Quilting has been part of Flora Grantham’s life for as long as she can remember. Her mother and grandmother were quilters, and she shared their passion.
Johnston County has many quilters too, but when Grantham moved here in 1987, something was missing.
“If you go up to Appalachia, or to Pennsylvania where the Amish are, they have their quilts on display,” Grantham said. “When I came to Johnston County, I didn’t see that kind of thing.”
That’s why the Smithfield resident ultimately suggested a show in which quilters could display their quilts and those made and handed down by family members. That show is now in its eighth year.
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The Johnston County Extension & Community Association and the JoCo Quilters organize the annual show. This year’s event, held Oct. 9-11 at the Johnston County Agricultural Center, drew more than 100 quilts, some of them more than 100 years old.
In its earliest years, the show drew quilts from the Civil War era, said Jayne McBurney, a family and consumer educator with the Johnston County Cooperative Extension Service. She is among the show’s organizers.
The quilts on display reflect varied styles and techniques, McBurney said. “We have some very traditional but also very modern,” she said.
“We have a good time,” she added.
At this year’s show, Betty Ramos of Smithfield and her neighbor, Marsha Abrams, admired a quilt made by Ramos’ aunt.
“That was a dress I wore,” Ramos said, pointing to a white piece of fabric stitched with orange decals. “She would go visit different families, and she would collect different pieces. She’d cut all the pieces out and put them in different bags. We’d all save fabric for her to use.”
That’s the quilting heritage Grantham wanted to promote in Johnston County when she dreamed up the show. “The people here are talking about what their mother used to do, things like that,” she said with a smile. “Go around and just listen.”
Grantham displayed some of her quilts, including one with the code of the Underground Railroad stitched into it.
The JoCo Quilters, founded in 2011, take part in many community activities. At one of their twice-monthly meetings, the quilters can use sewing machines to work on projects. Over the years, the group has made more than 400 baby blankets and lap quilts.
Donations of fabric come from the community and, fittingly, from the estates of quilters.
McBurney said she enjoys bringing the quilt show to the public. “Quilts are emotional,” she said. “People you love have touched them.”