29 Sep Quilt Mapping the Folk School: An Interview With Annie Smith, Fall Festival Banner Designer 2023
We’re thrilled that Annie Smith has designed our 2023 Fall Festival Banner! The yearly banner, or quilt, is a beloved tradition integral to our extraordinary celebration of Appalachian craft, culture, and heritage. Annie’s quilt features a stitched campus map with some extraordinary details. On the back, a wonderful patchwork illustrates many of our subject areas. Enjoy our interview below to learn more about the inspiration behind Annie’s creation and all the helping hands that made it come together!
(Also! Annie will be back to teach the same technique used in her banner during “I Am Here: Improv Mapping” running from April 14-20, 2024. Using a paper map of a significant place, students will design a creative rendition of somewhere they have been or somewhere they want to go. Register today!)
RG: Annie, you’ve been teaching at the Folk School for many years now, and your classes are some of our most popular. How did you first hear about the school?
AS: I was teaching at a Quilt Camp in Flagstaff, and one of the other instructors mentioned that I should apply to teach at the Folk School. She gave me Pat Meineke’s (the Quilt Studio’s Resident Artist for many years) contact information, and I emailed Pat. She invited me and asked if I’d create something special for the Folk School. I designed Garden Delights with elements of North Carolina (Carolina Lily block in the center) and varying degrees of techniques.
RG: I love what you said in a recent Instagram post, that the Folk School’s “environment is so conducive to the creative spirit.” What inspires you most when you’re here?
AS: There is something tangible about the Spirit of the Folk School. Something you can almost touch. I’m not the only one who feels this way about the Folk School. I feel different when I’m at the Folk School.
I think it’s a combination of many things–the programs, the Staff, the fellow students, that we’re all there to create something that did not exist before. There’s so much hope and anticipation. Being in the mountains, nature, the smells, the peacefulness of the property–all of that combined with the happiness of just physically being there. It’s a magical place that makes you want to come back again and again. The photo to the right is of the porch at Olive’s Farm House, taken by me on one of my visits when I stayed at the house. This photo personifies the feeling of the Folk School for me, and I love the memories associated with that time.
RG: What are some other special moments or some of your best memories from teaching here over the years?
AS: The first year I came, I was driving up Brasstown Road and came upon the sign for the Folk School. I pulled over to take a photo to mark the occasion. I wrote on my Instagram post, “Pinch me, I’m here!” It was a very emotional moment for me, and everything about the Folk School experience that year was like walking through a dream – everything was brand new.
Each year and each class I’ve taught at the Folk School has been incredible and special in its own way. I have to say the essence of the school is always the people. I always seem to have the best students and experiences with them. In fact, one student from my first class, Laura Jones, has become a dear friend, has been my assistant, and is the quilter of the Fall Festival quilt!
One especially memorable time at the Folk School was when I came as a student to make a pair of leather shoes in Molly Grant’s class. (Who knew that you could make your own pair of real shoes?!) I met Painting instructor Pebbie Mott, who was staying in the same house. We became instant friends and stayed up a “few” nights until 2 a.m., getting to know each other. It’s a friendship I treasure.
I have to say though, that the class in 2022 and its students will always be the highlight of memories at the Folk School. It is the group of quilters that they are, that impressed then-director Jerry Jackson to want a Fall Festival quilt made in the style of the map.
Annie outside the Quilting studio
Annie’s Garden of Earthly Delights quilt, with North Carolina-specific motifs.
Annie’s shot of the Farm House porch
The iconic red Folk School sign greeting visitors to campus
Laura Jones sewing away in Annie’s class! (Laura also quilted Annie’s Fall Festival banner.)
The shoes Annie made in Molly Grant’s class
Annie’s Fall Festival banner, taken the moment it was delivered!
Annie’s 2022 Improv Mapping class
Detail of Robin’s chain-stitching
Annie’s sons Ryan and Robin recently built their own electric guitars in our class with John Czarnecki! Robin, who did chainstitching on Annie’s quilt, is third from the left.
Laura showing us the back of the quilt
Hands, hands, and more hands!
RG: Oh, that perfectly leads into my next question! Your quilt’s central feature is a fantastic, detailed map of the Folk School’s 270-acre campus. We love it! Can you give our readers a little insight into the concept and design process? I figured your recent mapping quilt class was possibly the inspiration for this one.
AS: Yes, it’s based on my class “I’m Here: Improv Mapping” that I taught in 2022. It was a new concept–the quilt and the class. I asked my students to bring a map of a place that was special to them, and we’d make a quilt out of it. My students just absolutely blew me away with their creations. Little did we know how emotional this map quilt would be. So many personal memories and significance are hidden in those places we’ve visited and spent time. As they worked on their quilts, memories flooded the studio and were shared.
