The Photography of D L Ennis, and more!


Monday, February 20, 2006

Greenberry House

Greenberry House at Chinquapin Festival
Greenberry House at Chinquapin Festival,
Meadows of Dan, Virginia

The story of Greenberry House, my little business, begins with my great-grandmother's spinning wheel. It sat in a corner of my grandparents' house and survived a couple of generations of playful children who had no real idea of its use or real meaning. I shudder to think these days how often we played with it, turning the wheel by hand at speeds it was never meant to attain. Somehow it survived intact, and as we grew up it stood quiet, treasured by my grandfather because it had belonged to his mother. Eventually it wound up in the attic, and I grew up and went away, forgetting it.

Even though the spinning wheel was forgotten, I was always involved with some sort of craft. As a child I was surrounded by talented people that created beautiful work. My mother's mother was a talented seamstress and quilter, while her father was a woodworker that made beautiful musical instruments. My father's mother was an artist, and so was his sister. Many cousins possessed creative talents as well. I grew up thinking that creating was a natural part of life. Many of the family items in the homes around me were hand made, with purpose, skill and beauty. Quilts, tables, beds, chairs, rugs, tools and other necessities were crafted to last by necessity and with beauty out of the pleasure of creation.

I spent a few years wandering the East Coast, but the call of home was always there, and soon I traveled back to the Blue Ridge Mountains where I was raised, determined to stay and make a place for myself, and a living. While I was away I learned to spin on a drop spindle, with the dog hair I harvested from a cheerful Samoyed dog that was my constant companion during long Maine winters. When I came home I started working at Poor Farmer's Market, a unique country store in Meadows of Dan. I became the gift buyer for the shop and thoroughly enjoyed the work, which was creative and demanding. I put aside my spindle for a time, concentrating on the shop and enjoying the success of a small country store that has grown to be a tourist attraction.

Greenberry House and Iris Garden
Homeplace, Meadows of Dan, Virginia

I moved into my Grandfather Shelor's house in Meadows of Dan in 1994, and in 1999 my mother gave me my great-grandmother's spinning wheel. I learned to spin, teaching myself with some wool I found at a farm in West Virginia. Great-grandma Loucinda's wheel was a little fussy; age had taken a toll but with care and coaxing I could make yarn and I was hooked. I fell in love with angora wool when I tried it on my spindle and soon I had three wonderful German Angora rabbits to start my rabbitry.

Greenberry House Bunny

The name "Greenberry House" was suggested by a cousin for my rabbitry. Greenberry Steadham was a great-grandfather on my father's side. At first I only planned to keep a few rabbits for myself, but first the bunnies sold well and then the fiber. Right after I bought the angoras I started looking after my grandfather Shelor full-time, working a few hours at night and staying with him during the day and through many nights. My income dropped drastically during this time, and in casting about for ways to make ends meet I found success selling books, bunnies and fiber on my web site. I was able to get away occasionally to deliver bunnies, when my brother's busy family had a few days to spare.

Sweet Faced Autumn Joy
Greenberry's Autumn Joy

By the time my grandfather died after a long decline, the bunnies and books were of necessity supporting most of my needs. I was limited as to what I could do while I stayed with him, but as the business grew I realized I would need to put more time and effort into it. I began working full time with the Internet business, shearing bunnies and designing original pieces that I hand crochet from fibers grown here on the farm, or at nearby farms by other fiber artists. Several times a year I vend at craft shows, and the Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market has opened here on the farm, with festivals throughout the summer. I now spin on a modern Reeves wheel, a beautiful hand crafted piece, when I go to shows and for fine fibers. But great-grandma's wheel is still operating well, especially if I want to spin a bulkier yarn that really looks handspun. I also have an antique walking wheel and use some other antique tools to create my hand spun yarns.

Rainbow Shadow
Hand Painted Merino/Angora Yarn

The next step for my business is opening a shop here next to the Parkway, with books, crafts and collectibles as part of my stock. I plan to move my studio from my house into the shop building, where visitors can see my work. Perhaps a friendly bunny will live there as well. My brother, who owns the family farm now, and his wife have plans for a craft shop, a corn maze and other projects here that will benefit the community and my little venture as well. I hope to have my shop open by May 1, 2006.

Winter Shadows
Hand Dyed Alpaca and Natural Angora
Hand Crocheted Cape

The traditional ways of making a living in Meadows of Dan for countless generations have been subsistence farming, shopkeeping and milling, while a few individuals used their talents as carpenters or blacksmiths to support themselves and their families. Just a few generations ago flocks of sheep grazed on the hills in the Busted Rock section of Meadows of Dan, and the wool was used for necessary clothing, rugs, coverlets, and other textiles. My generation and the generation before mine mostly left the farm, turning to factories or leaving the area for higher paying positions in many fields. Those that remain, and have come back, are discovering that factory jobs are few, and that in many cases we have to make our own opportunities for supporting ourselves. For me to be able to make a living here, using the skills of my forefathers, is an opportunity I treasure.

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  • At Monday, 20 February, 2006, Blogger D L Ennis said…

    This is fascinating! You are very talented Leslie…I can’t imagine having the patience to learn this kind of work.

  • At Monday, 20 February, 2006, Blogger Thistle Cove Farm said…

    Beautiful yarn, Leslie!

  • At Tuesday, 21 February, 2006, Blogger Dawn said…

    You are an inspiration Leslie! I certainly wish you all the very best in your new venture to come later this year! Congratulations also on your writing contributions to this gazette. Well done!

  • At Tuesday, 21 February, 2006, Blogger cyndy said…

    A very beautiful essay Leslie, your great-grandmother would be so pleased to see all that you have accomplished with your skill and love of the craft. Looking forward to reading more of your contributions to the Blue Ridge Gazette!


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