The Appalachian Quilt Trail

October 27, 2010 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment

Breathtakingly beautiful!

Breathtakingly beautiful!

I recently had the opportunity to travel to eastern Tennessee to participate in one last military dental event while I was still allowed by the obstetrician to do so.  (Aside:  I checked the airline guidelines to make sure I wasn’t going to be denied a seat on account of my gravid status, and found out they only restrict travel within seven days of the due date! And it’s by honor system!  I guess even airline employees follow Dave Barry’s Rules for Living on the subject:  “You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.”)

Anyway, I had never been to eastern Tennessee, or, for that matter, any part of Tennessee that wasn’t the Memphis airport, so I jumped at the opportunity.  I’m so glad I did.  My itinerary wound up providing me a free Friday afternoon and a free Sunday afternoon for sightseeing, so before leaving I did some internet detective work to find out what I might want to see.  Needless to say, my first thought was of quilty things, and a quick search revealed an impressive density of quilt shops in the greater Johnson City-Jonesborough area.  But it also revealed something very intriguing:  the Appalachian Quilt Trail.

The concept was started in Ohio nearly ten years ago, to promote tourism by painting quilt block murals on the sides of barns.  The state of Tennessee picked up the idea with a vengeance, placing 330 of the 8′ x 8′ hand-painted wooden murals on the sides of barns over a 300 mile looping trail in central and eastern TN (there are quilt murals in southwestern VA and western NC as well.)  Rather than just being assigned randomly, several of the quilt blocks replicate family quilts inherited by the owners of the sites.  There was an open house event happening on Saturday, October 16, but as that was the day that I was screening the dental health of Army National Guard troops for 10 1/2 straight hours, I was otherwise occupied.  Apparently, though, several of those family quilts were on display at selected sites that day.  The very helpful map and brochure indicated not only the location of each mural, but also whether it was located at a “drive-by,” private site, or if there was a shop, museum, or farm stand associated with it.  Thus, not only does the Quilt Trail create a lovely rationale for driving around the stunningly beautiful Tennessee countryside, but it also provides opportunities for ecotourism, agritourism, historical tourism, and shopping.

I landed at Tri-Cities Airport around 1 pm on an absolutely picture-perfect fall day, the kind with sunny blue skies and a crisp breeze that just makes you want to rake leaves, carve a pumpkin, and bake an apple pie.  I didn’t have to be on base until 7:30 the next morning, and I had a rental car, so I drove around to several of the sites and quilt shops in the greater Johnson City – Jonesborough area.  I got lost a decent amount; street signs are not apparently much of a priority in that area, but in daylight and without a strict time schedule, I didn’t mind much.  I started out at the Knob Creek Museum site in Johnson City, planning to see the museum as well as the mural, but it turned out to be open by appointment only, and that always makes me feel awkward.  I did get a picture, though:

Mother's Dream Nine Patch

"Mother's Dream Nine Patch," Knob Creek Museum, Johnson City, TN

From there I headed towards the next location on the map, but made a wrong turn.  However, in my attempt to get turned around, I spotted a quilt shop I hadn’t prescreened at home, In Stitches.  It’s a small shop, primarily a Bernina dealership, but they have an eye-popping collection of modern, graphic fabrics.  These two juvenile prints recommended themselves immediately:

fabric from In Stitches

However, this was also where I found out the downside to being a tourist in Tennessee:  nine-and-a-half percent sales tax! Everyone I met there was very friendly and very proud of their state, and I’m sure it’s a nice place to live, what with no state income tax and all.  But as a tourist who doesn’t get that benefit, 9.5% sales tax is a little… chafing.  Oh well.  Delaware has no sales tax at all, but is nowhere near as pretty.

From there I went to another quilt trail site:

Swallows in the Window

"Swallows in the Window," M. Thomas Barn, Johnson City, TN

And from there, to another shop.  Somewhere Sewing is about to move to Ohio, so everything was 30% off.   A new shop is opening in the next town over and has already hired all the staff, so morale was excellent and the selection was vast.  I called my mom from the shop and did a little remote personal shopping for her as well:

fabric from Somewhere Sewing

The blue Stonehenge on the left is for my mom

I then attempted to find a quilt mural that my iPhone’s GPS was quite confident it knew the location of, but I never found, despite driving by three or four times.  I did, however, get a picture of this:

Crockett & BooneI apologize for the dark picture, but it was very sunny that day:  it’s the intersection of Crockett Court and Boone Drive, which explains part of my difficulties navigating.  Everything in that area seems to be named after either Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone, which led to plenty of unfortunate singing on my part.

I then proceeded to Jonesborough, otherwise known as Historical Jonesborough, the Oldest Town in Tennessee, Storytelling Capital of the World.  (They seem both very proud of their history and very fond of capitalization.)  I wasn’t initally going to go to The Sewing Bee because I couldn’t find a website for them (I’m such a websnob) but they had an ad in my Quilt Trail booklet, so I gave them a try.  It turned out to be a very nice shop with beautiful class and shop models, a strong notions department, Patsy Thompson DVDs, and a good back room clearance selection!  This was where I really had to remind myself that all purchases had to fit in my suitcase.

fabric from The Sewing Bee

Based on their website, I was expecting Tennessee Quilts to be a nice shop.  I wasn’t expecting this:

Tennessee Quilts

It's like the Tara of quilt shops!

And yes, the whole two stories was occupied by the shop.  It was huge, and had the most comprehensive Kaffe Fassett selection I have ever seen in person, including multiple shop models of his designs.  I think I spent the first 20 minutes of my visit just wandering aimlessly around, taking it all in.  I didn’t actually buy much, just a couple of bargain fabrics, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and the friendly saleslady tipped me off to a small exhibit of guild quilts across the street (Boone Street, naturally) at the Historical Society.

Saturday was all about work, and I expected to put in almost as full a day on Sunday, but my team was finished early.  My flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until after 6, and a call to Delta resulted in no better options, so I devoted my afternoon to seeing a few more Quilt Trail murals.  I had another glorious day of clear weather, with the leaves just starting to turn and the Smoky Mountains in the distance, so I couldn’t think of a better use of my time.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

"Stars Over Tennessee," Allandale Farm, Kingsport, TN

"Stars Over Tennessee," Allandale Farm, Kingsport, TN

"Dutch Girl," Childress Brothers, Kingsport, TN

"Dutch Girl," Childress Brothers, Kingsport, TN

"Crown of Thorns," Bailey Farm, Kingsport, TN

"Crown of Thorns," Bailey Farm, Kingsport, TN

"Bow Tie in a Nine Patch," Lady Barn, Kingsport, TN

"Bow Tie in a Nine Patch," Lady Barn, Kingsport, TN

It was actually a good thing that my flight schedule put an endpoint to my natural tendency to apply a Pokemon-style “Gotta Catch ’em All” philosophy to a project like this, or I could have happily driven around much longer.  And on that note, a parting shot from Dave Barry’s Rules for Living:  “There is a very fine line between ‘hobby’ and ‘mental illness.'”


Entry filed under: Fabric Shopping, Travel. Tags: , , .

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