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In the old days, quilting bees united women who gathered together to stitch the colorfully patterned quilt top to its backing. Instead of store-bought blankets, quilts made from little scraps of clothing and such were a necessity, an affordable way to keep warm during the winter months. Eye-pleasing color combinations and tiny stitches earned county fair prizes, while at home neatly made beds brought admiring glances and a small measure of fame to clever homemakers.

Today, Kentucky’s multi-county Clothesline of Quilts project is bringing together a far-ranging group of folks—women and men, young and old—intent on bringing admiring looks and tourist dollars to their communities.

This time around the individual quilt squares aren’t sewn. They’re painted on 8-foot-square signboards and displayed outdoors on barns and other large buildings.

Kentucky’s first two quilt squares were unveiled Memorial Day weekend 2005 on Grace and Dean Ramey’s barn at their Garden Gate Greenhouse and Gift Shop on Highway 7 in Carter County. By spring 2006, at least 12 additional squares were put on display throughout Carter County. Other counties throughout the region are adding their own quilt squares.

Elliott County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences Gwenda Adkins says, “A few years ago, Donna Sue Groves in Adams County, Ohio, painted a large quilt square directly on her barn to honor her mom, Maxine Groves. Other people in her area began painting quilt squares on their barns, then the idea spread to Tennessee and other Appalachian states. Eventually, someone contacted the various Kentucky Resource Conservation and Development councils to share the idea. Our local nine-county Gateway RC&D group agreed that the quilt squares could be the backbone for improving many things in our area.

“With no interstate highway here, we hope that these giant quilt squares along driving trails on our scenic back roads will attract new visitors. The whole goal is to build our economy around our local assets. People who come to see the quilt squares will discover other things about our areas, such as fishing or buying local crafts.”

But the project is about more than tourist dollars—it’s about redeveloping a sense of community and pride in one’s own culture. “We’ve received a grant from the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill-Little Foundation,” says Adkins. “We’re going to have murals depicting scenes from our culture, such as an old-time tobacco patch with a team of mules. We have an educational component to our projects, too. We want to start an oraL history project. We’d like to record the voices of area quilters and farmers, then put it on a CD we can sell so that visitors will have something to listen to as they drive around.”

Adkins says, “When I got involved, I didn’t think we’d hear from many men—but we get phone calls all the time from guys who volunteer their barns, or who want to talk about the beautiful quilts their mothers and grandmothers made. This has been a heartwarming surprise.”

Over in Grayson in Carter County, retired teacher Barbara Davis says, “We think tourists looking at the Clothesline of Quilts will want to shop in our local mom-and-pop stores, restaurants and markets, visit flea markets and antique stores, enjoy the state parks in the area, and the various weekend festivals throughout the year.”

In every county, folks are gathering together to add their own unique touches to the project. High school students are volunteering to draw and paint, while in others it’s the older generation of retired folks eager for a new project. A central Web site, glossy travel brochures, maps, and other forms of publicity are rapidly taking shape.

Grayson RECC President and CEO Carol Ann Fraley says, “The Clothesline of Quilts project is generating a lot of energy and enthusiasm in our service area. When our guys in the bucket trucks are out in an area with a quilt square that’s ready for hanging, they enjoy putting it up on a barn.”

Adkins says, “The quilt square movement seems poised to become widespread throughout all of Appalachia. If you’d like more information, please contact your local Extension agent.”




TO VISIT THE KENTUCKY QUILT TRAILS

There’s no official map yet for where to find the quilts. You will find them scattered throughout a group of 22 northeast and eastern Kentucky counties.

In general you’ll find the quilts off the interstate on scenic roads in the various counties noted in the story. For example, in the Gateway RC&D 9-county area you will find quilts off U.S. 60, Highway 7, and Route 1, and the various loops off those roads. Try driving Highway 7 between Greenup, Carter, and Elliott counties, and roads in Rowan, Menifee, Bath, and Mont-gomery counties. Route 32 from Morehead to Sandy Hook and Route 2 in the Carter Caves area have quilts. More are going up weekly.

The Appalachian project is called Clothesline of Quilts. Each county group will use different names for their quilt project, but the entire group of quilts will collectively be known as Kentucky Quilt Trails.

A Web site is being developed and should be online by this summer, which will include the locations of quilts in all 22 participating counties.

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