Noreen Gay doesn’t have a moment to spare these days. She’s busily finishing the final stitches of a quilt she plans to enter in the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild show barreling down in a mere two and half weeks — so busy, in fact, she’s hauling it around on the backseat of her car when she runs errands, in case she has a few spare minutes to put to good use.
“Sleep? What’s sleep? Cook for my husband Bill? He’s on his own,” said Gay, a member of the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild.
“It’s crunch time,” agreed Cindy Williams of Franklin, president of the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild.
More than 1,300 people are expected to visit the Stars Over the Smokies quilt show coming to Western Carolina University June 7-10. For many quilting fanatics, it will take every bit of the three-day show to soak up the quilts on display.
“I could spend three hours today and come back and spend another three tomorrow and see things I didn’t notice before,” Williams said.
Viewers peruse the quilts on display wearing a single plastic glove on their right hand, given out at the door so all the fondling doesn’t soil the quilts over the course of the show.
Quilting has evolved from a necessity — piecing together scraps of fabric for warm blankets because entire bolts of cloth were too costly — to an art form today.
“There has been a metamorphosis in quilting in the past 10 years,” Gay said.
Many quilters have their own personalized style. Some fancy the traditional, heirloom quilt patterns, handed down through the generations for centuries. Others create their own patterns, sometimes in the traditional vein and sometimes, as Gay describes herself, “out of the box.”
Creating your own patterns comes with some risk, but like any artistic endeavor, risk is inherent.
“All of them end up being risky. Even a traditional quilt, if you choose the wrong color, it won’t pop like it should,” Gay said.
Serious quilters usually have multiple projects at various stages of completion in their queue at a time.
“You get tired of looking at blue, you get tired of making triangles, so you go to a different project and you come back to that one,” Williams said.
Sadly, some quilts are destined to linger in those half-finished forms for years, the quilter unable to get up the gumption to finish. It’s such a common ailment, these unfinished projects are universally known in quilting circles as “Unfinished Objects,” or UFOs.
Quilters tormented by their own UFOs periodically have the chance to pawn them off on another quilter at UFO swaps. Hidden from sight in a brown paper bag, quilters bring in a UFO they don’t want anymore and go home with someone else’s UFO. The catch: you’re obligated to finish whatever UFO you pick from the bunch.
Personally, Gay has banished UFOs from her life.
“I’ll throw away UFOs that I hate,” Gay said. “I only have ‘X’ amount of quilts in me at this age, so I am going to work on what I like.”
Nancilee Dills of Franklin has sworn off UFOs as well. But for her, that means committing herself to giving every quilt in her ongoing repertoire a little love and attention on a regular basis. She keeps a spreadsheet of all her projects and won’t work on one more than six or eight hours without rotating to the next.
It’s no small feat — she has about 30 quilts in various stages, each neatly organized in clear plastic bins, labeled on the outside and with the requisite patterns, tracings and fabric squares contained within, making it easy to grab her quilting project du jour.
Quilting can be obsessive, as many of the quilters in the Smoky Mountain Quilt Guild have learned the hard way.
“We’ve now had two ladies burn pans quilting,” Williams said, imparting the stories of two quilters who got so absorbed while dinner was on the stove they almost burned the house down.
Most quilters have dedicated a room in their house to their endeavors. Mary Ann Budhal, a quilter with the guild in Jackson County, converted her son’s bedroom into her quilting hideaway. Once his old dresser drawers and closet got stuffed to the gills, she had to buy shelving units to hold all her fabric stock and UFOs.
Budhal specializes in miniature art quilts, intended as wall hangings rather than bed coverings or throws. The quilting pieces are tiny — some just a quarter of an inch — with hundreds of them in a single quilt.
With that many pieces in play, Budhal toys with her designs and color palettes on a project wall, a large piece of foam covered in flannel that she can tack pieces up on.
She’s lucky to have a live-in sounding board for her design process. Her husband is a painter and former art instructor at Western Carolina University and willingly offers up his take on a pattern — rather than the typical “looks great to me, honey” answer most women when get pressing their husbands to weigh in on this-or-that shade of burgundy.
