Carolyn L. Higgins — Contributing Writer
Quilting is an art that comes from the heart and not just the fingers and the mind. A lot of love and heritage goes into this timeless craft that local artisans want to preserve. With the arrival of spring just a few days ago, many locals and visitors alike will be counting the days until Airing of the Quilts. This annual tradition has been hosted the Saturday before Mothers Day for at least the last decade.
“Spring time is here, time to get those quilts out,” said Gwen Taylor, president of Streets of Franklin and one of many volunteers for Airing of the Quilts. This historic event has drawn from near and far and has been a popular Franklin tradition for some time.
Sponsored by the Streets of Franklin Heritage Association along with the Arts Council of Macon County, the Arts Council, and Sassy Stitches Quilt Shop, Airing of the Quilts event sprinkles a bouquet of color to Downtown Franklin heritage. As locals and visitors alike stroll the sidewalks and streets on May 12, they will encounter a visual and hands-on stimulus of quilters and quilt displays, and hundreds of quilts airing throughout the historic downtown area and throughout countryside homes in the Town of Franklin.
Vision for Airing of the Quilts Event
The vision to celebrate history of the quilts, the quilters and the quilt shops is shared by Taylor and Martha Holbrook, who is a downtown merchant and key organizer of Airing of the Quilts. Both paint a picture of vibrant, beautiful quilts that people can admire, touch, inquire about and maybe purchase.
“We invite everyone to come downtown and enjoy the scenery, visit the shops, and dine in the various restaurants during this all-day event,” said Holbrook. “We want to celebrate the heritage of it by lining both sides of the streets downtown with beautiful quilts. It is an outdoor event with displays, music, including a dulcimer duo, fun for the entire family, and the Franklin Garden Club Annual Plant Sale. Come and enjoy the fresh air.”
It is also a great time to take a journey along the Quilt Trail and learn more about early quilters and to explore the art of quilting.
History of Airing of the Quilts
Leading up to this popular event that draws people from neighboring towns and states, people are preparing their wares to help preserve their family history.
It is believed the actual activity of bringing out the quilts and hanging them to air before packing them up for the winter spurned this beautiful tradition. Quilts were necessities for warmth, but were also created and given for babies, for children, for wedding gifts. Small lap quilts were given to elderly persons at home or in nursing facilities and quilts of valor presented to people in the military. These are timeless traditions that have lasted. “There’s just so much that a quilt can contain, so we want people to walk down the street and see them hanging as they can touch and feel and enjoy the colors and admire whether it is a straight stitch or not,” said Holbrook.
“Quilts hold so many loving memories, every stitch and every piece is touched by loving hands” (from Quilts on the square Facebook page)
Holbrook believes we can all appreciate quilts in some way from the smallest to the largest king-sized quilts for the beds in our homes. She also encourages anyone to try quilting. “It’s an important craft; anybody can do it if they can thread their needle.” Quilt shops in the area will participate as well as Cowee Quilters.
“When we have the quilters, it is a way for the tradition not to die and we have seen it continue on,” said Taylor. “Some young people see that it didn’t start out with the sewing machine; it started out with the needle and thread. Maybe a kid will now say, ‘I’m warm under grandmother’s quilt and now I know how it is made.’”
Supporting Airing of the Quilts
People can prepare for Airing of the Quilts by hanging their own quilts, by spreading the word and following on the Facebook page, Airing of the Quilts –NC. People come from far away, so there will be a draw from regional advertisement and promotion in quilting publications.
When visitors come, they also tend to “spread the word.” Taylor hears visitors’ surprise as they proclaim Franklin as a “hidden gem.” She encourages them to return for other gems such as the Appalachian Folk Heritage Festival, 4th of July festival, PumpkinFest and, of course, the vibrant fall colors.
Visitors have expressed their appreciation in many ways. Holbrook encountered a couple from Virginia who drove all the way down here for this event. And, Taylor got an earful from visitors glad Franklin was appreciating and supporting “great heritage and tradition that many small towns are losing.” They were glad to see that Franklin still appreciated its heritage and craftsmanship.
During the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse people fussed about Franklin keeping “the secret.” Taylor reminded them that they now knew about “the secret” that wasn’t, and they should come back to enjoy more such as the Airing of the Quilts and many other events.
“Family and tradition are very important to me, and even though I did not grow up in Franklin, I grew up in North Carolina, said Taylor. “It is amazing to see all the similarities from the east coast of North Carolina to the western Carolina mountains. Even though there are lots of miles in between there are a lot of similarities in our heritage.” Just as proud as people are of their quilts, brimming with pride, Taylor is proud that after 10 years, she is now considered “a local.”
Like crystal and fine china that people keep tucked away and only bring out and enjoy for special occasions, that occasion is here. It’s springtime. Beat the dust off the quilts, and proudly display them.
Airing of the Quilts has so many layers that will be uncovered leading up to the May 12 celebration. In the meantime, prepare to experience quilts everywhere – on fences, in front of stores, on yard flag display hangers, on clothes lines with clothes pins – anywhere the imagine will take you – just plan to be there.