Physically, it started in 1986 when I was a young mother, but the roots go back further. It really started with a startling splash of color…red, purple, yellow and black are the most memorable colors radiating from the center of a Lone Star or as some people know it, the Star of Bethlehem. I don’t remember the first time I saw the quilt. It was my mother’s quilt and it was made for her by her paternal grandmother, my great-grandmother Rebecca Shaffer McGee.
Rebecca, “Becky” McGee was called BoBo by her grandchildren. She was born late in 1874 in Lawrence County, Tennessee, the daughter of George Washington Shaffer and Margaret Minerva Kelly Shaffer. BoBo was quite the woman of her time…a testament that strong women have always existed. There was no need for BoBo to declare “women’s liberation”…she had nothing to be liberation from…just life to live. She was a midwife in Lawrence County, and from what I understand delivered most of her grandchildren. She had a green thumb she passed on to many of her descendents…my mom included. I have vague memories of BoBo. I was very young the last time I saw her and she was in a wheelchair by then. BoBo left us in 1971 at the age of 97, leaving behind many fond memories and a large family that loved her.
In my eyes, BoBo was an artist…a textile artist…a folk artist…call her what you want, but an artist none the less, weaving together her colors and cloth to create memories and magic. I seem to recall hearing she made a least one Lone Star quilt for each of her grandchildren. I’ve seen my mother’s and aunts’. It was my mom’s…that wonderful splash of color that inspired me at some point in my life…instilled in me that desire to quilt…so, in a roundabout, long distant way, BoBo was my muse.
So, with that said, back to my day in 1986…it was late fall. I was still living in my first house and renovations had been going on for several years. Back then I was quite the “do-it you-self-er”…maybe traces of my great-grandmother in me…who knows, but, I’ve climbed scaffolding as least two stories high to paint the outside of the house. I’ve also painted the outside of the house by droplight at night time…just to “get `er done”. One of my most vivid memories is sitting on the scaffold late one dark night, painting the frame of the living room window. The droplight was the only thing I had to share my thoughts when all of a sudden there was a loud boom and the whole house shook and the window rattled. I jumped down off the scaffold and my ex and I met each other about half way in the middle of the yard, both wondering what had happened, but not knowing. We had to wait until the next day to find out. Evidently an unusually large meteor had streaked across the southeastern US and left a visual impression and a sonic impression. We had missed the visual impression because of the generous tree canopy in our yard.
In 1986, we had put parquet in part of the house and for some reason, I decided that was a good time to learn how to quilt. Yes, Virginia, I am a self-taught quilter…kinda sorta…more on that later… I had been kind of “crafty” up to that point. I had done the macramé thing, the crochet thing and I had gotten quite good at counted cross-stitch, even to the point of incorporating some of my pieces into pillows, etc. As a result, I had some resources at my fingertips that eventful weekend. Because quilting had been in the back of my mind, I even had a book or two lying around on the subject. (I was “self-taught” in a lot of things because when you have limited resources you learn to do them yourself and save the cost of paying some one else to do it for you.)
So, I did a little research, picked a pattern I thought would be good for a first-timer and jumped in with…both feet! The pattern of choice was the Rail Fence…it seemed simple enough, and I decided on a small wall hanging size. I knew this much…I would say I had some conceptions, but knowing what I know now about quilting, I’d have to say I had some misconceptions. I knew there was a top, something in the middle, and a back part. I thought your stitches had to be big and had to be been seen (“toe catchers” as they’re called) …I have big ol’ bodacious knots on the back and I folded the back towards the front for my binding. But, when I was finished with that puppy, I was one more proud gal. I made hanging loops, attached them to the top, got a café rod and for years that wall hanging hung in my bedroom.
Years later as my quilting progressed and refined I would look at my first little project and wince…but, later, I began to look at it with a different eye. I had learned that just about everything I had done was wrong…but, it was my start, my jumping off point…and I also saw some things I did right. The main thing…I began!
I began to get involved in the local quilting communities. I began by visiting my local quilt shop and I realized that using the best tools that I could afford was to my advantage. The women at the shop were very helpful and had pointers and guidance. Next, I got involved in quilt guilds, a great resource for quilters. Then, in November 1991 I got up the nerve to enter my first quilt show…one of the best known in the area I was living in at the time. I entered several quilts and would have been delight with an honorable mention. Needless to say, I was floored when I walked in the last day of the show to view the show and be there to pick up my quilts. Hanging on all of my quilts were ribbons…and one was a best of show! Well, that was like giving drugs to a junkie…and I was hooked.
