Bettye Kimbrell was raised on a cotton farm in Fayette County, Alabama, with her father, grandparents, and four younger siblings. Her grandparents grew or made everything they needed, including the bedcovers that kept everyone warm in a house with one fireplace and a wood-burning cookstove. Bettye learned to quilt from her grandmother who, as she says, "believed your stitches reflected your character." For quilt backing she used feed and fertilizer sacks, while the fabric was dyed with walnut hulls and yellow root, and cotton from the fields was used for batting. As her quilting skills developed, she began experimenting with new designs and techniques. After she married and moved to Mt. Olive, a friend recommended her to a local department store as someone who could finish quilts for customers and local community members. In the early 1970s, she won her first blue ribbon at the State Fair in Birmingham. In 1979, she organized a quilt show to raise money for the Mt. Olive Community Center, a frame schoolhouse that is now used for social functions and as a nutrition site for senior citizens. Out of this effort came the formation of the North Jefferson Quilters' Guild that meets twice a week to this day. In 1995, Kimbrell was awarded the Alabama Folk Heritage Award. Folklorist Anne Kimzey says of her work: "Her expert skill reveals itself most powerfully in the intricate needlework and ornate, detailed quilting that has become her trademark. People are amazed by her subtle but complex designs and of millions of tiny stitches that cover her ‘whole cloth' or ‘white on white' quilts."
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