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Color Me Beautiful – Sarah Bellos and Southern Hues

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I’ve been friends with the magnificent Sarah and Ali Bellos for about four years, ever since I first interviewed them for Nashville Lifestyles about their efforts to promote artisan dye products here in Middle Tennessee. Time has passed since then, and they’ve turned a passion for plant-based natural dyestuffs – the indigo, madder, and weld of colonial America and beyond – into a going concern.

Their collaboration continues, but now the sisters have embraced different aspects of the business. Alesandra continues her work with Artisan Natural Dyeworks, also based here in Nashville. Sarah, meanwhile, took a slightly divergent path, and now she’s created Southern Hues – making use of locally grown organic dyes to not only produce gorgeous scarves and shawls, but to encourage a worldview that leads us away from the overwhelming use of harsh chemicals polluting our environment.

She’s more than put her money where her mouth is, buying a farm in the historic Bells Bend community and raising the dye crops herself – along with encouraging other young farmers, especially women, to join her in the endeavor.

In spite of the busy holiday season, Sarah took time to talk with me about what her commitment to natural dyes means to all of us, why it’s important on a larger scale, how it impacts our agricultural community at large, and the potential it offers for the fashion industry.

It’s been awhile since we talked business. Can you tell me a bit about the shifts you’ve made in the past year or so, and the goals you’ve created for yourself with Southern Hues? I’m so lucky to be able to have a dream job working at the intersection of fashion, farming, and business. At the end of last year, I took stock of what my life goals were and how I could build a business that could help me create the change I wanted to see in the world. While growing natural colorants has always been a part of my past businesses, I wanted to create a business model that would work on a larger scale, with a more measurable impact on local farmers.

Earlier this year, through mutual friends, I met two ladies, Sara Dailey and Meg Davis, both knowledgeable and experienced in the fashion industry. Having them on my team allows me to use my strengths to continue to build the natural colorant supply chain and still make sure we a beautiful product that people love to wear.

Ecodyeit from Artisan Natural Dyeworks

Artisan Natural Dyeworks

At the end of the day, having an incredible product that people don’t have to think twice about buying is the best way we can support our mission of bring sustainable, farmer grown color to the broader public. I still get to work regularly with my sister Ali at Artisan Natural Dyeworks to dye our products right here in Nashville.

 

 

 

Can natural dyes really be used the same way we use the chemical ones? I read a story recently about growing concern over the chemical dye industry – someone was specifically referencing the “plastic, chemical” smell that she noticed in cheap clothing from some big box outlets – clearly that underlines why we need to be concerned – but can we make it viable, in your opinion? This is such a great question! The skin is the largest organ on your body, so what you wear is actually absorbed into your body over time until the chemicals are fully leeched out of the fabric.

Most dyes are synthetically derived from non-renewable resources like petroleum or oil derivatives and come from China.

The global textile industry uses approximately 1.3 million tons of dyes, pigments and dye precursors, valued at around $23 billion each year. With more than 3,600 industrial dyes, the textile dyeing and finishing industry is a leading cause of industrial wastewater pollution, with effluents including toxic and heavy metals effluent.

To save costs, pollution-intensive industries such as dye manufacturing have relocated to emerging economies that prioritize economic development over environmental regulations. So, we end up with cheaper – and potentially more toxic – chemicals dyeing our clothing when they are made overseas, because those manufacturers do not have to live up to the same standards as in the U.S.

Chemicals that are banned in the U.S. and Europe are sold to U.S. consumers through our clothing and other textiles.

Replacing the toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and dyeing auxiliaries commonplace in the textile dye industry is possible through natural colorants. These plant- and earth-based dyes come from renewable sources, and many can be grown in the Southeastern U.S. So besides reducing the use of polluting chemical dyes that can also be harmful for the consumer, natural colorants support farm and forest communities here, improving our economy while being healthier for the consumer.

But, are natural colorants scalable to the level we’d need to make them a viable source? Previously, using natural colorants, a designer would have to seek out a craft-based business like Artisan Natural Dyeworks to hand-dye their piece goods or garments.

Dyehouses like this are few and far between, since it not so easy to find capability for chemistry, a love of craft, and a willingness for a sometimes intense amount of manual labor. Hiring a custom dyehouse is feasible for brands with a compelling artisan story behind them, but the reality is most of the clothing sold in the U.S. is not made by craftspeople.

