A Virtual Tour With Shiela Betterton

Last week, we went outside with Jean Wells, and now we’re going to England with Shiela Betterton.

I have to admit, I didn’t know about Shiela before I started volunteering at the Hall of Fame.  But now that I know her, I feel we would have been kindred spirits—both accidental volunteers, and both taken up in quilt study. Shiela’s interest in quilts came from her volunteer work at the American Museum in Bath, England.  She apparently wandered in one day while taking her young daughters out in their “pram”, and returned many times to enjoy the displays of decorative arts from America.  Not long after, she developed a special interest in quilts and volunteered as a docent. You can read how she went on to develop the quilt collection at the American Museum and become its first textile curator, traveled abroad to study quilts, and shared her knowledge of quilts in four books; go to Honoree section of the Hall of Fame  website: https://quiltershalloffame.net/shiela-betterton/

This is Shiela on the left, storing quilts in an armoire in the New Orleans Room at the American Museum.

You can compare the current storage system at the Museum (note the nice shot of a Marie Webster French Basket quilt) here: https://americanmuseum.org/2013/07/quilt-display-and-storage-at-the-museum/  

The Quilt Index has an article written by Shiela in 1994 describing the then-current collection. You can find it here: http://www.quiltindex.org/~quilti/docs/Vol3_no1-compressed.pdf Scroll through to page 14 and Shiela will tell you in her own words what she thought was important at the Museum. Or if you’re curious to know what she said about “royal” quilts and quilters, there’s this article http://www.quiltindex.org/journals/article.php?Akid=2-B-19

Shiela was a professional friend of another Honoree, Helen Kelley.  They shared not only a love of quilts, but also fueled each other’s interest in Navajo textiles.  You may remember that I told you the Hall of Fame received Kelley’s extensive book collection of Native American art; Betterton also found numerous Native American objects and photos in the American Museum collection, and wrote a book on the subject.

I would love to see the correspondence between those two on these subjects! (Yes, they lived in a time of letter-writing, and given international postage rates, it was on onion skin paper, so it’s probably hard to read now –if it still exists.) Do you remember Helen’s postcard quilts?  According to Helen’s husband, Bill, the image on this one is Shiela Betterton. Can you see it?

Kelley, Helen. France. Dated in embroidery at LR. From Minnesota Quilters Inc., . Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=49-7E-11F8. Accessed: 05/24/2020

No discussion of Shiela Betterton is complete without some information about the American Museum, so here’s our virtual visit.  Opened in 1961, the Museum bills itself as “The only museum of American decorative and folk art outside the United States”.  It’s housed in Claverton Manor, “beautifully situated above the valley of the Avon and commanding delightful views over a most attractive county. The mansion contains a noble entrance hall, a suite of lofty and elegant reception rooms; in all 20 bed and dressing rooms and every domestic arrangement, suitable for a large establishment; …” (from an 1869 for sale advertisement in the Times). 

You can read the whole history here: https://americanmuseum.org/about-the-museum/history/the-history-of-claverton-manor/ And here’s what it looks like today.

In addition to furnishings, other textiles, folk art, Native American objects, and other Decorative arts, the Museum currently has a collection of about 250 American quilts.  This includes a lovely Baltimore Album quilt, and the Mimosa Hall Plantation Chalice quilt made circa 1860 by slaves in Texas for the use of the Anglican bishop of New Orleans during his visit to the plantation.

I don’t know how technologically proficient Shiela was, but the Museum’s website is a delight, and she would have loved the access it gives—sharing quilts and other art with the world. Poke around and you’ll find the Baltimore Album and Chalice quilts. And there are quite a few interesting blog posts about quilts, including one about Red Cross quilts of World War I here: https://americanmuseum.org/2020/05/red-cross-quilts-from-wwi/   These are two of the ten Red Cross Quilts in the museum collection.

Or, if your taste tends to more modern, you can go down the rabbit hole of posts about the 1994 Kaffe Fasset exhibit there. Read them all if you have time;  there are great photos in each post. It seems that Kaffe came to live in Britain in the early 1960s, and stayed in Bath.  That began a long association with the American Museum, where he was inspired by the Museum’s diverse collections – especially its many antique quilts. His first exhibit there was in 1994.  Read more about the exhibit thirty years later here https://americanmuseum.org/whats-on/full-events-listing/current-exhibitions/kaffe-2014-the-colourful-world-of-kaffe-fassett/  Here’s a teaser photo to get you started, and another one of the current Kaffe Corner.

