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Quilt turning showcases patterns in history

Jan Crowder, winner of the Lone Star quilt made by Tennessee Quilts Shop, is pictured with, from left, Brenda Crouch, Jan Crowder, Jan’s mother, and Linda Crouch-McCreadie during the 3rd Annual Quilt Turning for the Quilt Trail held at Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens in Unicoi. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

On July 19, Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens of Unicoi hosted the 3rd Annual Quilt Turning for the Quilt Trail. A quilt turning is a form of informal performance in a comfortable setting.

Led by Linda Crouch-McCreadie, co-owner of Tennessee Quilts Shop, several barn owners and other quilt collectors from the region stacked their quilts on a large bed and then peeled back the layers, as they peel back the layers of time. Guests gathered around to enjoy the “turning” –  hearing the stories behind the quilts, the quilt-makers, and the intricate handiwork stitched into them.

“The Quilt Trail depends on community goodwill and donations,” said Emily Bidgood, coordinator of the Quilt Trail for northeast Tennessee.  “We all felt like family supporting a good cause. We admired well-loved quilts and heard touching stories from the late 19th century into more recent times. Each story shared is a gift.”

The Quilt Trail of Northeast Tennessee is a Appalachian Research Conservation & Development Council program cataloging and celebrating regional quilt history and how the tradition continues today. The program is responsible for the colorful painted quilt murals installed on old barns and in the downtown centers of Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington counties. The Quilt Trail continues to grow, most actively in downtown Greeneville, currently, according to Bidgood. Maps and information are at www.QuiltTrail.org.

At the Quilt Turning, Pat and Johnny Lynch told the story of the well-worn Ohio Rose quilt, and Pat’s father, Earl Peterson, who was a doctor in Unicoi. Patients often gave him quilts in lieu of cash payment, including this quilt. Pat told the story of an event in the 1960s when a young man, Ketron Couch, got stabbed in a fight at the courthouse and her father arrived at the scene. He pressed his fingers into the cardiac wound and stopped the blood. He rode like that, holding the young man, in the ambulance, until they got into the emergency room where he did surgery and saved Couch’s life.

Fast forward – last summer a fishing boat overturned on the river in a boating accident. Ketron Couch was also coming down the river that day and he was there to save a drowning man’s life. “Divine intervention,” said Pat.

Ron Dawson of Watauga showed several quilts. In the 1700s, Jeremiah Dungan had hunted on the king’s preserve in Pennsylvania and fled persecution by traveling down the Appalachian Mountains and settling beyond the boundary line, in Cherokee country, in Watauga. He built a stone mill and stone house, with family members that would eventually become owned by the St. John and Dawson family. The St. John Milling Company can still boast that it is the oldest business in Tennessee. The Mill is no longer functional today, but the farm business very much is. Dungan was Pennsylvania Dutch, so the Dawsons have collected Little Dutch Girl quilts.

Marjorie Shaefer, a storyteller and member of the Jonesborough Storytelling Guild, performed a story about a quilt made by her great-grandmother mid-1946. She remembers the year well because she helped make the quilt when she was a young child staying with relatives while her parents re-settled after World War II.

Rachel Wheeler, the younger teller at age 36, who is with AmeriCorps VISTA for the Appalachian RC&D Council, and loves her own family quilts. She brought three family quilts and shared childhood memories of the colorful ladies who made these heirlooms, including a wool Fan quilt pieced in late 19th century by her paternal great-great grandmother, quilted by her great-grandmother, and passed down to her by her grandmother.

Sisters Anna Roberts and Pat Barnett showed two quilts from Odessa “Desie” Lee Davis Neas, Greene County, their grandmother. Roberts and Barnett’s mother wrote a family memoir for her descendants. “The greatest gift,” said the sisters, for it contains stories about Desie as well. Desie hated housework because it was indoors. But she loved to sew – outdoors.

“When she was outdoors sewing she was as near to heaven as she ever hoped to be,” she had said, they remembered. The sisters passed around a b&w picture of her with white hair in a bun, on her wheeler-wilson treadle sewing machine out in the garden under the trees.

Writing down stories was the theme throughout the presentations. Linda Crouch-McCreadie and Brenda Crouch of Tennessee Quilts shared family quilts as well. Crouch-McCreadie modeled to everyone her best advice: put labels on the back of all your quilts.

“Once we’re all gone, unless there’s a memory book, the history gets lost,” Crouch-McCreadie said. “These will be around for a long time, as we can see here.”

These stories will be known and preserved. Later this year they will join the online collection at the YouTube Quilt Trail Story Project, supported by the Tennessee Arts Commission.