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Arts & Entertainment First annual ‘Airing of the Quilts’ festival brings visitors to downtown

Smoky Mountain Quilters presented some of their best along with an explanation of their mission and community contributions.The first annual “Airing of the Quilts” festival made its debut last Saturday in downtown Franklin and throughout Macon County.

More than 300 brightly colored quilts were hung out for display by businesses and locals for the Mother’s Day weekend event, according to Main Street Program Director Linda Schlott. “This has been a great opportunity and a fun experience to see so many quilts,” she said. “The work that goes into these is just amazing. This turnout has exceeded my expectations.”

Among the quilts adorning Rankin Square in Franklin were children’s quilts provided by the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild. The quilts were donated to Head Start, an endeavor the organization performs every year.

Most square patterns in quilts are assembled using larger sheets and then woven into a work. The squares in Karen Burney’s work were all hand made.Besides the downtown attractions, Rickman’s Store in the Cowee community, which has timed its seasonal opening for this weekend, also participated in the airing.

This year’s “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. This year’s quilt was titled “Circle Squares” by guild member Karen Burney. The winner of the quilt will be announced at Franklin’s PumpkinFest this year. The guild has provided more than $30,000 in scholarships.

The event had historic roots, explained Deb Heatherly, chairman of the Macon County Quilt Trails. “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.”

According to Heatherly, the Mother’s Day weekend was an ideal time to hold the event. “We’re honoring grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, and trying to get people to see the quilt trail this weekend,” she said. “We’re thrilled with the turnout.” She recalled meeting visitors from Clyde, Clayton and from states as far away as Florida.

This photo shows the diversity of quilt design that is possible for the experienced quilt maker. Photos by Davin EldridgeFranklin was not the first town to host such an event. The largest Airing of the Quilts festival takes place every year in Sisters, Oregon. This year, the Sisters festival celebrated its 35th anniversary, and drew more than 26,000 quilt enthusiasts.

The Macon County Quilt Trail, founded two years ago, has been looking to establish a quilting event that would draw people to the area 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.

Quilts adorned fences and benches all over downtown Franklin. According to Anne Woods and Charles Strehl, visitors from York, Pennsylvania, the event was a great addition to their tour of Western North Carolina. “We just arrived and are staying in Cherokee. We read about this in the paper. There are a lot of things going on in the mountains and this is a nice addition,” said Woods.

Several business owners in downtown Franklin said they had seen an increase in sales with the Airing of the Quilts festival.

“It’s been busy,” remarked Books Unlimited owner Cynthia Harris. “It may be because it’s Mother’s Day or a combination of both.”

Rathskeller Coffee Haus and Pub owner Heidi Hunter said that with all of the different events in Macon County, including the Gem Show on the Highlands Road, her business had seen an increase. “We have noticed an upkick in customer circulation. Whatever it is, it’s good.”

Franklin Fire and Rescue exhibits its quilted fire truck in downtown Franklin.According to Sandy Pantaleo, owner of Main Street Coffee and Tea, her business had nearly doubled from typical Saturday sales. “It’s not a huge increase, but it’s the festival’s first year, and it has brought in customers. A lot of them have been hikers,” she said.


At the face of the Rankin Square memorial the quilt entitled 'Circle squares,' by Karen Burney, was raffled off with the winner to be announced at Pumpkinfest this fall.


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