Every spring, on the first Thursday in April, folks gather in the tiny community of Eli Whitney, North Carolina, to look at quilts, trade stories, and share a meal. The event, known as Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party, was the brainchild of high school principal Ernest Dixon, who in 1931 wanted the school to be a gathering place for the entire community. 80 women attended the first party in Eli Whitney’s high school auditorium, and 13 quilts were completed. 84 years later, Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party is the oldest quilting event in the country.
For almost fifty years, three women played a major role in organizing the annual event: Nannie Lou McBane, Mildred Guthrie, and the late Pat Bailey. Nowadays, not as much quilting goes on at Uncle Eli's. There are just two quilting frames set up, and only a few people work at them. But the quiltmakers are here, even if they don’t pick up needle and thread. Uncle Eli’s Quilting Party is a community tradition kept alive by local folks and quilt lovers from across the state and country.