By MARINA WATERS
It took over 200 hours to quilt, more than 15 sets of hands to do everything from designing to ironing, and four people to hold up the colossal quilt that seemed to swamp the members of the Old Town Quilter’s Guild in guild member Anita Smythe’s living room for the Herald & Tribune photo-op.
The guild made the quilt as part of the group’s annual quilting challenge and the proceeds from the quilt, which will be on display and up for sale at the Visitor’s Center during the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, will benefit the Jonesborough Area Ministerial Association.
“We thought tying into that (storytelling) would really help to promote Jonesborough,to create awareness for quilting and that it isn’t just traditional,” Smythe said. “I think that’s another thing. You’re displaying something that has a traditional pattern but certainly is not traditional in the execution of it.”
Though the practice of quilting has been around since about 3400 B.C. and in the United States since the settlement of the New World, many associate quilting with the Appalachian region and the old-time quilters who pass down their hand-sewn patchwork from generation to generation. But now, the Old Town Quilters Guild is ready to take that traditional method and add a slightly modern twist.
“Many people think of quilts as very traditional in appearance,” guild member and project committee co-chair Bette Mullersman said. “They know about their grandmother’s flower garden quilt or their grandmother’s wedding ring quilt, but they don’t often see more contemporary fabrics used in traditional patterns.”
In fact, the quilt dons a “hunter’s star” pattern which inspired the quilt’s name, “Stars Over Jonesborough”. It’s also a boutique quilt, which means it’s the same pattern on the front and the back so there is no “wrong” side.
Though the quilt offers a traditional pattern and technique, Smythe chose less traditional, fall-colored hues in honor of the town’s festival taking place in October. The style of quilt isn’t the only part of the project that rides the line between modern and traditional, however; Smythe said one of her favorite parts of the guild is the range in the group’s skill levels.
“It’s very inspirational to get together with people from various levels because we have everyone from beginners to advanced, prize-winning quilters,” Smythe explained. “I started when I was a kid making doll clothes. Then I was making people clothes for myself and then for my kids. But then I got to the point where I wasn’t happy with what I was making. Because I still wanted to sew, so quilting was the next step. Plus, just the history behind it really intrigues me and the colors basically. I love the colors.”
Meanwhile, Mullersman said it’s the freedom she finds in the skill-level and quilting style variance that keeps her coming back and wanting to share the word about the group.
“I think that’s the benefit of being in a guild is that you have people who are doing all kinds of things,” Mullersman said. “And if you want to try it, everybody’s helpful and willing to teach you and stand by you and share new techniques and even old techniques that still work. For me, it’s refreshing and inspirational like Anita said. I feel accepted even though I do different things. My quilts are really not like this. They scream colors.
“It really is a combination of a lot of people’s generosity.”
Guild member (and helpful neighbor who came right over to Smythe’s house after a phone call saying Smythe needed help holding the quilt up for a photo) Carolyn Walsh is another quilter who has witnessed the generosity of the group. Walsh said knowing how to thread a machine was the extent of her quilting knowledge when she joined the group, but now, quilting lets her express her personality.
“I’m a rule follower. I always wanted to be a rebel but I never was,” Walsh said. “And with quilting, you have to follow those rules. If it says stay in that quarter-inch line, you stay in that quarter-inch line. And I can do that. But when it works out, it’s like, “Ah, okay! I can do this.”
Now that the quilt is complete, the project seems to have worked out for the guild, but for some guild members, the project isn’t complete until someone finally buys the star-laden quilt that will be up for sale in October.
“The goal isn’t just to finish it. The goal is to sell it,” Smythe said. ”It’s not finished yet until it’s actually sold. That’s part of the process.”
Though the quilt could go to someone in town or a visitor from anywhere in the world, the purchaser will always have a reminder of where the sewn blanket was made.
“It’s so perfect. If someone does come in for storytelling, or maybe it’s someone from Jonesborough, on the back of the quilt it has a picture of the courthouse and it says who made it and that it’s from Jonesborough,” Walsh said. “So they’ll always have a reference of a part of Jonesborough in their house. So it’s very cool.”
The guild—which is similar to their quilt in that all their pieces and personalities and modern-meets-traditional style all came together to form one group and quilt—are now ready for that final step of displaying the hand-crafted blanket. And as with most specially made items, the attachment and appreciation is something the members have certainly considered.
“My hope is for someone just to appreciate it. People are like, ‘Oh that’s a nice blanket. Okay, I’ll take it.’ But it’s different. If the person can’t appreciate it, I don’t want their money. If they can’t look at it and say, ‘Oh look how perfect that line is all the way across’—mine probably wouldn’t be yet” Walsh said, laughing, “but this one is. This one is perfect. As long as they appreciate it and realize that took a lot of time.”
“Well you know, it’s hard (selling it),” Mullersman said. “It’s interesting, I’m ready to sell it because I know it’s going for a really great cause. I did it for that reason. It’s interesting how you do get attached. But I think because it’s been a group effort to meet specific goals, it’s easier. It’s much easier because it’s a combination of all of our work.”
“The person who purchases the quilt, I think there’s going to be several motivations. Knowing that the money is going to be used for the food pantry, a local charity, I think stimulates people to let go of their money,” Mullersman said. “And to know that they’re contributing to a Jonesborough charity and then they’re taking home something that they’re going to use and enjoy. That’s a good feeling all around.”
The quilt will be on display and for sale throughout the festival on October 6-8 in Jonesborough.