So, to really change the textile industry and make it less dependent on chemical dyes, I begun to focus on developing colorant extracts that can be used in commercial textile dye equipment. This is no easy feat so our company has had to invest in research and development that allows us to create specific methods for analyzing and compensating for plant pigment variations in the extraction process.

This allows us to improve product consistency across raw material source conditions, whether farm or woodlot, so a textile manufacturer can be confident they can get a consistent color across dyelots when they use natural colorants. We are especially excited about our indigo research allowing a U.S. dye to once again color American-made denim. We are thrilled to be at the forefront of the sustainability transition in the fashion industry.

What are the principal plants you’re growing, and can you tell us a little about what needs to be done to process them? Our farmer-grown colors are focused on eight main plants, providing the majority of the materials that we need to create our natural colorants. We grow indigo (blue), madder (red), osage orange (golden yellow), weld (bright yellow), marigold (orange yellow), goldenrod (yellow), sumac (grey), and black walnut (brown).

Osage orange

Each processing method is different depending on the color we want. Some plants, like indigo, must be processed immediately upon harvest. So, we have two-300 gallon tanks we bring out to the farms to do a fresh leaf extraction resulting in a storable indigo product.

For osage orange, also known as bow-dock, we typically store the logs from downed wood at our farm. When we need more extract we chip these logs and boil the chips into concentrated dye liquor. We are always on the look-out for osage trees a homeowner or arborist may be cutting down, many of our plants your readers may pass every day growing right along the highway.

Time of year, quality of the soil, amount of sunlight the plant receives, temperature and length of time of the extraction … there are so many variables that go into how much pigment a plant actually contains. Our goal is to bring enough standardization into the process to allow us to offer a consistent, and thus scalable, product, without losing the bit of alchemy that is inherent in such a beautiful process as coaxing color from plants.

You’re committed to sustainable agriculture. Most of us are familiar with the idea from our CSAs and farmers’ markets, in terms strictly related to foods. Tell me something about how we can be more sustainable with relation to our clothing and textiles? Being sustainable in your everyday life is easier than most think.

True sustainability is not about going out and buying new, greener things to replace your old. It’s about a shift in your consumption habits, to realize that saving, repurposing, and responsible consumerism can help make sure the next few generations have the same opportunities we have.

When it does come time to buy new things, it’s important for us to support the America businesses that produce their goods here. When you consider every material that their manufactures use and the ripple effect that domestic purchasing can have along a supply chain, it adds up to a lot of jobs.

Important labels I look for when choosing products are: Made in the USA; made with organic fibers; sweatshop free or fair trade; and FSC certified (for wood products).

The modal fiber used in our wraps, for example, is PEDC certified, a sustainable forest certification process. Modal fabric is great for bed sheets because it is so silky and soft. The U.S. milled cotton we have sourced for our Spring line is 100% certified organic cotton.

Once your readers know what to look for they will find lots of great sustainable options without having to sacrifice functionality or quality. I like to go to greenpages.org when I am looking for something I can’t find locally.

I’ve been out to the farm space you were using in Bells Bend a couple of summers ago. Are you still working there? Bells Bend, and the entire corridor from Bells Bend Park up to Beaman Park in Northwest Nashville, is one of the gems of the area.

The community out there has preserved what is an incredibly diverse landscape that is just perfect for the quality farming we need to be Nashville’s breadbasket and to support a healthy and active wider community.

I recently bought my own small farm in White’s Creek in Northern Davidson County, after farming in Bells Bend the past four years. I was so lucky to be able to hone my farming skills on other people’s land, but there is nothing better than checking on crops in your own backyard. I am now involved in helping make sure opportunities to get into agriculture exist for other young farmers.

Southern Hues states a commitment to helping both women and local farmers – that’s a big deal right now, especially as there seems to be a growing problem in our region with regard to big agriculture pushing out local farmers any way they can. How does what you’re doing specifically make a difference for local farmers who want to be able to live on what they make from their farms? Southern Hues’ tagline is “farmer grown color.” We believe natural colorants are a more sustainable industrial crop for small and medium size farmers in the South. We launched Southern Hues to show that natural colorants are beautiful and viable in textiles.

Just as in the local food economy, it takes more than just the farmer growing the crop, it takes an entire infrastructure – from processing to end products to markets and finally the retail consumer having a wide option of products with which support the farmer.

We support a diversified and sustainable agriculture system and believe people who want to farm should be able to make a living wage – because having more farms is great for our country. Agriculture done right protects groundwater, ecosystem habitat, sequesters carbon in the form of soil organic matter, keeps land around cities in “open space” that reduces flooding and keeps temperatures cooler.

