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.