Sometimes to get a little press you've got to add a little color; you have to paint a quilt. Yes, paint a quilt.
It's tried and true -- just ask Chloe Tuttle, Innkeeper at the Big Mill Bed and Breakfast in Williamston, North Carolina.
About 10 years ago, Chloe read an article about quilts being replicated on wood with paint and placed outside barns along a quilt trail. She mentioned the idea to her local arts council "they liked it but nothing ever came of it, so one day I decided, 'I'll just do it myself," Chloe said. She knew the exact quilt she wanted up there too: her mom's red, white, and blue quilt.
Chloe's mom used to love to make quilts. She'd get old clothing scraps from friends and scrounge up sleeves from a nearby shirt factory that would toss about 500 at a time. She'd sit and stitch with a friend, while Chloe (then an infant) would play under the quilt, "I guess she wanted to know where I was," joked Chloe. Quilting was very much a family activity, even her dad, born in 1898, was in on the action. "They couldn't go to a store and buy the batting to stuff the quilts, they had to make it or do without, so my father would make it," she said. At that time, circa 1970s, patriotic colors were 'the thing.' Chloe's mom wanted to make a very special quilt and so this one time, she paid for brand new fabric, so that the colors would be their brightest and remain true throughout the various carefully connected squares.
A clear idea in mind, Chloe started researching how to get involved in the quilt trail and ultimately connected with the Tar River Quilt Trail. She learned that for about $600 they would paint a design of her choosing on four 4 ft x 4 ft wooden panels, which she had placed together to replicate her mother’s quilt on the side of the barn (which her dad built in 1935). The 8 ft x 8 ft masterpiece is affectionately called LeMoyne Star, which is another way to say an 8-point star quilt, what her mother originally named it.
“I’m an ECU [East Carolina University] graduate and studied weaving and fabric art, I could’ve painted the quilt myself but it would’ve taken me forever,” she said, “which is why it took me so long to get started. Then I learned I could just write a check!”
The quilting trail volunteers worked with Chloe over the course of a year to carefully paint and position the wooden quilt. She became very close with the group, particularly the artist, Kim Young, who oversaw her project. “She came and stayed at my bed and breakfast while they were putting it up, she wanted to make sure everything went just right.”
There were some rules on sizing and such. Chloe also had to guarantee the quilt would remain on the barn for at least 5-years since the trail prints maps for visitors. “I’m going to leave it up in perpetuity. It’ll be there until they haul me off,” she said. “I’m actually planning another one for the front of the barn.” Chloe was accompanied by her brother and nephew as the quilt was lifted onto the barn. “It was such a special day! My brother, nephew, and I were all born in this house. My dad built this barn and now my mom’s quilt is on it; plus her name was Chloe and my name is Chloe, so it’s like we’re both part of that.”
The quilt is the most easterly of the North Carolina quilts. It sits on the side of the barn so that a passersby can see it across the lake and reflected in the pond. “I’ve had so many people call me and tell me they just love it,” Chloe said. She’s since added lighting so the quilt is visible at night. “I guess I just want us to have art available. We don’t have to go to a museum, we don’t have to go to a big city, we can have art right here.”
In fact, Chloe’s started quite a trend in her community. The arts council, auto repair store, country store, and a total of eight businesses are planning quilts and will be joining the trail, Chloe said.
“I knew from the beginning that this was something worthwhile and that it could benefit the area,” she explained, but getting the media to cover it would take gumption. “I had to badger them, to tell you the truth,” Chloe said. “I had to be a nag and I had to be persistent. I badgered everybody.”
Chloe even wrote her own story and took pictures and mailed them to her local paper, thinking they might run a ready-to-print version, but no luck. Undeterred, Chloe tried a different newspaper. “I called the Greenville paper, it’s a bit farther away but I knew someone there because they call me when they want recipes. She sent a photographer out here. They thought I was hanging a real quilt, they were so surprised they ended up writing it up and printed it.”
That story was picked up by the Associated Press, which is a not-for-profit cooperative that shares its stories with more than 1,700 newspapers, in addition to more than 5,000 television and radio broadcasters. After that, Chloe’s local paper had a change of heart. “The little county paper never has any news and wouldn’t pick it up but they did after the big papers picked it up,” she said.
Chloe’s looking forward to the additional quilts going up; a process that could take another year. At that point, Chloe may provide trail maps to inn guests or develop a scavenger hunt involving the quilts. “I hope people will look at the trail maps and stop in Williamston, get a cup of coffee, and visit my quilt and one day the others too.” In the meantime, Chloe’s fine with her quilt being the go-to quilt. “I’m the most eastern quilt in North Carolina and I plan to claim that as long as I can,” she said with a laugh. “And just wait till I get the next one.”
For more information on:
The Quilt Trails of Tar River: http://www.fcacarts.org/quilt_trail_map.aspx
Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina: http://www.quilttrailswnc.org/
Quilt trails by state: http://barnquiltinfo.com/map-US.html
History of the quilt trail: http://www.barnquiltinfo.com/history.html