Yet most farmers in America don’t make a living wage. Most farmers, even those with farms making over $250,000, still have a spouse that makes most of the household income from an off-farm job. Unless you inherit farmland there are extreme barriers for young people to getting into farming. But since the average age of an American farmer is 57, we truly need to think about ways as a society we can train and support the next generation of American farmers.

In addition to providing jobs and increasing food security, there are more economic incentives for promoting local farms. The local multiplier effect, for example, shows that money spent locally is more likely to get recirculated locally, helping increase our regions tax base and supporting your neighbors as well.

We have chosen to especially focus our sourcing on beginning and women farmers, because those groups often have the least access to land, capital, and resources which make it possible to earn a living on the farm.

We want to support small farmers who are doing it right, who are taking a chance to farm even when they are not rewarded in the marketplace, because that is what they are called to do. Our hope is that more designers will join our mission to provide naturally dyed garments and that our customers love our products as much as we do, in addition to the story behind them.

Natural dye plants have great potential as an alternative industrial crop to improve crop diversity, wildlife and beneficial insect habitats, and to minimize fertilizer and pesticide use on farms. The beauty and colors these plants produce can translate into increase revenue for the farmer, and therefore more money flowing back into rural economies.

We are all hungry for beautiful and useful products that connect us to a purpose and to planet. By supporting Southern Hues, our customers know they are supporting a supply chain that provides women and beginning farmers with a living wage for growing crops that make their farms more sustainable while improving the ecological and economic resilience of our landscape.

Let’s talk about the fashion aspect. I know you’re working with several big name regional designers, including Alabama Chanin and Jeff Garner of Prophetik. What are you doing for them specifically, and are there other design projects you want us to know about? During my time working with Artisan Natural Dyeworks, one of the most incredible parts was getting to see the amazing couture and ready to wear garments produced after we dyed the fabric for the designers. I am really inspired and love the handicraft of the entire Alabama Chanin line, including the way founder Natalie Chanin has published her patterns to allow more people access to their designs. Ali has been doing dyework for an emerging brand out of Cincinnati, Brush Factory. I absolutely love their Villager bags, which are hand dyed with natural dyes and sewn in Cincy!

What do you do to make sustainably dyed garments appeal to a wider fashion-conscious public? “Communication and Style.” That’s our goal. Spreading the word about our products allows us to highlight that great brands can be fashionable and sustainable. When a customer orders a wrap they are not only receiving a great addition to a wardrobe, but supporting our network of farmers, artisans and an entire community behind the products. It’s a grassroots effort that takes time to spread, but we are excited to share what we have. Our customers are supporting not only our small business, but a local farmer, a domestic manufacturer, a natural dye artisan, and beyond. It’s a unique and giving cycle that we are thrilled to be a part of.

The “Wanda” scarf

Your scarves and wraps are truly beautiful. What do you want readers to know about them before they order? (Besides the obvious “makes a perfect gift for the holiday season?) Natural dyes have a vibrancy that is truly distinct from synthetic dyes. Natural dyes are rarely ever one single color but rather a synergy of several different colorants found together in the same plant.

The madder root dye, for example, contains not only red but also oranges, purples and brown. This is just unduplicatable with synthetic dyes, which contain usually a single coloring molecule, for example the synthetic form of alizarin –a red dye. This complex composition of a variety of colorants gives natural dyes their unparallel beauty. The colors are nuanced and rich in a way that the singularity of a synthetic cannot approximate.

Besides the colors, we are excited about the versatility of our scarves and wraps. Our products are elegant yet easy. They can be classic or funky depending on how you style it. Our scarves and wraps can all be worn in so many different ways and for a variety of occasions making them a beautiful wardrobe addition.

Can you talk us through the dye process for one of your scarves, so people understand just what goes into the piece they’re purchasing? Prior to the dyeing step we clean the fabric in a process called “scouring” to open the fibers to be most receptive to the dyes. The dyeing step depends on the type of dye.

Vat dyes, for example the natural dye indigo, must be in a reduced state to bind with the fabric. We create a natural fermentation vat which allows us to dye the blue of indigo without chemical reducing agents common in the denim dyeing industry.

Many natural dyes are mordant dyes. Mordants are an auxiliary compound comprised of chemicals, tannins or metallic salts that increases adherence of dye to fabric. They are used to fix a dye to the fibers, improve the take up quality of the fabric and help improve color and light fastness, and perhaps modify color.

