BARN QUILTS & QUILT TRAILS
Discovering the Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina
You can’t miss it. Smack-dab in front of you as you enter the tiny town of Bakersville, NC on HWY 226 is the Dogwood quilt square mounted on the quaint Historical Society Museum. The dogwood square honors Helen McBee, a beloved high school teacher. As a baby, she traveled in a picnic basket on a train from California to North Carolina. Her father was a founding father of Bakersville. Although no information was given as to why the dogwood block design was chosen to honor her, she was a respected community member involved with the Historical Society, the library and her church.
Such is the tradition of the Quilt Trails. Begun in Ohio as a daughter honoring her mother by sprucing up her barn with a painted quilt square, the sentiment has gone viral throughout the rural United States. Although I’ve been an avid quilter for 20+ years, I had never really paid attention to the Quilt Trails grassroots movement. That all changed with my recent vacation to the western North Carolina mountains this summer, and the persistent need to add interesting quilt-related content for my website. As I started to research the quilt trail maps, I became quickly aware that this was a HUGE movement! With quilt blocks around every corner in the small towns dotted across the rural highways, I realized I wouldn’t be able to find and photograph them all. (I also realized I’d need a better camera, as many barns are set far off the road.) I’ve included all the quilt squares I was able to get decent photos of. Not every quilt square has as interesting a story to tell as the one above, but I included any information I could find out about the ones I was able to photograph. Click on any of the pics in this post, and they will open to a larger size. Enjoy!
Arguably one of the most innovative quilt squares among the Quilt Trials of the US, the newly installed (March 2017) Quilt Block Sundial on the Yancey Times Journal building is a must see! A detailed description on the side of the block informs you of how to actually tell time with it within 6 minutes of accuracy! A local astronomy enthusiast and sundial maker, Bob Hampton, came up with the idea. It’s an easy walk from the town square.
The hosts of the cottages we stayed in guided us on a beautiful bike ride along the Toe River one morning. We had to stop several times and take photos of the barn quilts we stumbled upon along the way. The Bradford Nine Patch adorns the large barn in the photo above. This barn and the house which mimics its shape faces the Toe River and is an impressive structure. Upon close inspection, one can see the light background has a pattern on it believed to be patterned after a quilt the family had. Directly across the river are the two barns by the boxwood farm pictured underneath. The image on the red barn pictured on the left is a Railroad Quilt, yes, the railroad lies along the river. The image on the non-painted barn is called Scrapaholic’s Delight. The scrappy quilter in me loves this!
I love how these two square designs incorporate the kind of businesses they represent. The square on the left is for the Loafer’s Glory rafting company in Bakersville. Did you notice the paddle in the design? (I recognize this isn’t the best photo, forgive me. I took it with my phone hanging out the window as the hubster drove by.) Loafer’s Glory is a map dot commemorated by Charles Kuralt. The building used to be a general store. The term “Loafers Glory” was given by the women of the community complaining about the men who “lollygagged” on the porch of the community store.
The creativity of the pizza quilt block on the side of the Dry County Brewing Company and Pizza Shop in Spruce Pine struck me. It looks good enough to eat!
It didn’t take me long to notice, the Quilt Trails aren’t just limited to barns. It seems anybody who’s anybody along the Quilt Trails has a block on their building. These small towns have the feel of “Spirit Week” in school. Add a quilt block to your business to show your spirit…and the tourists will seek you out.
These communities really embrace the Appalachia quilt heritage. Blocks are thrown up so frequently, it is hard for those who document them to keep track of them all. Therefore, it was hard for me to find information about all of the unique blocks I saw. I have displayed them all in a grid below with as much information as I could find on them. If you know more, please feel free to post in the comments and I will update this post! Here are the links to Bakersville, Burnsville, and Spruce Pine Quilt Trial maps and information. These are the communities in Mitchell and Yancey Counties were we spent most of our time.
Local Quilt Shop – Wohoo!
For a quilter, no vacation is complete without finding the local, brick and mortar quilt shop. Am I right? Fabrics in the Fray is conveniently located on Highway 19, a main thoroughfare in the region. We were visiting every fly fishing shop in the area to pacify my husband, so this was my treat! This quilt store is located in Spruce Pine, NC. Population: ~2100. Let’s be real, one cannot expect the same inventory in a small town quilt shop to equate that of the quilt stores you find in urban areas. However, Anita does an impressive job of providing a variety of fabrics, notions, and other vintage finds. It is definitely worth stopping by. When I dropped in, there were a few women hanging out, doing their quilting thing in each other’s company. I loved that small-town camaraderie feeling I got when I walked in and saw that. I was pleased to see vintage sewing touches all over the store. This is not your cookie-cutter quilt store. (I love that when that happens!) I walked away with a stack of solids I had been needing. Definitely plan to work this in your itinerary if you are ever in the area.
Fabrics in the Fray
2601 Hwy 19 East
Spruce Pine, NC 28777
For Further Information
Suzie Parron has written a thorough account of the American Quilt Trail in collaboration with Donna Sue Groves, the instigator of the whole movement. Suzie has included colorful photos and interviews with the artists and barn owners so the stories of many of the barn quilts can be known and appreciated. Check it out in your local library.
Suzie is also host to an active Facebook group: Barn Quilt Enthusiast. This Facebook group is a lot of fun as people post barn quilts every day from all over the country!