I hope you enjoyed this Museum “tour”; it makes you want to see more than the Pump Room the next time you are in Bath, doesn’t it? If you get there, be sure to remember the legacy of Honoree Shiela Betterton.

Your quilting friend,


If You Can’t Get Outside, Take a Page from Jean Wells

It’s a rainy day here and I wouldn’t be outside even without the stay-at-home order.  So it’s a good day for a “visit” with Jean Wells.

Honoree Jean Wells Keenan has a birthday coming up on Saturday (May 23rd). Wish her a happy day on her Facebook page. You may know her as the founder of the Sisters Quilt Show in Oregon—more about that later—or as the author of nearly 30 quilt books.  If you don’t know her and want a quick bio, read here: https://quiltershalloffame.net/jean-wells/.

Early in my quilting journey, I discovered two of her early books. I was fascinated by her use of color and her interpretation of nature. She could turn a simple quilt into mixed berry delight or a field of flowers. These three books, with photos by her daughter, Valori, transported me out of my quilting room and into a beautiful outside world.

Since you’re probably stuck inside, you may enjoy a little of the flavor of those books on Jean’s blog: https://stitchinpostinsisters.typepad.com/stitchin_post_in_sisters/jean-wells/  Or, here are two garden quilts made for one of the books.

Here’s one of my first quilts, made after the Salad quilt in Through the Garden Gate.  I was just starting with the idea of color, and was proud of myself for “planting” eggplant, corn and carrots in my straight furrows. Clearly, I didn’t capture Jean’s sensibilities, but at least I moved away from my usual early two- and three-color palette.

I called it “Mary, Mary, How Does Your Garden Grow?”, and gave it to my sister-in-law who is a Master Gardener.

But, enough about me. 

Many of the quilts in her books are made by others, but Jean is also a prolific quilter herself.  Here’s one where she got the color right and introduced the interesting technique of portrait applique, as explained on the Quilt Index:

“Applique Techniques-The quiltmaker used her originated technique called the “Portrait Method” where a smaller version of the larger quilt is constructed and backed (using a pillowcase edge finish) and then applied to the surface of the large quilt at specific locations. In this quilt, the “portraits” are applied with an invisible applique stitch through the backing fabric only, onto the large quilt, all around the portrait perimeter. This effect causes the quilt design to look as if it is floating above the surface of the quilt. This gives depth and dimension through light, shadow, and texture. “ Wells Keenan, Jean. Hidden Stone. c.2010. From Oregon Quilt Project, Oregon Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=6A-FD-146. Accessed: 05/17/2020

I can’t imagine making the large version of this, let alone several minis to add on.  But obviously, I’m not Jean Wells, nor was meant to be. Take the time to see more of Jean’s work at https://jeanwellsquilts.com/gallery.html

As you could see from her gallery, Jean currently seems to gravitate to “art” quilts, and here are several of her more recent books.

But she also wrote books for more traditional quilters, especially in her “Patchwork Quilts Made Easy “ series.  Here’s a quilt she designed for her book “Buttonhole Stitch-Applique”.

Wells Keenan, Jean. Pine Meadow. c.1995. From Oregon Quilt Project, Oregon Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=6A-FD-152. Accessed: 05/17/2020

The mountains in that quilt give me a segue to the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show founded by Wells in 1975.  A few years ago it was reported that the show had grown to an average annual attendance of 12,500 with an estimated economic impact in the Sisters area of $1.7 million per year.  For 45 years the event has blanketed the entire town with up to 1,400 quilts.  It’s on my bucket list and you can see why from these photos:

Like so many things, the actual show is cancelled this year, but will be held as a virtual event.

45th Annual Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show–Reimagined for Saturday July 11, 2020 
Press release at https://www.soqs.org/covid19

Over the years, Jean has taught hundreds, maybe thousands (not even including that first class of 9th grade boys). One of her techniques is taking a traditional block and getting her students to spark it up.  Another is to use pure color (that’s where I went wrong) You can get a glimpse into Jean’s teaching technique by reading about one of her classes here http://karenquilt.blogspot.com/2012/06/jean-wells-keenan-comes-to-lopez.html.   and here http://karenquilt.blogspot.com/2012/06/jean-wells-keenen-visits-lopez-ii.html.  I want to sign up.

The Quilters Hall of Fame Collection has this article that starts with the New York Beauty block.

I’d be happy to be able to achieve either of those settings, but look what others have been inspired by Jean to create.