But the perk comes with a downside.
“If it weren’t for him and all his pictures we have hanging up, I might have room for more quilts,” Budhal said.
Last week, Williams and Gay spent two hours studying the great hall in the University Center where the quilt show will be held, measuring and calculating just how they will fit all those quilts into the space.
Williams will take the dimensions home and plug them into a computer program to come up with a floor plan.
“This will take me untold hours,” Williams said.
The guild had new racks built for this year’s show, fashioned from PVC pipes that fit into sturdy custom-made metal bases.
“Our old racks took screw guns and screw drivers and hammers and nails — and men — to put them together,” Williams said. “These are heavy but they are simple.”
About half the quilts being entered in the show will come from the 150 members of the Smoky Mountain Quilter’s Guild in Macon and Jackson counties. The other half are trickling in from around the country.
Budhal’s living room is rapidly filling up with quilts being mailed in from far-flung locations ahead of time. Not all quilters entering their work will be so lucky to have them finished ahead of time, however.
“They will be sewing on the binding as they approach campus to turn them in,” laughed Budhal.
While some quilts in the show are masterpieces, it will run the gamut from beginners to master quilters.
“We want a show that covers every level of experience,” Williams said. “Quilters want to see everything. You never know what you are going to learn. I have been quilting 30 years and I learn something new at every show.”
This is the first year that the guild will stage its show in Jackson County, and the community has embraced the big event. There is a quilt block planted on the lawn of the historic courthouse in Sylva. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce has a quilt display in its visitor center. And many of the downtown Sylva merchants have incorporated quilts into their storefront windows.
Additionally, WCU has an art quilt exhibit at the Fine Arts Center and a vintage quilt exhibit at the Mountain Heritage Center.
The quilt show is being held in conjunction with the North Carolina Quilters Guild Symposium. This year marks the farthest west it has ever been held in the state.
So far, 250 people have registered for the symposium, which includes two days of classes with renowned national quilting instructors, lectures and socials.
Williams began lining up the quilting instructors more than two years ago, an early start that helped land some of the biggest names in quilting. That is certainly part of the draw, but so is immersing one’s self in all-things-quilting for three days.
“No telephones, no televisions, no children to feed, no husbands to — deal with. You are with your peers and like doing what you like doing,” Williams said. “It can be very intense. But everybody comes with the spirit of friendship and happy to be here.”
Stars Over the Smokies quilt show and symposium hosted by the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild will be held June 7-10 at Western Carolina University.
The major quilting event will feature a quilt show with more than 350 quilts and 24 vendors.
Hours are 3-7 p.m. Thursday; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday. $5. Located in the great hall of the Hinds University Center.
Additionally, WCU has an art quilt exhibit at the Fine Arts Center and a vintage quilt exhibit at their Heritage Center.
Haywood Heritage Trail: Quilts of Bygone Years opening Wednesday, May 12, will feature traditional quilt squares for sale by area quilters and quilting guilds. In addition, several full-sized and heirloom quilts will be displayed alongside tools of the quilting trade like frames, antique sewing machines, and more.
The Haywood County Arts Council gallery show runs through Saturday, June 19.
A special artists’ reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 4, at Gallery 86. The reception is being held in conjunction with the Waynesville Gallery Association’s Art After Dark where shops, galleries, and businesses remain open until 9 p.m. Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m,, Monday through Saturday.
Participating artists include members of the Cruso Quilting Guild, the High Country Quilting Guild, and the Shady Ladies Quilting Group, among others. Members of both the High Country Quilt Guild and the Shady Ladies Quilting Group are donating proceeds from the sale of their quilt squares to the Haywood County Arts Council for the Haywood County Quilt Trails project.
The gallery exhibition not only helps reinforce the rich tradition of quilting in Haywood County, it also raises awareness of the newly-launched Haywood County Quilt Trails project. The idea is to develop heritage trails comprised of painted quilt blocks that have been installed on barns and buildings throughout the county. Each block tells a unique story about the location or family history. The Shelton House Museum will receive the first quilt square on the Haywood County trail later this summer.
For more information, visit www.haywoodarts.org.
