By Susan M. Thigpen © 1985
Issue: December, 1985
It's that time of the year again - Christmas. You still have several presents to buy, because you haven't seen that "certain something" that will be just right for those special persons on your list.
When The Mountain Laurel was at the Blue Ridge Institute's Folklife Festival at Ferrum College in October,  we got a chance to see several interesting and unusual crafts being made. As we tell you about the crafts and craft people, perhaps you'll get some ideas to fill in that Christmas list.
Let's start with a craft I've always admired – tatting. I used to watch my own grandmother tatting and try to learn. Although she taught me how to crochet and sew and other good things, I never did get the knack of tatting. All I ever ended up with were knots. Perhaps that's the reason I admire this needlework craft the most.
For those of you who aren't familiar with tatting, it is a type of hand made lace. It is made from crochet thread and a small shuttle. A series of round eyelets form a row, and tatting can be made by the yard. Fancy tatting patterns can be turned into snowflake doilies.
Sarah Harrell, age 83 years young, of Salem, Virginia, was demonstrating tatting at the Folk life Festival. With her was a young friend, Rhonda Bandy. Sarah taught Rhonda to tat and they get together every week to visit and tat.
Sarah was a nice friendly person to talk with about her craft and didn't miss a loop (or picot, as it's called in tatting) as we talked.
She said her cousin taught her to tat when she was about 17. They were fishing and her cousin folded a piece of cardboard to use as a shuttle and showed her a couple of stitches. Sarah was born in Pearisburg, Virginia, lived in Narrows until she was about 16 and then moved to Bland, Virginia. She had 7 children.
The first four children were girls, and she said she had "first dresses" made for them all before they were born. Fancy dresses, trimmed with tatting and French knots. The fifth child had a beautiful "first dress" waiting for it too, but Sarah was surprised that time by a 10 pound, 6 ounce boy! "I put the dress on him anyway."
Rhonda and Sarah sell tatting and anyone wishing information about their items for sale should write Sarah Harrell, Route 4, Box 647, Salem, VA 24153. Want to turn an ordinary chore into a more pleasant one? Peeling potatoes or chopping cabbage could be easier with a hand made knife.
George Cromer, age 72, of Waynesboro, Virginia is a barber by trade and makes knives as a sideline. At the Folklife Festival he had knives of all sizes and shapes, one for every chore.
He makes the blades from cross cut and band saw blades. Some of the handles he makes from deer antlers, others he carves from chestnut, cedar, walnut, and other woods. The price range I saw on knives he had were from $2.00 to $15.00. Certainly a reasonable price for a hand made item that, will be practical and useful for years. His phone number is 703-942-4255.
There were several wood carvers in attendance at the Folklife Festival. One group, Valley Wood Carvers, were from Roanoke. One of them. Bob Winn, (703-344- 7771) told me he made his own wood lathe and also makes all his own carving tools. He carves dogs and mountain men and other things. He enjoys carving different things all the time.
George Gravitt displayed a beautiful teal duck with wings spread open. He said it's a hobby for him and doesn't sell carvings.
Another carver, Bill Anderson handed me his card. There is a line drawing of a duck on it underneath the lettering, "The Ugly Duckling." He makes hand crafted duck decoys and even tiny miniature ducks. Bill can be reached at 703-890-6535 or writing 901 Halifax Circle, Vinton. VA 24179.
Emory H. Robinson of Rt. 1, Box 433. Roanoke, VA. 24012 was whittling on a THIGMOTROPIG Walking Stick. Know what that is? Thigmotropic means that two things (usually a young sapling and a vine) grow together, with the vine twisting around the sapling in a spiral fashion.
Emory is 80 years of age and retired after 48 years of service on the Norfolk and Western Railroad. He was chosen as one of the craftsmen to demonstrate and exhibit at the World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Mr. Robinson gets out in the woods and hunts his own materials. Then he strips, sands and finishes the walking sticks and canes. The price range is from $10.00 to $250.00, depending on the amount of workmanship. On some of the sticks, he has worked the vine twisting around the cane into an extremely realistic looking snake, complete with the snake skin texture.
There was a day when every gentleman carried a walking stick. Why not revive the tradition?
Do you like brooms? You would if you could see Nana Wray's home made ones. She said she's been making brooms for 52 of her 70 years. She grows her own broomcorn, and was using it to make hearth brooms at Ferrum.
The broomcorn is cut for hearth brooms at 3 foot lengths. the lower part of the stems are hollow and split in half (with one-half removed) to reduce the thickness of the reeds. The broomcorn is then scalded with hot water to make it pliable and a thread is run through the stem of about a dozen broomcorn heads. This is rolled around a handle stick and secured with wire.
Nana's hearth brooms range from $3.00 to $6.00. she also had a hand whittled scrub mop made from whittling shavings on one end of a small tree. "I used *em myself when I was growing up", she said.
Nana doesn't mail order her brooms. but she will sell brooms she has made up if you want to stop by her house. You can contact her by writing: Nana Wray, Rt. 1, Box 92, Callaway, VA 24067.
My apologies to the many fine craftsmen who were at the Folklife Festival that I did not get around to talking with. The many visitors kept them so busy that I hardly could get close to talk for any length of time.
There are three other names I would like to add to the list. They are three craftsmen who are from our own area of the Blue Ridge. They are, Glendon Boyd, of Rt. 1, Floyd, VA 24091, who is a wood carver of dough trays, hand made yard rakes, among many other things. His phone is 703-745-2556. The second is Clovis Boyd, a basket maker from Floyd also. When he makes a basket, he tests it by putting his whole weight on it to prove the strength of his baskets. You may get in touch with him by writing Star Route, Floyd, Va 24091. The third is Kemper Bryant of Galax, Virginia. He is also a basket maker and may be reached by calling 703-236-3332. We were proud to have our area represented by these three fine craftsmen at the Folklife Festival in Ferrum this year.