Birds-barns quilt block

FOLLOW THE QUILT TRAILS — Many of the quilt blocks on display in WNC were hand-crafted by Carole and June Pearson of Burnsville. The sisters will visit Waynesville Aug. 12-13. Pictured is a birds-barns quilt block.

The Haywood County Arts Council is building upon, and continuing the tradition of, hand-painted quilt blocks that people see on many self-driving tours in western North Carolina.   

Haywood County is dotted with quilt blocks. They can be spotted decorating the sides of barns, welcoming at restaurants, and even advertising dentists’ offices. Quilt blocks are a visual emblem of Appalachia and a true art form of the people of the mountains.

Before the days of cable news, the quilting bee was how the community shared news. The quilters not only created magnificent textile art but were the source of vital information. Marriages were negotiated around the quilting frame. 

Quilting bees were also a form of peace talks. Families could settle disagreements by “going to the quilt” before heading to the courthouse. Feuds could be ended when the women would clear the air. No sensible man would dare defy a woman armed with a needle. 

It has even been suggested that the quilters were early suffragists, for the cooperative effort of making the complicated patterns allowed women to bond in highly personal and effective ways.

One of the most dramatic uses of the quilt was as a map for slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad. The quilts they carried were festooned with symbols which led the way to freedom. The Drunkard’s Path pattern warned of slave catchers and dogs in the area, so you had to backtrack. Flying Geese, headed north was a sign to “follow the birds.” A shoofly pattern told you there were helpers in the area. 

The Crossroads pattern signaled you were in Cleveland, Ohio, and free. The Crossroads on a quilt was also a challenge to make a life decision as to where to go next.

Many of the current quilt blocks on display in Haywood, Yancey and Mitchell Counties were hand crafted in Burnsville by Carole and June Pearson and their volunteers. 

The Haywood County Arts Council is now the headquarters for the Quilt Trails of Western N.C. and the associated art studio now located at the Folkmoot building in Waynesville.

Carole and June Pearson will be traveling from Burnsville to Waynesville to train interested volunteers in the techniques of Quilt Block painting over the next few months.  

The Pearson sisters will be sharing the secrets of quilt block painting Aug. 12 - 13. To discover more of this fascinating aspect of our culture, join the team of quilt block volunteer painters, and email the Haywood County Arts Council at or call 828-452-0593.   

Those interested in ordering a handcrafted Quilt Block for their home, barn, or business, are asked to visit: or come by the HCAC Gallery at 86 N. Main St. in Waynesville.

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