Spread across the foot of the bed, quilts are treasured family heirlooms, stitched by great-grandma’s hand to keep the family warm on cold winter nights.
Displayed on rods and mounted on walls, quilts are works of art, bits of fabric pulled together with intricate stitching to tell a story or express an artistic theme.
For 1,400 quilt lovers who will converge on the campus of Maryville College this weekend for the 30th annual Smoky Mountain Quilters of Tennessee Quilt Show and Competition, there is room for both the practical and the artistic.
What matters is the quality.
Quilt show event chair Ann Rushing of Maryville and event vice chair Leslie Hinson of Halls are helping to organize the event, which will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 19-20, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Cooper Athletic Center. For a $5 admission ticket, visitors can see what guild members have collected and submitted from throughout East Tennessee.
“This is art done in fabric,” said Hinson.
Rushing said people who come to the show, whether they are quilters or not, will be impressed with the quality of the quilts. “This is not your mom and pop’s quilt show. It is an outstanding opportunity to see quality quilts. Some of the skills and designs on the quilts will be outstanding,” Rushing said. “You’ll see professionals who win in international competitions and those who are just beginning.”
Individuals did not have to be guild members to submit entries. “We have people from several states who submit quilts, and we even have some internationally submitted,” Rushing said.
The event will be a judged show accredited through the National Quilting Association.
This year’s judge, Mary Stori of Western North Carolina, is a nationally-known quilter and teacher. “She has been a quilt instructor for years. She has organized quilting tours to places in Europe, Far East and the Caribbean,” Rushing said. “She has written a book and done many quilting techniques.”
Rushing said Stori will judge 173 quilts. “Each quilt will be in category. She will look at each quilt in their categories as they are displayed laying flat. Hostesses will turn each quilt from the bottom. She will be looking at the total design and the quality of the work,” Rushing said.
Stori will appraise the quilts and decide which quilts receive awards. There will be a total of $5,000 in prize money awarded. “We have monetary awards for first, second and third in “A” through “O” categories. We have everything from traditional to art quality quilts,” Rushing said. “There is really a mix.”
Rushing said organizers are honoring longtime members by having them show off their first show pieces. “We’re going to have one section of quilts made by members who have been in the guild at least 25 years,” she said.
Hinson said, “We’re honoring people who have been here that long and stuck with it.”
Hinson and Rushing said show spectators also will get to see a “Bed Turning” where internationally known quilter Merikay Waldvogel of West Knoxville will show off a variety of quilts. “She explains the quilts. They are displayed on a bed and hostesses fan the quilt down so you can see the quality,” Rushing said.
Hinson said Waldvogel, a nationally known quilt authority, lecturer and author, will tell visitors about each quilt through their styles.
“She will bring antique quilts and can tell when they were made by the style, color, pattern and fabrics,” she said.
Rushing said Waldvogel was inducted into the International Quilters Hall of Fame in 2009. “There are less than 40 people who have been inducted into the Quilter Hall of Fame, and she is known as a quilt historian,” she said. “She is going to do two ‘bed turning” shows at 11 a.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday where she’ll talk about the older quilts.”
Rushing said the “bed turning” shows are always well attended. “It is fascinating to see these quilts,” she said.
Rushing said there will also be something for those individuals who come but may not be as interested in the minutiae of quilting. “We’ll have scavenger hunt from quilts that are hanging in the show,” she said. “It will say, ‘Look for stars or a big moon or mermaid,’ which can be found on the quilts that are hanging,” Rushing said. “It is enjoyable for all -- husbands and the kids.”
Hinson said it is usually a mixed crowd of spectators who come to see the quilts and sometimes the men are just as interested in the quilts as the women. There will also be a Challenge Quilt category.
“Every year the guild comes up with a topic and style and fabric and the quilter comes up with something that goes with our theme. Since we’re 30 years old, our challenge theme is ‘Pearls of Wisdom.’ When you give someone a gift on a 30th anniversary, it’s pearl,” Hinson said. “There will be 11 Challenge Quilts that go with the theme of ‘Pearls of Wisdom.’”
Rushing said guild members are extremely excited about the show. “Every year we can’t wait to see the quilts that are up. Some of us will be there during judging,” she said. “You can look at the quilts five times and see something different. If you’re a quilter, you will love it.”
Rushing said they usually see about 1,400 people flock to the shows, which were first held in Oak Ridge, downtown Knoxville and most recently at Pellissippi State in Hardin Valley. They’re hoping that many follow the show to Maryville College.
“This is a new location and new dates, so we’re hoping to bring people in. We have really tried to get the word out in Blount County and in other areas so folks will follow us and come see the show,” she said.
Rushing said they will use two gyms at the Cooper Athletic Center. “We are not using the competition gym but gyms on either side,” she said. “There’s lots of space. We’ll have more quilts in this show than we’ve ever had.”
Hinson said some of the ladies in the guild donated smaller quilts for sale, and there will also be 18 vendors selling a variety of merchandise or services on site. Event sponsor Sewing Machines Etc. will also have a booth, she said.
“Some will be selling fabric, and there will be a batting booth, basketry, and we’ll have massage therapists for weary quilt-lovers,” Hinson said.
Rushing said most items will be sewing related, but there will be one sure to tempt everyone’s sweet tooth. “We have Sweet Celebrations who will be our food vendor,” she said.
Admission is $5 per person but individuals in groups of 10 or more get in for $4 each. On Sunday, anyone who brings a non-perishable food item gets in for $4 and those items are donated to the Community Food Connection of Blount County.
Hinson said a portion of the proceeds supports the guild’s charity work, including Ronald McDonald House in Knoxville and the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
“We donate quilts to children in the hospital,” said Hinson. “A number of members do Quilts of Valor to send to service members who are veterans and to other organizations.”
“We’ve been working on this for six months straight and we’re delighted to be at Maryville College. There’s plenty of parking, lighting, and the campus is beautiful,” Hinson said.
“We are very happy and hope this is permanent location,” Rushing said.