Mountain Gateway Museum Showcases Vintage Quilts and Coverings

OLD FORT

When north winds would blow with falling snow in the 1800s, handmade quilts kept families warm. Mountain Gateway Museum & Heritage Center in Old Fort presents an exhibit of vintage textiles, “Uncovered: Airing the Stories of Heirloom Bedcoverings” through Memorial Day. 

“Uncovered” features a small sampling of quilts, coverlets and bedspreads made by western North Carolina women for their families within the past two centuries. The colors, fabrics, patterns, and needlework in the textiles offer hints about their makers and the times and communities in which they were created. 

The first women arriving in America brought needleworking and textile skills with them. Both European and African women were accomplished sewers and weavers. Applique, patchwork and embroidery weren’t new to them. With knowledge of cloth production, bedcoverings were no longer imported from Europe but became made in America. Almost every family had a four-harness loom which was well used to make quilts or blankets. 

Each family may have had a half-dozen or more beds as large families were common at the time. Quilts were needed in drafty colonial cabins and houses to keep warm. Each bed required four to eight quilts, which meant needlework was an ever-present part of daily life for women and girls. Quilting bees were popular events for women to gather, socialize and work together on a quilt. 

A fully dressed bed was a status symbol that often-provided colorful relief in the bed chamber. Bedcoverings were not always needed for warmth and light weight top spreads or coverlets were appropriate for summer. In the early 1800s, thin, decorative covers called counterpanes were especially popular. Similarly, brightly colored yo-yo quilts — which really weren’t quilts at all — became the rage in bedcoverings in the 1930s. 

Look closely at the vintage quilts, coverlets and bedspreads in “Uncovered.” Their richness and variety reflect the lives, talents, imaginations, and ingenuity of western North Carolina women. These textiles passed down through generations offer an invaluable lesson of their artistry and their memories. 

Learn more about these textiles and the women who crafted them at Mountain Gateway Museum, which is operating on a reduced COVID-19 schedule. Current hours are from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday. Mountain Gateway Museum is located at 24 Water St., Old Fort, N.C. It is the westernmost facility in the Division of State History Museums within the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and offers education on the culture and history of western North Carolina and services to other western North Carolina museums and historic sites. 

For more information call RoAnn Bishop, (828) 668-9259 or email roann.bishop@ncdcr.gov