I stayed active in the quilting community for a long time…up until my last cancer and my auto-immune disorders continued to run amok. I was the co-founder and President of the Heart of Dixie Quilter’s Guild in Birmingham, AL and was the establishing editor of their newsletter. It was while at the Heart of Dixie that an old friend made reappearance from time to time…my first wall hanging. As new quilters and beginners came to the guild, I would hear them talk in awe and sometimes discouragement about their own quilting. They would say things like…”my stitches are so big” “my quilting will never look like your’s” and so on. So, on occasion, I would bring out my trusty little first project and give a talk on “Here’s where I started…and here’s where I am…” In a way that little wall hanging has kept me rooted…and kept me humble.
Quilting has given me a lot…added a lot to my life. For example, in the 1990’s when things were so unstable in the Middle East and the Gulf War started, I’ll never forget watching a war start and seeing it brought into my home, in “living color”, in real time, to the dinner table. It was surreal. Not like the radio and news reel days of WWII of my parents or even film clips of Viet Nam on the evening news of my teenage years. No, we watched as Bernie Shaw, Peter Arnett and the late John Holliman broadcast as the bombs dropped…we saw the anti-aircraft streak through a dark sky on the other side of the world…while we had chicken casserole and English peas.
I sat at a frame working on a quilt in the family room at the time, and as the news played on minute by minute, hour by hour, threat by threat, bomb by bomb, I sat at the frame…stitch by stitch. My ex was pacing the floor, popping Rolaids like M & M‘s. He finally turned to me and asked, “How can you sit there and do that?” My mind and heart were crying “How can I not be doing this?” So, I answered him, “This is what keeps me sane…what keeps me calm and normal.” The quilting had a calming, rhythmic motion…like rocking a baby. My ex decided maybe he needed to learn how to quilt and so, during the Gulf War, a new quilter was born. I found a stencil for a ten inch block, traced it off, sandwiched it together and basted it, gave him some hand quilting lessons and he was off. He quilted he way through the war…
A few years later, quilting brought me my best friend…Robin. She had seen some information on the guild, called me about it, came for a visit, liked it and the rest is history. Robin is one of those what you see is what you get kind of people and I love her for that. She’ll try anything…legal…at least once and if she sets her mind to something…hold on!! Robin’s sense of humor is one that even Hollywood couldn’t match…it’s priceless. Think…umm…Lewis Grizzard, Jeff Foxworthy, Sweet Potato Queens, Grace Under Fire and Cold Sassy Tree rolled into one wonderful package.
When I met her, she worked in surgical records, but she was going to school, and did for several years…and now she’s an elementary school teacher. Some people may wonder how we got to be friends…I guess we’re the right juxtaposition. We just clicked…I’m the self professed “girly-girly”…I’m fru-fru…I love bling; Robin has run her own dairy, and in her own words, “put on hip boots and shoveled…” well, you get the picture…the gal can clean a barn!
Robin just happened to be at the hospital the day the HMO decided it was time to kick me out one week to the day after I had had 60% of my left lung removed because of cancer. I was running a fever that day, and my surgeon had decided to go out of town and leave me a mild pain reliever…no antibiotic. The staples had not been removed from my incision and just overall, there was chaos in my room. As the nurse removed my staples, Robin couldn’t help but see the incision…I was cut front to back from just under my left breast around my side all the way onto my back almost to my spinal column. It was an identical incision I had to my first surgery in 1982 on my right side. When Robin saw what I was going through, in typical Robin fashion…and using a quilting metaphor…she said, “Well, Beverly, now you have matching seams!” I’ve told Robin on more than one occasion that she is an answer to prayer.
When I went through a difficult divorce in 2001, I found it hard to quilt at first. I had taught my ex to quilt, had collaborated with him on several projects, helped him on many of his projects, bound each of his projects for him and we had gained certain notoriety in our area as a quilting couple. After I meet my current husband something wonderful happened. We courted long distance and as we got to know each other one thing he did was to encourage me to start quilting again. I found a project I had started and got to work on it and over the course of time I finished it…with a renewed fervor for my art. I finished the quilt after we married…it took me that long…I had a few detours…but I dedicated the quilt to him…my new muse for quilting and writing. It’s the first of my finished Maverick series, entitled: Maverick I: To New Mexico.
So…why do I quilt? Well, other than the above reasons? Its part of me…it’s who I am…it’s what I do. I love the feel of the fabric, the feeling of accomplishment after I finish a project. I love the planning, the design, the color, the way the scissors cut the fabric, the way I can put on good music and think while I quilt…and with that said, I guess its `nuff said.