December 2015
Homeplace & Community

Busy Fingers


Bettie Morgan wears a Christmas jacket she made as she prepares to work on another quilting project.

Wilcox County crafter always has several projects underway, so she is never bored.

Leisure time for Bettie Morgan often means making quilts, scarves, dresses, pillow cases and many more creative works of art at her home in rural Wilcox County.

When she’s not producing them for family and friends, she can be found much of the week at the Wilcox County Public Library where she and daughter Crystal Martin direct activities there.

Morgan isn’t bothered by Father Time’s inexorable advance and, at the age of 70, believes she still has plenty of spring left in busy fingers that skillfully operate sewing machines in a tastefully decorated room at her house.

"I just like to stay busy," she said. "Doing what I do is great therapy for me. I’m never bored."

That’s quite an understatement by the busy grandmother who has been involved in a number of community projects that have touched the lives of many throughout Alabama’s Black Belt region.

Bettie Morgan, right, and daughter Crystal Martin hold a large quilt with outdoor panels – destined for a family member.  

She helped organize the Southern Stitchers Quilt Guild and currently serves as president. She’s also a member of the Cozy Quilters Guild in Thomasville and is a major supporter of the Black Belt Treasures Textile Arts Guild in Camden.

Collecting hand-sewn creations is a joy for Morgan, who likes to find vintage linens, particularly handkerchiefs and aprons. Her collection includes 250 aprons with some more than 100 years old.

What pleases her most of all are aprons once used or made by her mother, grandmother and other relatives. She regards them as symbols "of service" to others as well as a continuum of her family’s lineage.

Discovering old aprons on-line, at flea markets and other outlets are akin to gold nuggets for a woman who equates them to rare baseball cards for men who spend a lifetime searching for that extra special one.

"The older the better, especially if they are in good condition," she said. "It’s like discovering something historic because that’s what they are, sort of like family heirlooms."

Morgan determines the age of aprons by the kind of fabric used to create them. She said her search for something special often nets her originals. That’s like hitting a collector’s jackpot.

  Rachel Morgan wears a colorful toboggan made just for her by her grandmother Bettie Morgan.

She said the number of aprons she has may pale in comparison to collectors who have hundreds more than she does, "but each one means something special to me."

Retired nurse Sheila Wells is amazed at her friend’s ability to move from one sewing or crocheting project to another without missing a stitch or a beat.

"Bettie’s never idle and I wish I had half the energy she has," Wells said. "She’s also extremely organized and that helps because of all the things she does every day."

Wells said Morgan’s speed at finishing projects is a way to quickly get them to family members and friends, particularly during holiday periods. While others might procrastinate on one project, Morgan often works on two or three at the same time.

"I was basically raised by my grandmother until I was 14 and learned about sewing from her and other relatives," Morgan said, adding it has provided a perfect foundation for a hobby that’s become more than that.

With Christmas just around the corner, she’s busier than ever as she creates something appropriate for her children and grandchildren.

When she’s not sewing, she can be found knitting, crocheting, smocking, embroidering or whatever else that’s needed to bring about smiles from those who receive her creations as gifts.

Morgan isn’t alone in her creative efforts. Martin and granddaughter Rachel Morgan were avid learners as they grew up watching her do her thing.

They try their best to emulate her, but realize they’re a long way from matching her output.

Martin holds a Christmas stocking made by her mother.  

"If people run into problems, they call mom and she’s always willing to do whatever she can to help," said Martin, 45.

Morgan’s library career was somewhat unexpected. She doesn’t have a degree in library science, but filled in to help when the director left. At last count, she’s been at it for three decades.

Knitting didn’t come as easy as her ability with other artistic creations, but she wouldn’t give up until she had mastered it. For her, persistence is a good way to prevail whenever challenges appear.

"I was sitting at home around Thanksgiving, found a knitting pamphlet and vowed right there and then to try again," she said. "I’ve been knitting ever since and love every part of it."

Crocheting is her favorite creative process "because it’s portable" and can be taken wherever she might be going at the time.

Several months ago she shifted from artist to teacher at Alabama Southern Community College in Thomasville where she attracted a large audience of sewing enthusiasts who admired her display of handmade creations.

Morgan grew up in Baldwin County, but she and husband, Sam Morgan, found a home for keeps in Camden. He owns a business not far from their house. They’ve been married 50 years.

Former Circuit Court Judge Anne Farrell Wright admires Morgan’s sewing prowess, but she’s just as amazed at her ability to obtain funding for the little library where the budget can be just as challenging as juggling several needle-and-thread projects at the same time.

"Her ability to look for grant money has been vital to the continued operation of the library," Wright said. "Bettie has even found a way to obtain funding to help those with hearing and sight problems."

Located at the old Wilcox County Courthouse, the library continues to provide services to residents throughout the area. Morgan and Martin are the two biggest reasons for that.

Being in the midst of the holiday season hasn’t slowed Morgan down a bit. If anything, it just has her pushing the afterburners to complete projects destined for family members as well as special friends.

Rachel, 18, beams with pride when friends admire a quilt that her grandmother made just for her.

"When they ask me questions about the quilt, I just tell them that ‘Ma-Ma made it for me,’" she said. "It makes me feel good when they see it and ask me about it."

Taking it all in is Sadie Bell, a Yorkie who has the run of the house, but, at times, just prefers to cuddle up on a couch or chair with Morgan, who can’t resist taking a break to give her a big hug.

Alvin Benn is a freelance writer from Selma.