Betsy Chutchian may be one of Moda’s new designers, but she’s certainly not new to the quilting world. Author of four books with Kansas City Star, co-founder of the 19th-century Patchwork Divas, former owner and a current employee of Lone Star House of Quilts in Arlington, Texas, Betsy’s been combining her love of history and quilting for more than 30 years.
Betsy’s sewing days started in childhood, when both grandmothers taught her to sew on their treadle machines. In 1969 her aunt gave her the 1940s-era Singer machine that Betsy used for nearly 20 years. Betsy’s mom didn’t sew. “I think it reminded her too much of the Depression and she wanted no part of it,” says Betsy.
When Betsy graduated from college in 1980 she inherited a family quilt top. Using books from the library, she taught herself to quilt, starting with baby quilts for her son and daughter. Despite having two small children, she managed to eke out time to hone her quilting skills. “They were wonderful nappers and would sleep three to five hours at a time,” says Betsy, who hand-pieced and hand-quilted her early work. (Today, her time is limited and she laughs as she quotes a friend who says, “Instead of by hand, I quilt by check.”)
Over the years, Betsy worked in several quilt shops and then bought Lone Star House of Quilts. But just a month later she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. “The shop kept me busy at a bad time, but I was so exhausted I could hardly put one foot in front of the other,” she says. Nine months later, she sold the business. “And here I am, 13 years later!”
The end of shop ownership was far from the end of her career in the quilting industry. Writing books opened doors for her and she continues to teach Jo Morton’s Little Women’s Club and to travel to share her 19th-century reproduction quilts and wool program. “I love getting people interested in history,” she says.
Betsy’s new line for Moda, Eliza’s Indigo, is a perfect example. The fabrics are named for Eliza Lucas Pickney, the daughter of a South Carolina plantation owner from the 1700s. When her father had to return to his Antigua home, Eliza took over the family business and turned the plantation into a major producer of indigo, eventually growing enough for export to Britain. “It took her three years to develop it and get a good crop,” says Betsy. “She was only 16 when she took over. Can you imagine your 16-year-old daughter doing something like that? It’s a fascinating story.”
Betsy’s home reflects this love of history and of stitching. “I have quilts everywhere in my house,” she says. “They’re stacked to the ceiling in one bedroom. There’s just enough room for a cat to go on the top, though he’s scared to climb up because they might fall.” Her collection includes about 60 antique quilts and tops, along with blocks and fabrics, and that doesn’t include the quilts she’s stitched. “I haven’t counted them, because I don’t want my husband to know,” she says with a laugh.