Study Guide

Topics for Discussion on Out of Whole Cloth

In discussions among friends, classmates and book club members you may wish to talk about some of the following topics.

Mental Illness:  Did Bettye’s mother have a mental disorder that could be diagnosed and treated if she were in a different environment?  Can you imagine how the lives of Bettye and her siblings would have been different if there had been better understanding of mental illness?

Corporal Punishment: Bettye gives many instances of corporal punishment suffered by herself, her brothers and sisters, at the hands of her mother, grandparents, and a step-uncle, as well as one incident between Calvin and his father.  Much of this would be considered child abuse today.  Yet Bettye and Calvin used corporal punishment on their own children.  Is this surprising?  Is there a difference in the way and Bettye punished their children? Can corporal punishment ever be justified?

Family Dynamics:  Bettye did not get along with her grandmother Julia, her sister Esta nor her step-mother Clara and presents them in an unflattering light.  Are there grounds for understanding and perhaps forgiving the actions of these women?  Is Bettye more forgiving of her father, grandfather and Calvin than she is of the women?

Divorce: After she moves to Mt. Olive,  the possibility of divorce is continually on Bettye’s mind but she never considers actually divorcing Calvin. Her reasons were influenced by her religion, her financial situation, the stigma of divorce in the 1950s, and her love for Calvin.  If she were a young woman with an unfaithful husband today would she reach a different conclusion and would it be better?

Child Raising:  Calvin and Bettye were extremely strict on their daughters.  What about their own backgrounds and the times in which their daughters were coming of age (late 60’s, early 70s) may have caused them to forbid them to do what other teenagers did? Did the goals that they had for their children justify this strictness?

Quilt Aesthetics:  Bettye Kimbrell’s quilting is quite different from other nationally known quilters from Alabama: Nora Ezell (known for her story quilts), Mozell Benson (who used knotted embroidery thread instead of stitches to hold together her quilts which in their design were considered to resemble African fabrics), and the Gee’s Bend quilters (whose bold, geometric designs made from any scraps they could find made them stars among folk art collectors).  In these quilts, the hand-stitching is mainly meant to hold the layers of  the quilt together and is not considered a major part of the design.  Bettye’s quilts are subtle in color and the stitching is all-important and astonishing in the amount of stitches per quilt.  The back of each quilt is as meticulous as the front. Some quilts are meant only to be used on beds. Mozell Benson did not believe that quilts should be hung on walls, while Nora Ezell’s and Bettye Kimbrell’s were created with rod pockets on the back meant for exhibiting the quilt’s artwork. Do you have a preference one type over the other?

Have you attended quilt shows lately and noticed that very few quilts are hand-stitched?  If so, does that bother you?

Resilience:  How can some people endure tragedies and come out stronger at the end while others suffer such damage that they cannot function well the rest of their lives? Could Bettye’s strong faith in God be the reason she was able to withstand the difficulties of her life?  Could it be in her genetic makeup? In My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind Scott Stossel discusses research on resilience which indicates that resilience may be affected by a person’s inherited allotment of neuropeptide Y (NPY), a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates stress responses.  Can you think of other factors that contributed to the satisfactory ending of Out of Whole Cloth?


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