Macon County quilting enthusiasts are making final preparations for a new festival debuting in Franklin this weekend that will showcase the art and artistry of quilting. As part of the first annual “Airing of the Quilts,” downtown merchants and homeowners will be “airing” their quilts on Saturday, May 7, by hanging the bright bursts of color on storefronts, porches and fences throughout Historic Downtown Franklin.
Mother’s Day weekend was intentionally chosen as the ideal weekend to hold the event. “We're honoring mothers and grandmothers and the tradition of quilting,” said Deb Heatherly, chairman of the Macon County Quilt Trails and owner of Deb's Cats and Quilts.
Asked where the idea of an “airing” festival came from, she explained: “A long time ago, bed linens and things weren't washed during the winter. When spring cleaning came, you had to air everything out – clean the windows, sweep out the house and air your bed linen. That's where the term ‘airing of the quilts’ came from.”
Franklin won’t be the first town to host such a event. The biggest Airing of the Quilts festival takes place every year in Sisters, Oregon. That festival celebrated its 35th anniversary this year, drawing more than 26,000 quilting enthusiasts.
“A lot of communities have taken on the same idea after that tradition,” said Heatherly, “but we thought that having it on Mother's Day weekend really paid tribute to mothers and grandmothers who came before us, taught us how to do these things and passed on the addiction!”
Heatherly explains quilting has long been an engrained tradition in Macon County as well as a big industry for the region. In 1980, then-Governor Jim Hunt signed a proclamation declaring Franklin, N.C., as the “Quilting Capital of the World,” due largely to the activities of the now defunct Maco Crafts.
The Macon County Quilt Trail, which was founded two years ago, has been looking to establish an event that would draw people and encourage them to follow the trail of “quilt blocks” at locations around the county. The organization used grants from the Franklin/Nantahala Tourism Development Commission and the Franklin Tourism Development Authority to get the ball rolling on the event this year.
The Historic Downtown Franklin area will be the focus of the event. Besides the merchants and homeowners who are planning to participate, an antique fire truck will be decorated by the courthouse. At the Clocktower, there will be a Quilt Trail booth set up with information for visitors. Non-profit organizations will set up booths with information, many selling raffle tickets, cookbooks and other items to raise funds.
The Smoky Mountian Quilters Guild will decorate Rankin Square for the festival with some of the more than 200 children’s quilts which the guild makes every year and donates to Head Start. Quilting racks will also be set up with guild members demonstrating various techniques and styles of quilting.
The raffle for this year’s “Opportunity Quilt” will begin on the day of the festival. An Opportunity Quilt, designed and quilted by members of the guild, is raffled off every year, with funds going in part to scholarships for the New Century Scholars program. The guild has provided more than $30,000 in scholarships over the years.
Nancilee Dills, Community Events Coordinator for the guild, says many quilters in the region are excited about the Airing of the Quilts and the attention it will bring to quilting in the region.
Besides the downtown attractions, Rickman’s Store in the Cowee community, which has timed its seasonal opening for this weekend, will also participate in the airing. Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Cowee will be hosting quilting demonstrations and serving refreshments.
“We just hope people will come out and enjoy looking at the quilts, new and old, all through downtown and around the county,” Heatherly said.