North Carolina Quilt Project

The History of the North Carolina Quilt Project

Inspiration for the North Carolina Quilt Project began with the 1978 exhibition North Carolina Country Quilts: Regional Variations at the Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. This exhibition resulted from field study by then UNC students Joyce Joines Newman and Mary Ann Emmons and research by Laurel Horton. As far as we can determine, their research, focusing on quiltmaking in three distinct regions of North Carolina, was the first serious documentation of quilts in the United States.

In 1983 the Forsyth Piecers and Quilters Guild in Winston-Salem supported an exploration of the feasibility of a statewide quilt documentation project. The original steering committee consisted of five quiltmakers from different parts of the state: Kay Clemens, of Greenville; Kathlyn Sullivan, of Raleigh; Ruth Roberson, of Durham; Karen Pervier, of Winston-Salem; and Sue McCarter, of Charlotte. They were later joined by Martha Battle, Annie Teich, Laverne Domach, and Beverly Smalls to form the board of directors, along with folklorist Joyce Joines Newman as consultant, and Shirley Willis as documentation day coordinator.

Established as a nonprofit organization in 1985, the project's goal was to make a permanent record of quiltmaking in North Carolina through 1975. The 1975 date was chosen to be late enough to permit interviews with current quiltmakers and older women who had made quilts in earlier decades. The limiting date also encouraged the documentation of as many early quilts as possible. The North Carolina Quilt Symposium Inc. and the North Carolina Museum of History agreed to be cosponsors. Since North Carolina stretches five hundred miles from east to west and more than one hundred miles from north to south, the state was divided into seven regions, each with a regional coordinator. An official documenter and a paid photographer were present at each documentation day. More than 10,000 quilts were documented in a series of 76 documentation days in 1985-1986.

The project aimed to achieve some sense of the variety of quilts made in the state and to learn about the lives of the quiltmakers. Data was gathered on two forms; one form collected information about the quilt's owner, the quiltmaker, and their relationship. The second form recorded data collected during an examination by a quilt historian.

Color slides were taken of the quilts as well as black-and-white photographs. More than 3,500 owners brought quilts to be documented. Owners also brought dozens of pieces of ephemera along with their quilts-photos, newspaper clippings, biographies, and notes. These documentation forms, the photographs and slides, and ephemera are part of the archives of the project.

In 1988 UNC Press published North Carolina Quilts. NCQP director Ruth Roberson acted as editor, with chapters written by Ellen Eanes, Erma Kirkpatrick, Sue McCarter, Joyce Joines Newman, and Kathlyn Sullivan. In conjunction with the book's publication, the North Carolina Museum of History mounted an exhibition of representative quilts from the project. 

The assets of the project were legally transferred to the North Carolina Museum of History in 1994. Inclusion in the Quilt Index fulfills one of the central goals of the project-to ensure that the records are made available to the public for educational and research purposes.

The North Carolina Museum of History

The North Carolina Museum of History is part of the Division of State History Museums, under the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. The Division of State History Museums collects and preserves artifacts and other historical materials relating to the history and heritage of North Carolina in a local, regional, national, and international context to assist people in understanding how the past influences the present. The Division interprets the state's history through exhibitions, educational programs, and publications available to the visitor on-site or through distance-learning technologies.


Read more section:

North Carolina Museum of History Web site
North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources Web site

Contributor's Work Team:

North Carolina Museum of History's project manager(s), Data entry, Project consultants
Janine LeBlanc, project manager and data entry
Louise Benner, John Campbell, consultants

Janine LeBlanc, Maria Shevzov, Jeanine Henderson

Project assistance
Jan Sweatt

Thanks and Acknowledgments:

The North Carolina Quilt Project documentation was added to the Quilt Index through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and in-kind contributions from the North Carolina Museum of History, Department of Cultural Resources.

Project description provided by the North Carolina Museum of History.

Project Website

View all records in this project