QUILT HISTORY STORIES
Betty Jean (Gilbert) Flack
Illinois Quilt Pattern Historian
Gloria Nixon - Paxico, Kansas
Betty Flack made an important contribution to quilt history during the 1960s. Few details
have been written about her, but much was recorded by Betty’s own hands in a quaint,
newsletter-style magazine published from her home in Shumway, Illinois. The magazine
was named Little ‘n Big. Through its pages, we enjoyed much more than old quilt
patterns. We learned about Betty, her family and the readers.
Betty Jean Gilbert was born in Effingham County, Illinois, on November 22, 1925, to
Forest and Lucy Pendlay Gilbert. By the time of the 1930 census, they were living in
Independence, Missouri. Her father was employed as a garage mechanic; her mom stayed at home with Betty and her younger brother, Raymond. The Gilberts had two more daughters, Joy and Evelyn. The family moved to Arizona for a few years, then settled in Funkhouser, Illinois. Betty’s father passed away when she was only nine years old.
Betty and Edward Frederick Flack were united in marriage on July 4, 1942. They lived in
Effingham County but had less than a month together before Edward received notice to
report to the Army for military service. His specialized skills earned the World War II
ranking of Technician Fourth Grade.
It wasn’t long before the family began to grow in number. Betty and Edward had four
sons and one daughter. They included Fred Robert, John Edward, James Raymond, Jean
Ellen and George Emerson. A son, Forest Duane, died at birth.
The Flack Family
In the first issue of Little ‘n Big, Betty introduced the readers to her children. She wrote
that Johnny was tending to Daisy Pearl (the cow), Butch (George) was taking turns
watching television and playing with his eleven red tractors, Freddy would soon go to
Chicago for another eye exam, Jim was being an aggravation and Jeanie had the house
littered with Barbies and their tiny accessories. Betty thrived at motherhood and seemed
to enjoy the chatter and constant activity of her brood, even when Butch shut the cats up
in the dresser drawers and stuck gum in his hair.
Betty often wrote of the challenges of publishing a magazine at home. At the time,
Edward worked in Chicago and came home only on holidays and weekends, so she
carried the load of single parent during the week. Betty needed help with Little ‘n Big
and depended on her children to do as much as they could. In the words of her daughter,
Jeanne Sutter, “I did a lot of carrying and fetching and assembling.” The boys sometimes
shared in organizing the pages. If they played instead of worked, the same page might be
added twice or stapled upside down. Betty took it all in stride and reminded the readers to let her know if anyone received such an issue and it would be corrected.
Little ‘n Big officially began with the February 1964 issue. Three earlier issues from
November 1963 to January 1964 were called “newsletters” and given free of charge to
those who traded patterns with her. Betty made it clear the first issue of Little ‘n Big was
different. It was not a newsletter but “a new magazine devoted to quilt pattern collectors.”
Prices were 25 cents for a single copy or $1.50 for the year. Later, the yearly subscription increased to $2.00. She accepted S&H, TV, Plaid or Gold Bond Stamps in lieu of cash. Betty was Editor and Publisher. Her mother, Lucy Heddins, served as Associate Editor for a time.
The Little ‘n Big name was chosen for two reasons. It was a little magazine with big
ideas and carried the initials of mother and daughter, Lucy and Betty. It was often
referred to as L&B or LnB.
Most issues opened with a letter from Betty. They were filled with relaxed, down-home
talk about the kids and happenings around the house and ended with the well known,
“The gal next door, Betty.”
Many features appeared during the magazine’s run. The most popular were Back Yard
Gossip which gave news and requests from individual subscribers, The Kitchen Cabinet
filled with tried-and-true recipes from Lucy, The Pattern Snooper where members could
request a much needed pattern and Our Gang, the subscriber list where collections and
hobbies were noted.
The various features and columns held names which are well known today. Cuesta
Benberry, Mrs. H. C. (Mildred) Dickerson, Claudine Moffatt, Vesta Smithee, Ruby
Hinson , Ruth Snyder, Mrs. Fred (Mary) Schafer, Barbara Bannister and others. Many
times these women asked for specific patterns needed to complete a collection. Mary
Schafer asked for help in finding Progressive Farmer patterns; Cuesta Benberry made
several requests for Marie Webster patterns. Benberry’s poems, including Poor Lil’ Ol’
Me and Novice Collector’s Conversation, were occasionally featured in the magazine.
Betty was devoted to the publishing of her magazine and gave priority to mailing it on
time each month. She was not a woman to look for excuses. One summer, Betty was
needed to help haul wheat for her dad. She thought ahead, borrowed a portable typewriter and arranged the truck cab so she could work on the magazine from her seat. She was determined not to waste a second of time. Two books of Nancy Page patterns were drafted while she sat in the wheat fields.
What type of quilt patterns appeared in the magazine? In the early issues, Betty made it
clear, the patterns would be either very old ones or those difficult to locate. These
included patterns from: Comfort, Nancy Cabot, Capper’s, Needlecraft Magazine, Nancy
Page, Woman’s World, The Romance of the Patchwork Quilt in America, Kansas City
Star, Carlie Sexton and other sources. Some original patterns were also published.