Dyes like marigold or madder typically require a mordant to achieve brighter and lightfast colors. Most natural dyers use mordants such as Alum, a metallic salt, iron, or tannic acid, typically derived from plant sources such as oak galls, sumac, or myrobalan. The heavy metal ions which can be highly toxic such as chromium and tin or even copper are not used by any of the natural dyers I know. However, they are used in industrial synthetic dyeing and do urgently need to be replaced with a non-toxic option.

The “Tammy” in indigo

From your own line, what do you wear most? The Tammy in Indigo Shibori. I love it just with jeans and a tee, it is so soft and silky I don’t ever want to take it off. Shibori is a Japanese method of dyeing cloth with a pattern by binding it prior to dyeing. Each one is just a little bit different and people are always asking about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah’s Favorites

Nashville neighborhood: Whites Creek and Bells Bend

Dinner: City House

Lunch: SloCo, I am obsessed with this concept!

Cocktail: Gin martini, extra dirty

On Your Kindle: The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz

TiVOing: Talk of the Nation? I guess I’m now officially one of those people that just hear about TV shows from NPR.

Listening to: Hurray for the Riff Raff, an amazing band from New Orleans. But I have been playing a lot of my favorite Christmas tune – Jim Croce’s “It Doesn’t Have to be that Way”

Jeans: Imogene + Willie Slim

Want for Christmas: A .308 rifle

Dessert: Chocolate covered espresso beans

Signature scent: Acqua di Parma lavanda tonica … but they discontinued it so now I have to covet my last bottle.

Cooking: Always! Herbs and veggies from my garden, lots of legumes, meat from Porter Road Butcher and cheese from the Bloomy Rind

Current passion: Turning my four acre plot of land into a sustainable homestead. My real goal doing it at my own farm is to create new markets for sustainable agricultural products. I want to expand the U.S. market for environmentally friendly dyes while creating new and diversified sources of income for U.S. farm and forestry communities. The overall goal and passion behind that specific goal is to sustain the land and the people making a living from it through innovative industrial solutions and products.

 

Shop Without Dropping – A Southern Holiday Primer and Guide

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With the holidays upon us, driving becomes increasingly impossible as folks flock to the malls to get their shopping done – around here generally in giant SUVs and without the need for the basic courtesy we give our fellow man in the parking lot during the rest of the year. Fortunately, no matter where you are, thanks to our consumer culture, you probably have to opportunity to shop in the exact same stores and buy the exact same things that everyone else does once you’ve played parking roulette. Likewise, I suspect that doing some of that Christmas/holiday shopping locally and regionally seriously appeals, both for the potential original gifts and the limited mall time.

 

Here in Nashville, the mall scene is especially crazy, particularly since national businesses seem to all be trying to locate within one square mile around The Mall at Green Hills. While that location now has a whole bunch of truly excellent retailers– including my jewelry obsession Judith Bright, plus the only area Nordstrom’s (my Jo Malone source), the only freestanding Kiehl’s and L’Occitane stores and the Container Store, plus I hear, depressingly, that another of my favorites, LUSH, is opening there too – the fight with the traffic, even on Wednesdays in July is still a misery that can’t be topped. (Hint to national businesses – we have a big city with a lot of great potential shopping districts – Franklin, Cool Springs, West Nashville, East Nashville, the Gulch, Brentwood, 12South, West End – do your homework people! Clearly, we drive.)

 

If you, like me, are currently fighting the ills of a nasty cold and dread the notion of fighting the malls and the traffic, here’s a list of places to go or to order online that really will make your shopping day brighter.

 

The options are not limited to Nashville – there’s plenty here from across the Southeast, and most have online shopping options if, like me, you’re actually sick and want to spend the next couple of days doing nothing more strenuous than typing on your notebook from the sofa. (Names are your links, should anyone have a question about that – click away!)

 

 

At Bathos

Bathos: Easily one of my favorite places in the whole world, Bathos in downtown Franklin, Tenn. Offers handmade soaps, bath fizzies (“hullaballoos”) and skin care that top most of the national brands. Treat yourself to the lavender-scented Bathing Not Drowning fizzies – or my favorite Hoo Hing Spice Balls. The marmalade soap smells like heaven, and scents your bathroom, while the tough guy in your life will love the Tar Bar or the Daily Grind coffee-based soap.

 

 

Franklin Antique Mall

The Franklin Antique Mall (a.k.a. “The Icehouse”): My favorite source for antique and vintage, both knick-knacks and serious pieces of furniture. There are several great antique malls nearby on Second Ave. and for new home stuff you won’t find elsewhere, stop in P.D.’s in the train car across the street.