“I was inspired by Cynthia Mumford’s quilt “Cats in the Garden”. She made her quilt in 2007. In her Q.S.O.S. interview in 2011 she said she was inspired by Jean Wells’ quilt, “Paradise in the Garden” which was featured in the book “Garden Inspired Quilts” by Jean Wells and Valori Wells in 2002. I would love to know who inspired Jean Wells to make her quilt. “ Hoffman, JoAnn. Inspire. June 1, 2014. From Quilt Alliance, Inspired By. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=1-6-30C. Accessed: 05/17/2020

I think I know who inspired Jean Wells: it’s always Mother Nature.

Your Quilting friend,


What’s it Like to Have a Career in Textiles? Ask Gail van der Hoof

I often think that, had I enjoyed a wider world view when I was young, I would have come to quilts much earlier than I did. As a 1950s child of the steel mill area of Chicago’s South Side, I knew no one who had quilts—it was chenille spreads for us .  And I certainly had no idea that it was possible to study textiles or to get academic training as a museum curator. I wouldn’t say my youth was wasted (my English major gave me the life-long pleasures of reading and writing) but I look with a little envy at people like Honoree Gail van der Hoof whose lives took a very different direction.

Gail is known in the quilt world as the partner of another Honoree, Jonathan Holstein; in 1971 they co-curated a ground-breaking exhibit of quilts at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  They are credited with changing the perspective of quilts as home goods/decorative arts into “real” art to be hung on walls. The 50th anniversary of that exhibit is coming up and I’ll write more about it later, but here are some images of quilts in the exhibit;  they were collected by van der Hoof and Holstein and are all now at the International Quilt Museum in Lincoln, NE. 

For today though, I’d like to explore a more intimate aspect of this Honoree.  First, take a few minutes to read the biography on the Hall of Fame website, and we can compare notes. https://quiltershalloffame.net/gail-van-der-hoof/

OK.  Here’s one thing that struck a chord with me:  Gail never became a quilter, but she had an over-arching interest in textiles. Imagine taking the Orient Express to Turkey to explore textiles!   Can’t you see her in a market looking at rugs? I wonder if she haggled for her purchases?  Probably so, if her introspective assessment gives us a clue.  “I must have been a rag picker in my last life. I have always haunted thrift shops or used clothes markets and can always find something good.”  How many of you can relate to that?

And that question opens the way for more questions.  Do you love finding bargains?  And what do you do with them?  Are you like Gail and wear what you find, or are you shopping for fabric there? I know there are women who find old aprons and dresses to use for repair of vintage quilts, and I have read articles that suggest treasure hunting at the thrift shops for flannel shirts and hankies (for “masculine” and “feminine quilts”). 

If you are a quilter, do you ever mix textiles, or do you stick with cotton?  I tried using silk once and found it to ravel more than I expected—I probably should have used a stabilizer—but it catches the light in a way that makes the quilt more interesting.   I’m going to have to “up” my technique if I ever get around to making a piece from my husband’s old neckties, and I have an idea for using some of my no-longer-worn scarves.  But that’s about as far as I dare to go. The biography also mentions Gail’s other travels, to Holland, England, other parts of Europe, and to West Africa. All of those places have a significant and distinct textile history, and I wonder how much of that Gail explored on her trips? I’ve been to the Toile Museum in Jouy, France, and to the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. I enjoyed seeing the swatch books of 19th century fabrics at the museum in Manchester, New Hampshire. 

(There aren’t enough photos of Gail, so I’ve added my vacation pics.)

But all of that was just “spectator sport”.  What would it have been like if I had studied textiles in college as Gail did? I don’t think I would have enjoyed it any more, but I certainly would have been better able to put it all in context.

So, I think that’s what makes Gail van der Hoof a Hall of Fame Honoree: the ability to have brought her academic training and work experience to see quilts from a different perspective. First, as something worth collecting, and then as something worth appreciating for art’s sake.  She deserves her place and I’ll try not to be too envious of her career path.

Your quilting friend,


Need Inspiration? Channel Helen Kelley

How many of you were quilting while Helen Kelley’s column, “Loose Threads,” appeared in Quilters Newsletter magazine?  I always felt like I was visiting with a good neighbor when I read her musings, and apparently many others did too because she successfully marketed three separate book collections of her articles. But after reading her Honoree bio on the Hall of Fame website, I found that I really didn’t know much about Helen after all.  Click here and see if you learn something new too. https://quiltershalloffame.net/helen-kelley/

What’s interesting me about Helen Kelley right now, aside from the fact that I missed her birthday last month (I’m going to try to keep up and write about Honorees when their day comes up), is where she got her quilt ideas from, and the lengths she went to in exploring those ideas.