At the end of the week, we were all on an emotional high. Closing Ceremony was held in the Festival Barn, and we hung everyone’s quilt on a clothesline. The display was breathtaking! We took a video of everyone sitting below their quilt, and they had a chance to explain their quilts to others.
During Closing Ceremony, Jerry mentioned how impressed he was with the selection of quilts. He said he’d love to have a Fall Festival quilt made in that style, using the map drawn by Annie Cicale that’s inside the catalog. We spoke afterward, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m so grateful that I’m the one who got to bring the quilt for Fall Festival 2023 to life.
RG: A lot of the lettering is intricately chain-stitched. Can you talk about that decision and process?
AS: I must give credit for all of the chain stitching to my son, Robin Smith of Fowl & Maker. He’s the one who did all of the chain stitching on an antique chain stitching machine. The drawing of the map has the Folk School logo on it, and I knew I wanted to incorporate it into the quilt in some way. I’m lucky to have my son as a resource, because I think the chain stitching adds an element of technique and texture to the quilt that I wanted to capture.
We collaborated on the styles, placement, and colors of thread. Robin’s unique idea was to put an arrow through the logo to make it a compass rose and use the feather of a North Carolina Cardinal as the fletching. It’s not just red but a combination of colors–as depicted on the quilt.
RG: Tell us about the back of this quilt and the meaning of its patchwork.
AS: First of all, that was loads of fun! I knew that I wanted to incorporate literal theme prints in the quilt, representing each of the different “schools” that comprise the Folk School. I am a quilt artist after all, and fabric is my medium. The more, the better! So, I started hunting for theme fabric as soon as the contract was signed. One of the things mentioned in the contract was the quilt’s, “design should reflect the mission, vision, and values of the Folk School” and what represents it better than what the students come to create at the school?
At first, I didn’t know how I was going to incorporate those theme fabrics on the front of the quilt because I didn’t want them to overtake the design of the map. Ultimately the back of the quilt was the best place for them and starts with a fabric representing Olive’s writing, which is where the idea of the Folk School began. Then, in alphabetical order, the schools are represented from Basket Making to Writing. Each row has specific fabric to depict the crafts, including beekeeping, cooking, gardening, music and making instruments, dance, jewelry, and several types of woodworking. The marble fabric used here was given to me by Marbling teacher, Anne Murray, specifically for this quilt. There is so much more on the back of the quilt–so I hope that everyone who attends the Fall Festival and sees the quilt hanging in the Keith House will be able to see each of the different fabrics.
RG: We love the handprints too! Where did that idea come from?
AS: I love hands as a motif. Hands are so expressive of so many things–specifically at the Folk School, our hands are our tools of creation. There is a representation of the different hands of the Folk School: Instructor hands, Staff hands, Assistant’s hands, Studio Coordinator and Resident Artist hands, Folk School student’s hands, and Folk School online through LessonFace student’s hands, family hands, and little hands. I wanted to symbolize all of the hands that create. They’re all “Happy Clappy” hands too!
RG: I noticed the quilt is titled “The School That Olive Built.” Tell us the importance of that title to you. How does Olive Dame Campbell’s story inspire you?
I read M. Anna Fariello’s book Craft & Community: John C. Campbell Folk School, 1925-1945 as a part of my research, and how can you walk away from reading that book without admiring Olive Campbell? Olive continued her husband’s work after his death because she believed in it as he did. She could have named the school anything, but she named it after John, keeping that legacy alive today. As I was making the quilt, I thought a lot about what went into establishing the Folk School and what it is today that blesses the lives of those of us who attend there. Although it “took a village” to build the school–and still does today–Olive is the benefactor. The title just kept going around in my head, and as quilts do speak to us as we make them, it gave me the title.
RG: Are there other symbolic aspects of this quilt that I missed?
AS: There are a few that I’d like to mention. From the top down:
Stars over Brasstown, both literally and figuratively.
The hands are made in the colors of autumn leaves.
Each of the hands has been traced by the individual who submitted them.
Each hand is completely unique to them–from the tiny hands at the bottom (T-Claw’s daughter’s hands are the only ones that weren’t reduced for the quilt. They are the actual size) to the older, more mature hands that show the effects of using our hands as tools. There are hands that show arthritis, formed fingers from playing instruments, bent fingers, rings worn, and fingernails. As many different types of hands to represent how different we all are – yet we come together at the Folk School.
The hands on the back of the quilt are my hands, Robin’s hand, and Laura’s hand – as, respectively, the Makers.
The Dragonfly is my signature on my quilts, being a symbol of happiness, new beginnings, and change. My first-year students gifted me with a dragonfly pin–something that I treasure–so when those who know me see the quilt, they’ll know it’s a nod from me. It’s also believed that dragonflies are a sign of a deceased loved one nearby–so perhaps, Olive, who may still watch over the Folk School.
