November 2018 – “The Art of Embroidery”

Embroidery is the art of decorating fabric with yarn or thread. It’s an old craft dating back to the Third Century BC and examples of embroidery work have been found in practically every culture and social class around the world. In times past, skills in embroidery, sewing, and quilting were more prized—and needed for practical reasons—but at regional arts and crafts fairs, like the one we attended this weekend, you can still see clever and artistic embroidery and needlework displayed.

My mother sewed, as did both my grandmothers who also made beautiful quilts, but none of my close family did what my grandmother termed “fancy work.” I can’t remember that anyone taught me to embroider although I learned to do so. I do recall, however, that when mother made her many trips to the fabric store for patterns, thread, and fabrics, I always headed to the sewing crafts section. I loved to study the framed embroidery examples of cross-stitch, crewel, and needlework on the walls. At some point I came home with my first simple cross-stitch kits to try out.

I learned to create those first cross-stitch and crewel embroidery projects by reading and following the instructions in the kits. The patterns stamped on tea-cloths, table-runners, pillows, handkerchiefs, and other items offered an easy way for even a child to learn. Later, I checked out books about the craft in my local library to learn more about embroidery techniques. Most of the items I made in those early years were given away as gifts, but a few years back—while cleaning out my mother’s sewing after she passed away—I found two samples of my childhood work Mother had saved, a toaster cover and a table runner. I laughed to find them. I doubt anyone would be caught dead with items like these in their homes today, but I couldn’t resist tucking them away in a drawer to keep, just as my mother did.

When I married, craft items for the home were much more popular than today. I returned to embroidery then, along with learning other craft skills of the time like tole painting, to make decorative items for my home and to give for gifts. Homemade gift items were lovingly appreciated at that time, cherished and used, and I gave away many embroidered and handcrafted items and framed paintings for holidays.

Before both my children were born, in addition to making crib blankets, baby pillows, toys, and some clothes, I stitched an embroidered sampler for each child’s room—one for Max of the ABC’s and one for Kate with her name on it. I’ve kept these for sentimental reasons like I’ve kept the children’s early drawings in their baby books.

In the continuing busy years of childrearing and working, I only occasionally did embroidery again. The projects I took on were often larger more ambitious ones like the framed rock garden I sewed one winter. I began drawing my own original pictures for embroidery projects in those years, too, making personalized Christmas stockings, pillows, or framed embroidered scenes for family members.

Looking through my old embroidery basket, while working on this blog, I found several items partially begun and unfinished, plus a set of cute kitchen items I worked in crewel, with a lot of French knots, that I always meant to frame. Also in the old basket were colorful embroidery floss and crewel yarn, my old embroidery hoop, linen fabrics, patterns, and a kit for a crewel pillow covered in pretty wildflowers I bought but never began.

I rarely have time to embroider anymore. Now my artistry skills and creativity go into writing and creating books. But I still admire the skill because I know how much time, talent, and patience it takes. I stood watching a quilter add lavish, detailed embroidery work to a lovely crazy quilt this weekend at the Mountain Makins’ Festival in Morristown, Tennessee. The old itch to pick up a needle resurfaced as I watched. I doubt, however, you’ll see me posting new embroidery pieces on my blog or Facebook pages any time soon … but my guess is you will soon encounter a new book character, skillful with a needle, who adds intricate embroidery work to her crazy quilts and crafts. Perhaps she’ll also make some colorful stitched home items like my old kitchen pieces to sell at arts and crafts festivals near her home.

October 2018 – “Autumn Glory”

In one of L.M. Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables books Anne Shirley said: “I’m so glad we live in a world where there are Octobers.” Here in Tennessee, October is an “expectant” month. We watch the trees, still green, knowing that sometime soon we will begin to see those first turning leaves and then – perhaps suddenly in late October – a rush of color … russet reds, rich oranges, and golden yellows. Oh, yes … we’re glad to live in a world where there are Octobers…. And in a world where there is the expectance of beauty and the expectance of change.

I hope that you will get out to savor the beauty of October near your home  – in whatever state you live in. In all our states, there are many beautiful city, state, and national parks to take you “up close” to nature. Don’t simply drive through a scenic park either, but get out of your car to take a walk, to smell the crisp fall air, to feel the leaves crunch under your feet, and to look up into the canopy of fall color. John Muir said: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks” and this is so true. When on a walk, you will feel that touch of peace, refreshment, inspiration, and inner joy that only being in God’s glorious outdoor world brings.

People often ask J.L. and I where to best enjoy the fall colors when visiting in the Great Smoky Mountains, and we have some favorite places. Although the popular Newfound Gap Road to the overlook on top of the Smokies is a lovely drive, the traffic is often so congested in the fall that we avoid it for lesser-known but equally beautiful spots. Near Gatlinburg, the Gatlinburg By-Pass offers lovely views and the Roaring Fork Nature Trail winds along a scenic one-way back-road, passing by old cabins, historic spots, and many pleasant trails. We like both of these places for color as much as the Newfound Gap Road.

To the west of the Smokies near Townsend we also avoid Cades Cove in the fall, because of the congestive traffic there, stalling constantly for tourists to take photos of any wildlife they spot along the way. Instead, we take to the back roads and love drives like the Rich Mountain Road behind Townsend that travels up to Rich Mountain Gap. It’s a winding, steep road but the foliage along the way is beautiful in fall and there are several trails you can enjoy at the top of the mountain.

Between Townsend and Maryville, Tennessee, is the 18 miles long Foothills Parkway, offering some of the most stunning autumn vistas you can find anywhere in the Smokies. On the highest point of the Parkway, a half-mile walk to Look Rock will take you to the Observation Tower for 360-degree panoramic views. Soon, too, the new extension of the Parkway will open across the mountains to Wears Valley,  bringing even more miles of scenic beauty. We love the Foothills Parkway drives. East of the Smokies, the far end of the Foothills Parkway climbs the mountain ridges between Cosby and Newport, with lovely pullovers and vistas. These Parkway roads are seldom overly crowded or congested with traffic—true treasures for Smoky Mountain visitors.

Still another beautiful spot for stunning fall color is the Cataloochee Valley on the east side of the Smokies near Maggie Valley and Waynesville, North Carolina. The road into the valley is always a glory in the fall and visitors can enjoy many fine hiking trails scattered throughout the valley. The scenic, winding Cataloochee trails, like Bradley Creek, the Cataloochee Divide, Pretty Hollow Gap, and the Boogerman Trail, offer quiet walks to enjoy the fall color up-close and personal. The Blue Ridge Parkway, rising behind Maggie Valley, and traveling across the mountain to Cherokee, NC, also has many beautiful vistas and overlooks. While on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we also like to drive the Balsam Mountain Road to the picnic area, where a short walk takes you out to the Heintooga Overlook with fabulous panoramas across the Smokies ranges.

While the Smoky Mountains offer stunning fall scenes every autumn, we often have seen equally beautiful color in Tennessee’s state parks. To find a state park near you, our new guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS might give you ideas for things to see and enjoy in the state parks. In town, we also have city parks with lovely fall color and nice outdoor trails. Our favorite is Ijams Nature Park. But we also enjoy simply walking the streets of pretty neighborhoods in Knoxville (like our own) where mature trees abound around old established yards. Often a few late fall flowers and mums add an extra touch of beauty to these landscapes.

So, yes, we are glad to live in a world where there are Octobers. Don’t let this beautiful month pass you by without getting out of doors to make good memories of your own.