So folksy is the name of the Suwannee Valley Quilt and Old-Time Craft Festival that I immediately thought it would be a great title for a heartwarming film along the lines of Fried Green Tomatoes, but without any domestic abuse. The story would go as follows: In 1899, a breeches-wearing young woman with a crude streak and a slightly foul tongue gets lessons in the pleasures of dainty domesticity from a local quilting group and then catches a husband at the Baptist church picnic. They settle down and breed cracker cows and children and become pillars of the community. In 1917, though, the husband is killed by a cattle poacher and the heroine dedicates herself to making quilts for war-relief efforts.
Sound dull? There is a reason I am not a screenwriter, but I’ve seen worse.
I was afraid that the Suwannee Quilt Festival might likewise be a bit unexciting, but it turned out to be otherwise. Assuming that you like quiet pleasures and can appreciate intricate handiwork (in other words, girl stuff), the festival was both rewarding and surprising.
Strong winds made it difficult to photograph the quilts, which were hung on buildings along Trenton’s main street. Some of the quilts were for sale and others were strictly for exhibit. As we made our way through the festival, we saw the blue-ribbon quilt from the Florida State Fair (not for sale) and some beautiful examples of the art form that were, if you had at least seven-hundred dollars to spend on them. From a marketing standpoint, the price point was prohibitive, and yet from looking at the quilts I could easily see how much detailed work had gone into their creation. Where there was a theme, top choices were Americana, seasons, flowers, leaves, animals or patriotism. On the more sophisticated quilts the stitching was equally as important as the pattern. Others had fanciful embellishment and admonitions not to touch. You had to get very close to see a repeating rose pattern in thread the same color as a quilt. I quickly seemed able to appreciate most those quilts whose price tags were around a thousand dollars, which made me momentarily entertain the idea of going into the quilting business myself.
What I was missing was that these quilts are a labor of love, not an enterprise. Quilting is a highly technical skill and an exactingly laborious one. It’s also a social community, where technique and knowledge are passed from person to person and down through generations. It’s a bit like pie-making in this regard and although I am fairly certain men would be welcome to join, I saw most of the men at the festival clustered around a gleaming collection of vintage cars. They weren’t interested in the apron display, either. That’s why my mother and I left Dad at home to clean up his yard with a virile rake.