 

Potent Potables: The area has really started producing some excellent spirits of late. Get your spiced rum, truly excellent, juniper heavy gin, and vanilla vodka from Corsair Artisan Distilleries, pick up some better-than-Irish Cream Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream created by Speakeasy Spirits and outstanding Collier & McKeel Whiskey – Mike Williams amazing product also distilled right here. Of course, around here, you’ve also got Jack Daniel’s, George Dickel, and a host of really good Kentucky bourbons – and at most of these places, if you live nearby, let me recommend taking tours as part of your holiday festivities. I particularly love the one at Woodford Reserve. While you’re buying, pick up a bottle of Heroes Vodka – they’re not only a Tennessee company, but they support veterans charities right here – like Operation Stand Down – with a significant portion of their profits.

 

Jewelry You Want Under the Tree: There are plenty subsections to this one, not all in the Nashville area. Among your options are fine jewelry, really nice fashion jewelry, and some more unusual options from some of my geek girl connections that are nevertheless splendid and appropriate.

Margaret Ellis: I’ve always coveted her work, in hammered silver and 22 kt. gold. Designing from a studio in Cummins Station in Nashville, she really helped define the city’s artisan jewelry making scene for me when I started writing about fashion here, and I remain a major fan. If you have someone to impress on your gift list, start here. She’s deservedly one of the most popular Nashville jewelers, and she has very nice men’s pieces as well as women’s.

Bracelets from Judith Bright

Judith Bright: I never leave home without her work on somewhere, it seems. Her Rock Star pieces number among my favorites. A former music industry girl who spread her wings, studied jewelry making in Florence, and brought a Renaissance aesthetic to the contemporary world, Judith is something special. She now has outlets in Atlanta and Los Angeles too, but her online shop is very accessible. As with Ellis, buy her pieces knowing they’ll last forever and remain classic.

Cindy David: Synonymous with creative fashion jewelry with flair, her work is affordable and supremely on-trend. She works with quality semi-precious stones, and when you buy from her, you get a well-made, exceptionally wearable piece that you’ll reuse in a million ways.

 

 

A Crafty Celt necklace

 

The Crafty Celts: I’ve known these South Carolina-based artisans seemingly forever, and their work only gets more gorgeous. Based on historic designs and artifacts from all over Europe, the work is high-end, the pieces are exquisite, and you won’t find anything else like it. My husband gave me one of their beautiful bronze torcs (necklets) right after we started dating, and I wear it constantly – no one else has anything like it. Buy here for guys and girls alike, and you’ve scored a big ol’ win for the folks on your list who are history minded, or who are huge fans of Game of Thrones, Spartacus and Rome.

 

Followers of Fashion: Around here, only a fool fails to mention the excellent ties of Mr. Otis James and the oh-so-desirable bags of Emil Erwin – leather goods are pretty hot when they come from the designs of Phillip Nappi at his Peter Nappi boutique as well, and there aren’t a lot of local shoe designers around here. To round out the list of things you’ve probably already seen in Garden & Gun, but still should explore, check out Imogene + Willie, the 12South boutique that brings you custom, handmade jeans you’ll wear for life.

 

Vintage Finds: With those out of the way, let me throw in a few less obvious choices. First, the vintage world is a brilliant place to be. In East Nashville, Old Made Good (OMG) is a fantastic locale for reviving the old school into new style. In Murfreesboro, Sugaree’s Boutique, owned by my fashion-forward friend Staci Higdon, carries a lush selection of 1920s to 1990s vintage, as well as plenty of current looks – one of the few places that does both jobs well. If you make your way to Huntsville, Alabama, the Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment Center has a plethora of vintage stores set inside an old factory – super cool. Plus, all the artists’ workshops in the same building give you plenty of holiday options.

 

Zavozina’s Russian Princess gown

Designer Originals: Start with the bespoke – if you’re planning your wedding right now, or have a formal event to attend, Olia Zavozina, who made my wedding dress and does custom bespoke suits for the Tennessee Titans is a superpower from her atelier in Edgehill Village. Guys, if you’ve got debonair tastes and have a good sized budget, the bespoke world beckons to you – former Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein head honcho Barry Wishnow’s bespoke Bash line is one of the most exceptional things I’ve seen this year – yes, you can channel Cary Grant.

