By Dave Russell
A handmade quilt is more than a blanket, more than just another part of the covers that keep folks warm on chilly mountain nights. Often passed down from generation to generation, they have stories to tell.
The Quilt Alliance, a nonprofit based in Asheville, believes those quilts should be preserved for the future and their pasts should be recorded.
The Alliance will bring a trio of events to Jackson County to promote handmade quilts, starting with a noon-4 p.m. Saturday, March 4, presentation at the Jackson County Public Library, the Alliance’s first foray into Jackson County.
“We do this style of event with guilds, museums or historical societies often,” said Amy Milne, director of the Quilt Alliance. “Sometimes we also do a lecture on the importance of documenting quilts and the ripple affect that can have, and what kind of history you can capture.”
The events welcome everyone, including those who don’t sew but own quilts.
“Sometimes you have really interesting stories in these quilts owned by people who don’t come to quilt guild meetings or other events that might attract makers,” she said. “That was one of our motivations with this, to encourage local communities to look and see what kinds of treasures might be in your midst and share and talk about them.”
Word of the events might spur folks to take a look in their attic and rescue their past.
Talk and Open House
The first event in the series, the March 4 Quilt Talk and Open House, will offer a history talk and a discussion with quilt artists at the Jackson County Public Library.
History educator Peter Koch of Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center will discuss the unique qualities of local quilts and discuss the duality of quilts as art and history, and objects of utility, Milne said.
Jason Pierson and Kelly Sawyer will serve as interviewees for a demonstration and be available to show and share about their quilts after the presentation.
Quilt Alliance staff will give demonstrations of quilt documentation projects that anyone can use to record and preserve information about quilts and quiltmakers, Milne said.
The Alliance will also have quilt tags and needles and thread to hand out for documenting quilts on the spot.
The second and third events in the trilogy, Quilt Documentation Days, are set for noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 25, at the JCPL, followed by one at the Appalachian Women’s Museum on April 1.
Community members who own quilts and/or make quilts are invited to bring their quilts to show, talk about and document.
Quilt artist Lisa Heller will join to help Quilt Alliance staff demonstrate easy quilt documentation methods using simple equipment, Milne said.
Koch will return to help assess the pattern, likely origin and age of quilts brought in to share, Milne said.
“Unless you are willing to pay for an appraisal of an old quilt, you usually don’t have that kind of expertise,” she said.
Photos and videos will be shared with participants at no cost. Registration for specific time slots is available but not required.
Quilt history would be recorded by the “Go Tell It” project, she said.
“We interview people, with one of their quilts hanging up and they’ll tell the story of that quilt in three minutes or less,” she said. “Even if people don’t bring quilts out, they can still listen to the talks, learn about quilts and take home some resources.”
Handouts on washing, labeling and storing quilts will be available.
Each event features a quilting activity for kids, though adults seem to enjoy it, too, Milne said.
Milne would like to see the nonprofit’s mission spread to communities across Western North Carolina, another topic for the day.
“What you need is a historian who knows quilts, and then just put the call out for folks to bring in their quilts and share them,” Milne said.
To mark National Quilting Day on March 18, the Alliance travels to Cherokee. A quilt talk and open house runs from 10 am. until noon at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, followed by a quilt documentation session from 1–4 p.m. at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
Register for the Sylva events at https://form.jotform.com/230324608824049. Learn more about the Quilt Alliance at https://quiltalliance.org and the Appalachian Women’s Museum at https://www.appwomen.org.