By Eugenia Jones
The tradition of quilting is rapidly becoming a lost art. However, in McCreary County, there are still those who continue the tradition of taking scraps of fabric and lovingly stitching them into beautiful hand-sewn quilts with intricate patterns. Those who have been privileged to receive the gift of a quilt from a loved one can vouch for the feeling of warm comfort that comes from snuggling beneath a covering created, given, and received with such love.
This week, “The Voice” shares the stories of two McCreary Countians who are “sew” special-quilters Betty Duncan and Maggie Tapley.
When Betty Duncan quilts, she does it the old-fashioned way-with every single stitch sewn by hand.
Teaching herself to quilt at a young age, Betty has now been quilting for sixty years. She begins each labor of love by dreaming up designs and patterns and sketching them out on paper. After cutting the designs and patterns out of paper, she pins them to fabric and the cuts around the paper to get cloth patterns. Next, she embroiders or stitches the patterns on to individual quilt blocks and then stitches the blocks together to make beautiful quilt tops. Tacking a sheet to the backside of each quilt top, Betty stretches her quilts out on a bed to stuff them with quilt filling. She uses scrap material and never lets anything go to waste.
Over her lifetime, Betty has made thousands of quilts. A speedy worker, it takes about a day of total time to make a quilt. People from Ohio and Indiana are aware of Betty’s beautiful quilts and come by her house to purchase them.
“One woman would come down from Cinncinnatti every year and buy three or four at a time,” Betty recalled. “I’ve made lots of quilts for my young ones and my grandkids. They ask for quilts at Christmas time.”
Betty’s son, William Duncan, has fifty of his mother’s quilts in his house. To ensure he will always have the warmth and comforting feel of his mother’s quilts, Duncan has also sealed and stored away an additional twenty quilts just in case something happens to those currently used in his home.
Betty has made quilts using many different patterns including those of a cat, coal miner, Dutch boy, Dutch girl, and sunflower. She has transformed baby clothes into baby quilts and even stitched a ginseng quilt to honor her husband who is a ginseng enthusiast. The Dutch girl pattern is probably her personal favorite.
Betty’s family is proud of her talent and skill. They cherish being able to watch Betty quilt and then sleep beneath her beautiful finished products.
“As a kid, growing up, I can remember she always had a quilt in her hand,” son, William, said with a smile. “We are all so proud of her.”
Maggie Ruegena Tapley
At sixty-nine years old, Maggie Tapley’s fondest memories come from her childhood when her grandmother took her to quilting bees. Maggie recalls how, at the age of twelve, the older women pulled her up a chair and said, “Now it’s time for you to learn to quilt.”
With her grandmother assisting, Maggie learned to quilt. She recalls how she and her grandmother were the only ones at the quilting bees who were left-handed. With all of the right-handers at the quilting bees starting at one end of the quilt and working their way around, Maggie and her grandmother would start on the opposite end. The result was a quilting pattern that intermingled and came together beautifully instead of the common one direction pattern.
Over the years, Maggie has done many quilting patterns, including the Dutch boy and wedding ring. She even made one quilt for a dear friend using the neckties of her friend’s father and late husband.
Early on, Maggie enjoyed sewing because she wanted to be like her grandmother. When she married, she started sewing for income. Caring for the elderly for many years, Maggie decided she would sew to pass the time as she sat and chatted with those in her care. In addition to her quilting, Maggie enjoyed making corn shuck dolls, embroidery, adult clothing, and clothing for premature babies whose parents could not find clothes tiny enough to fit their newborns.
Today, Maggie is retired, but she still enjoys her quilting and gets great pleasure from giving quilts to family and friends.