Our Traditional Craft Mentorship Explores Quilting

Group Photo of mentor and mentees on campus

Quiltmaking is a skill that was once practiced in nearly every home in Appalachia. Oftentimes, Folk School friends regale us with memories of a loved one stitching a blanket for a newborn or a grandparent hosting a quilting bee alongside friends, neighbors, and sometimes the whole town. Preserving these Appalachian traditions while strengthening generational connections is core to what we do at the Folk School, but there’s only so much ground you can cover in our usual weeklong and weekend classes. 

 Developed in 2020, our two-week, immersive Traditional Craft Mentorship Program helps master artisans pass the torch. The program gives emerging artists the opportunity to learn from expert crafters and connect with their peers in our joyful, community-driven environment. Each year, we host a small group of students in age-old practices like broom-making, chairmaking, weaving, and other traditions that are in danger of being lost to the sands of time. 

When we were looking to host a mentorship focused on quilting, Zak Foster was the obvious choice to lead it. He made an oversized impact on our community as our inaugural Artist in Residence at Olive’s Porch, and the slogan from his 2022 Fall Festival Banner, “Good To Be Together,” has become the school’s unofficial motto. He’s a talented facilitator, and many of our new friends have come to the school based on his recommendation. 

His qualifications also stretch far beyond his enthusiasm for the Folk School. Zak’s quilts–almost entirely made from repurposed and recycled fabrics–have appeared in numerous magazines, websites, galleries, and on the Met Gala’s prestigious runway. A former high school teacher, Zak is also a skilled and thoughtful educator. He inspires his over 50,000 social media followers and several hundred members of the Quilty Nook, his online community that welcomes quilters of all backgrounds to join together, share their stories, and find inspiration through workshops and virtual gatherings.  

 Zak’s Folk School mentorship saw a record number of applications–more people than we could ever host at the school in a week–and choosing four mentees for the program was no easy task. The Folk School doesn’t sort people out, and we weren’t looking for the “best” among the exceptional group of applicants. It was essential for us to find four folks who could learn just as much from each other as they could from their mentor and usher in a fresh perspective on Appalachian quilting.  


Photos of Zak & the mentees from the week 

Chris Dufour, Kianga Jinaki, Jesalyn Keziah, and Chinelo Njaka each brought a unique voice and distinct vision to the class, and the work they produced in just two weeks was phenomenal. From crafting detail-rich quilts that mapped out childhood homes and neighborhoods to creating exquisite pieces from “ugly fabrics”–so beautiful that they turned heads at Closing Ceremony–the crew pushed themselves creatively, stretched their stitching muscles, and surprised one other in the best way. 

 “I’ve really enjoyed my time here at the Folk School,” Chinelo said. “I couldn’t ask for a more amazing group of people to be on this journey with and learn from…it’s an experience that I’ll take with me forever.” 

 Putting this incredible experience into words wasn’t easy, but Zak dedicated an episode of his podcast to the Mentorship, interviewing everyone just as they were saying goodbye to Brasstown. You can hear about the projects everyone embarked on, the discoveries they made, and how the Folk School’s supportive, nurturing environment helped them tap into a new part of themselves at folkschool.org/tcmp  

Art from the Mentees in order: Jesalyn Keziah, Chinelo Njaka, Chris Dufour &  Kianga Jinaki 

About our Traditional Craft Mentorship Program

Our Traditional Craft Mentorship Program is an opportunity for emerging artists to spend time at the Folk School learning from accomplished craft makers, instructors, and mentors. Small groups of participants join in focused sessions that enhance their interests, knowledge, and skills in traditional Appalachian craft, music, or dance.

Alongside craft instruction, mentors will delve into the historic and cultural context of their subject area. Participants can expect to learn new techniques and come to understand the relevancy of their craft in the Appalachian region.

For application dates and contact information, please visit our Mentorship page using the button below.

About Zak Foster

Zak’s approach to design is intuitive and improvisational. He is especially drawn to preserving quilt stories, and he specializes in memory quilts and burial quilts. Zak’s work has been featured on the Met Gala’s red carpet and also appears in various galleries, magazines, and websites. His QUILTY NOOK community connects and inspires quilters and makers all over the world.

Learn about Zak’s work

Follow Zak on Instagram


Listen to the SEAMSIDE podcast

Zak Foster headshot
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