilt.

AH: Good. What do you think is the biggest challenge confronting quiltmakers today?

MB: Wow. Trying to find unique designs. And, I don't know if there are any challenges that are insurmountable. Where these women and men have taken quilting has just astounded me. When we got into it, it was just this kind of stuff. And now there are embellishments, and designs, and techniques. I think the only challenge is your imagination. You're only limited by that.

AH: Right. Ok, well I think we've come to the end of our questions here. Is there anything else on your mind about quilting that you'd like to add to this?

MB: No, I think you covered it.

AH: Ok.

MB: Thank you, for the opportunity. I appreciate it.

AH: Thank you, Micki. This concludes our interview and it is now 2:07 p.m.



“Mary Kay (Micki) Batte,” Quilters' S.O.S. -- Save Our Stories, accessed April 16, 2024,