McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

March 30, 2014

Passion became tradition

Special Correspondent

OKLAHOMA CITY — Life can seem short of passion and determination when it comes to your occupation. It’s more enjoyable if you follow your dreams, instead of the occupation that grants the best economic efficiency.

Ninety-four year-old, Ruby Elmarley Smart of McAlester, is a great example of how we should apply self-confidence and hard work to our occupation and daily lives. Through hard work, her quilt-making hobby has lasted for more than 67 years.

Smart was born Jan. 27, 1920, in Pittsburg County near Blanco. She began her quilting hobby around the age of 11 in 1931.

As a teenager, she married True Jacob Smart of McAlester on Aug. 22, 1937. Together they raised five children. All of her children’s baby clothes were hand-sewn by her hands.

She began her occupation as a seamstress at Elsings (a company in McAlester that created garments) and worked there for 23 years. She was forced to retire at the age of 59 when the business closed down in December 1979.

After her forced retirement, Ruby began sewing for the public; she continued quilting on the side. Smart had sewed countless shirts and dresses, including children’s clothing. Plenty of the merchandise was contributed to both Friendship Church of the Nazarene in Ashland, and McAlester’s Church of the Nazarene. The majority of the merchandise made was donated to the Friendship Church of the Nazarene choir.

She also sold numerous clothing items as well as hand-made quilts for newborns.

In 1989, her husband, True Smart, passed away. After his passing, Smart moved from the farm to the city of McAlester where she continued to sew and quilt for the public.

The biggest change in Smart’s life was the invention of the washing machine and dryer, she said.

“We used to use the rub board, then switched to electric ringers before we used the washer and dryer,” Smart said.

Handmade quilts require a great deal of care and time to be maintained in excellent condition. Before the invention of the washer and dryer, Smart would gently wash her quilts in a wash tub and hang them on a clothesline located in the backyard of her home. Today’s modern technology, including the updated washing machine and dryer, makes Smart’s hobby much easier and more enjoyable, she said.

Smart taught herself the various techniques of quilting. She first acquired an interest in sewing at the age of 11; she made her first dress on a Treadle sewing machine.

She and her sister Mary began making quilts preceding the birth of her fifth child in 1947.

“I would hang the quilts from the ceiling so the kids could play underneath,” Smart said.

Since then, Smart has made more than 100 quilts by hand.

“I have never had one done by machine,” Smart said.

She said each quilt takes approximately five weeks to complete since they are made entirely by hand. The majority of the quilts she makes now are given to her family members.

Smart continues her hobby of quilting to this day. She has five children, 14 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and several great-great-grandchildren. Each child and grandchild, along with nephews and nieces, is given a newborn quilt, a wedding quilt and, at a certain age, quilts for their children.

Alexandria Williams is a senior at McAlester High School. Send her email via