Why was there a need to collect these old patterns? The world was changing, and other
activities of life crowded piecework, applique and quilting into the background. Quilting
no longer held the favored place it did in the 1920s and 1930s. These collectors wanted to record and preserve a cherished part of history and hand it down to their own children.
Betty was determined to have a share in it.
Along with her magazine, Betty also published booklets of quilt patterns. During the mid-
60s, she formed a business alliance with Claudine Moffatt of Valley Park, Missouri,
under the name, ABC Publications, which stood for “A Betty Claudine Publication,” and
together they issued quite a number of pattern booklets. Most were reprints of Nancy
Page and Nancy Cabot patterns. The titles of some were: Charming Chelsea, Country
Cousins, Piggy Bank Kivvers, Promenade, Do-Si-Do Kivvers and Allemande Left.
The March 1966 issue was the last one for Little ‘n Big. According to her daughter
Jeanne, it was “mainly due to John joining the Army. He was her number one help at that
time.” Her mom was reluctant to stop publication but felt with John gone, the costs of
material rising and circulation down slightly, “…it was for the best. She really missed it
all. She sold her equipment to someone in Texas from what we can remember.”
Betty led a full and busy life after closing the pages of her magazine. She worked as an
assistant manager at a local restaurant until her health began to suffer. When the doctor
ordered her to find something relaxing to do, she began working on a new project. The
zeal she had for quilt history was directed toward family research. As Jeanne explains,
“For many years, she haunted every county clerk’s office for records, even re-recorded
some of Effingham County’s old faded handwritten records. The deal was, she made one
copy for them and she got to make one copy for herself. As a child, I spent my summers
walking every cemetery and gravesite in Effingham County helping her record every
Betty and Edward moved to Centerview, Missouri, for about three years so they could be
close to their son, Jim, who was in the Air Force. Betty worked as an LPN which allowed her to put enough money aside to buy something she had dreamed of owning, a Nustyle Quilting Machine. Jeanne helps us understand just how excited Betty was about buying it, “She had always pieced quilts and hand quilted them, but now she had her version of a race car.” She made quilts for each of her children, including the twenty-one
grandchildren. So skilled was Betty, that when they moved back to Shumway, she opened a machine quilting business called “Flack Family Quilters.” Jeanne and Butch’s wife, Darlene, joined in helping her. Jeanne is proud of what her mother accomplished and
commented, “She had a very successful business til the day she died. She pieced and
quilted hundreds of quilts that she gave away.” With all the work of running a business,
Betty found time to help others and “once a year made quilted lap robes for people in
every nursing home in Effingham.” Jeanne was given the honor of delivering them.
Betty’s grandchildren treasure her quilts, too. Jeanne relates a story about one of Betty’s
quilts, a grandson and the U.S. military, “Todd, who is Fred's oldest can't sleep under
anything but a ‘Grandma Flack’ quilt. When he was a corpsman for the marines, he found
he was allergic to the military wool blanket issues and got the doctor on his base to write
a prescription for a ‘Grandma Flack’ quilt, which Momma made and shipped to him. We
were very surprised that the military allowed it, but they did. Momma got so tickled over
Jeanna speaks from the heart as she talks about her mom. It is appropriate that she and the rest of the Flack family sum up the closing days of their dear mother’s life:
“She pieced a wedding quilt for each of her grandchildren to be given to them on their
wedding day and I'm still passing those out. They have their choice of a double wedding
ring or the one she dreamed up, Rattlesnake which is the most popular. The last quilt she
made was the one she wanted buried with (which we did) and it was jointed in all black.
Darlene even quilted ‘We love you Mom’ inside a heart in the corner of it the day before
we took it to the funeral home for her.
Momma was a woman ahead of her time. She was extremely intelligent and creative.
There was nothing she couldn't do or wouldn't do. We were very blessed and pretty lucky for God to have given her to us as our Mom.”
Betty died February 21, 2000, in Shumway, Illinois, and was buried in Funkhouser
Cemetery, Effingham County, Illinois. She was 74 years old. Betty’s memory is held
dear by all who knew her.
*My profound thanks to Jeanne Flack Sutter, John, James, Butch and the entire Flack
family for sharing information about Betty, and to Sue Wildemuth for her genealogy
research and guidance.
Flack, Betty, Little ‘n Big, February 1964-March 1966
Brackman, Barbara, Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, “References,” page 525
Waldvogel, Merikay, “Mildred Dickerson: A Quilt Pattern Collector of the 1960s and
1970s,” Uncoverings 1994, page 63
Anyone wishing to speak with quilt history researcher and writer Gloria Nixon of Paxico, Kansas may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article is reprinted courtesy of Gloria Nixon who holds the copyright to the text and has permission to use the images found in this piece, please do not reproduce her work or use the photographs without her verbal or written permission.
Thank you – Susan Wildemuth