In 1980, Gov. Jim Hunt signed a proclamation declaring Franklin as the “Quilting Capital of the World.” That tradition has been preserved and is being expanded in a major way. Maco Crafts — a nonprofit cooperative that operated from 1969 until 2001 — produced many quilts, but three unique creations have continued to draw admirers and promote Macon County.
These three quilts, after many years, are now reunited in Franklin, and will be welcomed home at a special showing on April 17. “Patterns of our Heritage” will feature the quilts, but will also have various exhibits that show not only how the quiltmaking tradition is being preserved, but how it is expanding and evolving into an important part of the economy.
According to The Wall Street Journal, “Quiltmaking is a $3.3 billion industry today, with 27 million enthusiasts.” These quilts can play an important role in attracting folks to Franklin and Western North Carolina. The Folk Heritage Association of Macon County is developing plans for a Living Heritage Center that will showcase the way of life in these mountains. The quilts will ultimately be displayed there, but in the interim, they can be displayed at many locations around the area.
The Original World’s Largest Quilt was created in 1980 and has been a “roving ambassador” for Franklin since that time. Measuring 18-feet by 21-feet, it was displayed on the “World’s Largest Bed” at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. In addition to appearing at many fairs and festivals, the quilt hung in the John F. Kennedy for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. for one month. A bus was chartered to take the quilters, the mayor of Franklin, and many local folks to Washington where they were hosted by Rep. Lamarr Gudger and his wife. The Friends of the Kennedy Center held a reception for them.
Some other major appearances of the Big Quilt were at the Master’s Golf Tournament, the Southern Living Show in Charlotte, and in New York City.
In 1980, Philip Morris Corporation began assembling the “North Carolina Collection” of North Carolina crafts at their cigarette manufacturing plant in Concord. The design firm of Chermayeff and Geismar Inc. in New York contracted with Maco Crafts to produce a giant wall hanging for this collection. Made up of 333 different traditional patchwork patterns, it is 10-feet high and 38-feet wide, with the colors blending from one to the next in a rainbow-like effect. When the Philip Morris plant closed in 2009, they chose to return the big wall hanging to the place of its creation, donating it to the Folk Heritage Association.
The third quilt in this trio was in the process of production when the 9/11 tragedy occurred. Originally designed as just a celebrity autograph quilt, the focus was changed to “The Celebrate America Autograph Quilt.” Centered by a hand-painted American flag and the motto “Out of Many, One,” the quilt is bordered with autographs of heroes like emergency medical workers, firefighters and law enforcement officers. In addition, there are around 40 celebrity autographs from all walks of life; for example, Kenny Rogers, Maya Angelou, Richard Petty, Alan Jackson, Bill Friday, Dean Smith, Elizabeth Taylor, and Tom Glavin. The quilt was given to KIDS Place, a local center for child abuse services, to use as a fundraiser. The winner of the raffle, Linda Tyler, chose to donate the quilt to the FHAMC so others could enjoy it.
Co-sponsored by Folk Heritage Association of Macon County, the Town of Franklin and Macon County, the event on April 17 is designed to do four things:
• Recognize the role of quiltmaking in the cultural heritage of Western North Carolina’s mountains and in its future.
• Showcase three priceless examples of this art form.
• Honor those who created these unique, incomparable treasures.
• Appreciate those who so generously made these quilts available to the Folk Heritage Association and the people of Macon County.
It is easy to forget the hundreds of hours of work that went into the creation of these treasures, but on this day, the guests of honor will be those women who worked so hard. Sadly, many of them have died, but any family members present will be recognized.
During the event, attendees will be invited to take part in the design and creation of another quilt, “Macon County Treasures.” When completed, it will become part of the Macon County collection of quilts.
Throughout the day, music will be provided by Macon County’s own Ronnie Evans. Playing his classical and steel string acoustic guitars, he will perform pieces that range from pop standards of the past to bluegrass and easy listening.
By Sarah Kucharski
The Shady Ladies, a diverse group of quilters based in Haywood County, are gearing up for their third annual show at Lake Logan Episcopal Center held June 2-4.