Oh the weather outside is frightful. As she watches the news about an arctic blast reaching all the way down to Texas, Margaret Batterton drapes a quilt snugly across her lap. It provides not only physical warmth, but a heart-warming reminder of joyous moments spent with family and friends. Margaret made the unique quilt using Brighton Collectibles pouches, the cheerful cloth bags that enclosed jewelry gifts she has received over the years.
Sewing has always been a way for Margaret to express her creativity and love. After her grandmother gives her a sewing kit at age five, she teaches herself to sew by hand. Instead of playing with Barbie dolls, she makes clothes for all the Barbies in the neighborhood. When she is 14, her home economics teacher inspires her to go into education. After teaching Family and Consumer Sciences in the 1970s and 1990s, she develops a passion for quilting. She now makes original quilts, mostly for children, some of which are included in traveling trunk shows. She also sells her designs via her website, Aunty M Designs, and shares stories and advice on her blog, The Gluten Free Nana.
Her friend Phyllis Mallory, who has sewn with her for many years, marvels at her designing talent. "When we go fabric shopping," Phyllis says, "she'll select prints and I would say, 'Those colors don't even go together!' But somehow she knows how to create something beautiful with them."
This ability to create beauty and comfort out of disparate elements might be the best metaphor for how Margaret leads her life. The oldest of ten siblings and half-siblings, she misses having a closer relationship with her parents. When she meets her husband, Paul, she also sees the wonderful rapport in his family. Over the years, she works toward creating a similar atmosphere of "comfortable love" in her home. Even though her three children lead very different lives in three different states, they can always go to her house for a big hug and a warm meal.
She doesn't remember growing up with any traditions, so she is creating new ones for her kids and six grandkids, the oldest of which are seven-year-old twin girls. Each child has a "Nana quilt" they cherish. Every holiday season, she makes snowman cookies, and the kids help her decorate them on the island in her kitchen. She and Phyllis start the tradition of making a big, beautifully embroidered stocking for each family member. Instead of presents under a tree, they "do stockings," stuffing each exquisite one with an abundance of small gifts.
Phyllis describes Margaret and Paul as the sort of "good people" who would "do anything for anybody." When bad weather knocks out power in the Dallas-Fort Worth area last spring, Margaret posts on Facebook that she has soup on the stove for anyone who wants to come to her house. Amanda O'Banion, a friend in Fort Worth, remembers another instance of remarkable kindness.
In 2000, teenage Amanda and a friend are on their way to camp in Austin. Her friend's dad is driving them when his car breaks down near Waco, where the Battertons are living at the time. Amanda knows their son, Kenneth, but has only met Margaret and Paul a couple of times. Yet when she calls them, the Battertons immediately come to help. While Paul works to get the car fixed, Margaret drives the girls the rest of the way to camp, which is nearly two hours away.
Fifteen years later, that incident still leaps immediately to mind when Amanda thinks of Margaret. She is also grateful for Margaret's support of Women of Worthiness, an annual conference she helps organize in February. To raise funds for the weekend spiritual retreat, Margaret often donates handmade items for a silent auction. For the 2012 event, she designs and makes a quilt with Amanda which they live-auction to great success.
Like everything else Margaret makes, that piece will be treasured and passed down from generation to generation. Her youngest child, Karen, still uses a quilt Margaret made for her when she was in elementary school. Margaret's sister, Jo Ellen Bridges, still has a holiday skirt Margaret made for her in the 1980s, when she owned a small French machine sewing and smocking shop in Amarillo. This past holiday season, Jo Ellen ingeniously uses it as the skirt for her Christmas tree.
A storyteller and puppeteer in Florida, Jo Ellen also sews, as does Margaret's other sister, Becky Thibodeaux in Groves, TX. The sisters are currently collaborating on a wedding quilt for Becky's son, Collin, and his bride. Margaret also makes baby quilts for new moms, and, since her Brighton quilt gets so many compliments, she is in the process of collecting pouches to design another one.
With all her irons in the fire, Margaret has little time to complete the appliquéd king size quilt she has been hand-sewing for her and Paul's bed. The project began 22 years ago and is about half-way done. Paul is both amused and patient about being the quiltmaker's husband who goes quiltless. After all, he understands how special heirlooms can be.
The Battertons own a quilt from his grandmother. Made in the 1930s with hand-carded batting from cotton grown in their farming community, it is a precious reminder of his Oklahoma ancestors. Paul and his sister played on the floor with it, as did the Battertons' children before it was proudly displayed on a wall in their home. Now they have stored it away for preservation. But someday they will pass it on to one of those children who played on it as a baby, and all that family heritage will go with it.
"A quilt is so much more than some fabric with batting in the middle," says Margaret. "Each one tells the story of the quilter and their importance to the family. A quilt is always a labor of love."