My first volunteer assignment at the Hall of Fame was cataloging books in the Library, and I was overwhelmed with Kelley’s donation of 600+ volumes. Thankfully, she had sent them to us with her own digital record system and all we had to do was convert to our Past Perfect format; but it was still a lot of work.  Among the usual history and how-to books, Helen gave us so many books on Native American culture that we needed to create a whole new category for them.  Some of these books must have been the source for her own book, Scarlet Ribbons, in which she explored Native American Indians’ use of French silk ribbon for reverse applique floral designs.  And here’s just one of her quilts in a Native American style:

Kelley, Helen. Indian Dance No. 4 – Osage. 1984. From Minnesota Quilters Inc., Minnesota Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=49-7E-1247. Accessed: 05/4/2020

Kelley didn’t limit herself to North American ethnic groups when she looked for ideas; her vision was world-wide. In 1980, when quilt historian Cuesta Benberry started lecturing on African quilts, Kelley was able to encourage her and share with her a picture from her archives of an African quilt made for Peace Corps workers.  So that’s one place she got her ideas: world heritage images.   And her Norwegian heritage figured prominently too, as seen in this rosemaling design (with a couple of elves because it was for a grandchild).

Kelley, Helen. Norwegian Elves. 1979. From Minnesota Quilters Inc., Minnesota Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=49-7E-123E. Accessed: 05/4/2020

If anyone is interested in a research project, you could follow Helen Kelley around the globe and see how she extracted ethnic designs for her own quilting.

Another source of ideas was her actual travel experiences.  She created twenty-four “postcard” quilts based on places she visited.  Here are a few from the Hall of Fame Collection:

You can read a detailed description of each of these quilts, and see more photos at the following three links.  And if you want to go farther down the rabbit hole, use the fourth link.





If you checked that last link (welcome back), you may have also noticed another source of Helen Kelley’s ideas for inspiration:  Just Do It.  Her wall hanging with eleven suns was made to display different quilting techniques.  So, if you want to showcase your skills, or try out some different sewing skills, follow a time-honored idea and produce a sampler.

Maybe you’re a history buff or enjoyed watching the Victoria series on Masterpiece Theater.  If you were Helen Kelley, you’d turn that into a quilt idea. I love the was she incorporated the crazy quilt style that’s associated with the late Victorian Era.

Kelley, Helen. Jubilee. 1976-1999. From International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Ardis and Robert James Collection. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=60-DC-428. Accessed: 05/4/2020

Of course, Kelley’s ideas weren’t all sophisticated or research-backed. Here’s a charming quilt she made for a grandchild.  But even with this prosaic content, note the Anne Orr pixelated style.  And I’m curious about/ impressed with the outer border. Was the idea to experiment with a technique as she did with the eleven suns, or was this crenelation supposed to be part of the fairy-tale setting?

Kelley, Helen. Mother Goose. 1978. From Minnesota Quilters Inc., Minnesota Quilt Project. Published in The Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org/fulldisplay.php?kid=49-7E-1252. Accessed: 05/4/2020

There are Helen Kelley quilts in which the ideas came from everyday life: a ring of children dancing around a tree on Stinson Avenue where she lived, the carousel at the State Fair, a farm boy with a toy tractor watching the real thing working in the field outside his window.  And there are Helen Kelley quilts in which the ideas came from textiles of the past: traditional blocks in unusual settings or the Cluny Tapestry series (yes, one of the books items I catalogued was about the Bayeux Tapestry, but I haven’t found that on a Kelley quilt yet). And there is Helen’s quilt, Renaissance which was selected as one of the 100 Best Quilts of the 20th Century. It was based on traditional Norwegian tapestry and made in honor of her husband’s grandmother.

Where do your quilt ideas come from?    I generally just find a pattern and some fabric I like, but after researching for this post, I wonder if I couldn’t stretch myself. Helen Kelley had no shortage of sources for her quilt designs. Whatever was part of her world or part of the whole world was fair game.   If you find yourself not knowing where to go with your next quilt, take a hint from Helen, look around you with new eyes, look to a different culture, look into the past. Stay tuned; I might try that myself.

Your quilting friend,