“When I was a kid many women sewed most of their clothing. Everyday staples, like flour, came in cotton cloth bags that were washed and saved for sewing projects. They made things like tablecloths, kitchen curtains and dresses for little girls. If you wanted a little bigger garment you would look through the pile of flour sacks in the store and try to find more than one bag in the same print, they were usually prints with little flowers or something else. Sometimes you would find two or more bags that were the same print but they might not match because they would be from different dye lots,” said Byer.
When she was a young farm wife and her four children were small, she often sewed dresses for her two daughters because little girls wore dresses every day at that time. There were many fabrics for girls clothing but not many choices for boys clothing. As her girls grew up she found it harder to find the time to continue sewing for them but still made many of her own dresses.
“I got away from doing quite so much sewing as the kids got a little bigger and didn’t need me right by them all the time. Sewing was one of the things that went by the wayside because my husband, Wilfred, and I had moved to this farm near Arco and built a dairy barn. Our sons did the milking, and Wilfred and I worked side by side feeding and taking care of the calves. I was also outside helping with the field work, driving one tractor or another; there was also a lot of work to do with the cows. I didn’t really seem to find the time or energy to get back to much sewing until we sold the cows in 1996,” said Byer.
There was a time in the ‘70s when cotton took a back seat to a new fabric that was practically indistructable. It was durable, expandable and came in hundreds of colors. The manmade polyester was very practical and was used to make countless garments and home accessories. Sewers bought it much cheaper than most other fabrics and stock piled it for future projects.
“Sewing was so fast and easy with polyester; it had give and never unraveled. Cotton just seemed to need so much more care and pressing after laundering and it would shrink and fade. I made dresses and pants suits and slacks like crazy. It was almost impossible to wear it out so when something wasn’t worn anymore I would tear it apart and use the fabric for quilt pieces. I also bought miles of polyester whenever I found another color I liked or found a good sale. I know other quilters like some of the quilt fabrics sold in the quilt shops now, but I must confess, polyester is still my favorite.”
“I love looking at quilt magazines and finding a new pattern a new challenge. They are full of so much information. I never did take any quilting classes or anything like that,” she said. As the years passed and Betty finally found the time to cut and sew quilts, she had acquired stacks of quilt magazines and books. “I have made many different quilt patterns, too many to remember, like the crazy quilt I made for my son, Phillip, the pieces are all different shapes and sizes and are pieced together like a puzzle and are fastened together around the edges of each piece by hand with a feather stitch. I like to use black for the stitching because it is such a nice dark contrast to all the bright colors. I have used the bear paw pattern, around the world, bow tie, yoyo, with crinkle fabric and many others.”
“One of the most important things every quilter should do, whether it is their first quilt or their hundredth quilt, they should sign and date their quilt with a fabric pen or embroidery thread,” she said. Byer has given quilts as wedding gifts and has gifted quilts to every one of her grandchildren. My last quilt was a cotton quilt for a granddaughter, the color scheme she picked wasn’t anything like I would have gone with, but it is very pretty. It is a wedding ring pattern. I have really no idea how many quilts I have made and have so many packed away in totes,” Byer said.
“Quilting is not a cheap hobby, but it is so much fun, finding use for recycled and/or new fabric is interesting, too. I am glad I recycled all that polyester; you don’t see it for sale so much anymore. Depending on the weight of the quilt I may use different things for the batting inside the quilt. Some people really like the stiffer, fluffier quilts and like the thick batting. I have recycled and used old blankets or maybe just a sheet if the quilt top is quite heavy. Sheets work nicely for the backing of quilts. Some of the quilts are machine quilted, but I enjoy tying quilts by hand; some of them are totally sewn by hand. The challenge is getting them on the quilt frame,” said Byer. Her husband built her quilt frame for her.
She has never sold her creations and doesn’t like to take orders from anyone but family because it just makes too much pressure. Many of her quilts have been gifts, along with the delicate doilies, afghans and dolls she has crocheted.
Betty will be 82 years old in October, and she and her husband will celebrate 63 years together in November. She recalls the years when there were not a lot of things to do to fill leisure time. “There was no running water, no telephone, we took a bath with a pan of water, we burned wood and cobs, and we had a gas refrigerator and a gas washer, no television. I made eight or 10 quilts that every single stitch was by hand; there are a lot of hours and stitches for each quilt. I have no idea how many sewing machines I have gone through. Sometimes my husband has to fix them for me and then I am good to go again for awhile. I have four sewing machines right now, but I have never had a serger and really don’t want one,” said Byer.