The fabric on the bottom border that is behind the furling banner lists all of the states in the United States where we come from to visit the Folk School. (I realize that people from outside of the US come, but I couldn’t find fabric that listed the other countries. Forgive me!)
Finally, I used 102 different fabrics on the quilt!
Detail of the back of Annie’s quilt
Annie posted this photo on social media, adding, “You know that feeling when you’re doing a victory lap around a really important quilt?”
The top border of the quilted banner
The bottom border of the quilted banner listing all the states where folks are traveling from!
Coming together now!
Annie’s West of Baltimore Quilt
Annie’s Quilters Palette from a previous class
“Knock Off Shirt” made by Annie
In the barn at Fall Festival
Detail of the quilted map
RG: For those who aren’t familiar, can you tell us a little bit about your background and quilting experience? (I know it’s extensive!)
AS: I have always been a garment sewer and had a cottage industry when I was in high school, sewing for friends and their moms. I began quilting in 1980 with a baby quilt and was instantly hooked. I worked in Silicon Valley for 20 years and specialized in Customer Service and training while keeping my foot in quilt shops as a teacher. The dotcom bust changed everything, and I turned my focus to designing quilts and instruction full-time at that point.
I’m a Professional Quilter by career definition. Whenever anyone asks me what I do for a living, that’s my answer. The next thing they ask me is how much I get for my quilts – assuming that I sell them. When I tell them that I don’t sell what I do, you can see the confusion in their eyes – but then I tell them what defines what I really do. I’m a:
- Quilt Imagineer
- National/International Quilt Instructor and lecturer
- Designer and pattern publisher
- Producer of online classes
- Quilt Judge
- BERNINA Ambassador (sewing machines)
- Aurifil Aurifilosopher (thread manufacturer)
- Cherrywood Ambassador (fabric)
- Creator of “Quilting Stash”, the first podcast for quilters.
You could say that I wear several hats.
My life is pretty much quilting, all day, every day. It’s not a stretch to say that I’m consumed with everything having to do with quilting. I love everything about quilting – the machines, the fabric, the patterns, the books (oh – I’m especially obsessed with quilting books!), the shows, the notions, the threads, the techniques, but mostly – it’s the people I meet. A life-long Californian, I now live in Texas with my family and love the “buckaroo” culture. I have ten grandchildren and a golden retriever named Posey.
RG: What are three favorite things you love about fall in North Carolina?
AS: The first has to be the tangible change of seasons, the cooler temps, and the beauty of the landscape.
I love to go and visit the Qualla Boundary in Cherokee, North Carolina, where my third great-grandfather was born in 1800. There is just something about Cherokee in the Fall.
I think the third thing will be attending the Fall Festival for the first time this year!
RG: We’re so glad you’ll be at Fall Festival this year!
I’m so excited to be a part of it and to witness all of the events that are scheduled. I’m actually going to have a vendor booth this year, too! I’ll be located in the Festival Barn (probably somewhere close to the quilt). I’m bringing handmade journals for writing and designing, patchwork skirts, my quilting books and patterns, and some other cool things. I’m so looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting a lot of new ones!
RG: Where can folks find you if they want to stay up to date on what you’re up to?
Fall Festival 2023
We invite you to celebrate Appalachian culture at our 47th Fall Festival, featuring a wide variety of craftspeople, continuous live music and dance, craft demonstrations, good food, and much more! Saturday & Sunday, October 7 & 8, 2023 10 a.m. to 5 p.m..
Learn to Make a Map Quilt with Annie next year!
I Am Here: Improv Mapping
April 14 – April 20, 2024
Using a paper map of a place significant to you, design a creative rendition of somewhere you have been or somewhere you want to go. Learn how to create layers using foundation pieces and scrap fabric as well as how to decide whether to sew or machine-quilt pieces in place. Render your quilted masterpieces as an art piece, utility quilt, or even as the fabric for a fabulous jacket. Confident beginners welcome.
About Annie Smith
Annie Smith has been a quilting instructor since 1984, and travels nationally and internationally to teach. Her favorite part of teaching is meeting and mentoring quilters. She has been a guest on “The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims” (episode #209 and #2901), and a guest artist at Empty Spools Seminars at Asilomar, and at Elly Sienkiewicz’s Appliqué Academy. Annie is an author for C&T Publishing, a BERNINA Brand Ambassador, and an instructor for American Quilter’s Society online courses (iquilt.com). In 2005, Annie created the first podcast for quilters, “Quilting Stash,” with over 200 shows. A native Californian, she now lives with her husband in Justin, TX. They have three married children and nine grandchildren. Annie has ten sewing machines…and counting!