Though they are ideal for warmth and snuggling, quilts are never really viewed as earmarks in culture or history. But, according to experts like Merikay Waldvogel, these blankets are, aside from being special family heirlooms, cultural art in one of its purest forms.
Tonight, quilt historian Waldvogel will be giving a presentation called “Quilts!” specifically about quilting in the Appalachian area and how the history of this area is reflected through the fabric and patterns.
“This is about the key influence of local people who impacted quilts and design and what that represents historically,” Deb Haines, communications chairperson for the Commission for Women, said “There’s more to it…quilts aren’t just material pieced together. It’s a chance to look at what was happening, what people were doing while making them.”
The idea that America is a melting pot of cultures is resonant in quilts, especially the ones from this area.
“Appalachian quilts have always had a certain mystique, and rightly so. (Scottish), Irish, (German) and French immigrants have all added their particular needlework traditions and folk art designs to quilts made here,” Waldvogel said.
These culturally rich blankets are rare and to be treasured.
“In the mid-19th century, red and green appliqué floral quilts were considered the epitome of quilts. During the Civil War, these types of quilts were hidden with family silver,” Waldvogel said.
As time passes, the patterns and styles of quilting evolve, or are forced to evolve because of major events like the Great Depression.
“For everyday quilts in the 1930s, you begin to see quilters being resourceful — using sewing scraps, feed and flour sacks, etc. In East Tennessee, quilt-makers were known to grow a few cotton plants in their vegetable gardens for the purpose of making cotton batting for their quilts.”
After years of studying, Waldvogel is able to identify age, pattern and other defining characteristics of quilts. Program attendees are encouraged to bring their own quilts to share or learn about their history.
“We made public service announcements for it, and even set broadcast invitations to different quilting groups in parts of Kentucky and western North Carolina,” Haines said.
Sponsored by the Commission for Women and the Ready for the World initiative, the program begins today at 7 p.m. at the McClung Museum Auditorium.

Leah Forbus
Staff Writer