 

From bespoke, move to designer originals – I’ve mentioned Alabama Chanin before, but especially since she’s got a pop-up boutique this month at Leiper’s Fork’s The Copper Fox (another great source, if you’re buying art) as well as her Florence, Alabama atelier, for my money she’s the most creative creature in the refined world of Southern fashion. If your budget doesn’t allow for her garments, her books and kits will let you create your own. (And check out my long-form piece on her in this month’s Nashville Arts magazine).

 

A DIY dress kit from Alabama Chanin, $340

 

Speaking of DIY, if you aren’t familiar with Chanin’s sometime textile and fiber art collaborator Anna Maria Horner, this is a good time to learn – her kits are perfect for the crafter in your life.

 

Tapestry kits from Anna Maria Horner

 

 

It may sound odd, but I’ve found a plethora of marvelous hand-made textile options at The Franklin Farmers’ Market lately. The winter market is up and running, and it’s proven a great source for original knitted and crocheted pieces, and some original stuff made from recycled and repurposed sweaters – including really wonderful hats scarves and shawls. Of course, there are plenty of culinary options, from jam and pastries to pies from Geraldine’s and Papa C at the market as well. More on that below.

 

The gold standard of anti-aging products, from Nashville skin care entrepreneur Linda Roberts

If you’re looking for beauty, fragrance, skin care and the like, here in Nashville, we have the wonderful Woo Skincare and Cosmetics, which also has an Atlanta location. Exclusively carrying a number of premium lines, this is a fabulous gem of a store for the beauty addict, male or female. Nashville and Chattanooga both offer the Cosmetic Market, outlets for Therapy Systems entrepreneur Linda Roberts. They carry plenty of popular lines, offer serious spa treatments, and carry the Therapy Systems skin care line, which for my money is as good or better than larger lines that are three times as expensive.

 

A Lodge Cast Iron Dutch oven

 

 

At Home: Housewares are sometimes tough, but I think there are amazing finds to be had. Lodge Cast Iron, out of Chattanooga, is a must-have for any home cook. If you can’t cook in cast iron, you must not have Southern roots – my dad, a master of the cast iron cookery, gives me a new piece almost every year. It gets used.

 

A sgraffito bowl at Firehorse Pottery

 

 

 

Pitchers and bowls with a historic sensibility from Tuscaloosa, AL.-based Kerry Tyson Kennedy’s Firehorse Pottery fill my china cabinet – she has an Etsy store, so they can fill yours too. Georgia’s Uncorked Glass Company is also on my list – repurposing wine bottles into lovely glassware. I have a set of the green, and we use them constantly. And speaking of repurposing wine bottles, I’m really hooked on a new Tennessee company producing 100% soy candles in repurposed wine bottles as well. Intoxicating Aromas sells at the Franklin Farmers’ Market and at The Copper Fox mentioned above, but doesn’t yet seem to have a web site – contact them ($15-$20) via intoxicatingaromasATyahoo.com – the “home and hearth” scent is perfect for Christmas.

 

Cobalt blue glasses from Uncorked Glass Company, $44 for a set of 4.

 

My friend Michael Schuerer in Decatur, AL. mentioned another really fantastic, if pricey, home option to me – the incredible functinal steel sculptures at Fire Pit Art are something you have to see. As popular as the outdoor metal firepit has become ( we have one, and so do most of our friends) this company takes that up a whole level, and introduces the firepit as incomparable art work.

 

Tennessee based Fire Pit Art redefines the fire pit; these start at about $1,000 for a 36 inch fire pit.

 

 

And, Of Course, The Food: Because it ain’t Christmas, or Hannukah, or Solstice, or Kwaanza or New Year’s, or Saturnalia, or Festivus or whatever your family celebrates this month without food. Ah, where to begin?

 

Feridies peanuts – yum!

Well, as someone with a whole lot of family in the great state of Virginia, I’ll tell you Virginia peanuts from the area around Southhampton County make for some fine gift giving. Feridies is the go-to source for my family going back years, with Hubs coming in not far behind. I like the spicy Cajun, but the plain salted is just fine. We eat these things like candy – except fortuitously they have food value.

 

I few days ago, I wrote about Kristina Mansoor, Nashville cupcake and cake baker extraordinaire. I reiterate the need to buy her cupcakes. If you happen to be in the Atlanta area, call Barbara Reed of Bianca’s Designs for your holiday cakes. I have eaten plenty of her baked goods, and thankfully, I don’t live near her, or I’d be fat and have no teeth because of all the sugar (she also teaches cake decorating courses). If you’re ordering sweets, I also suggest Dozen: A Nashville Sweet Shop for excellent cookies made of organic ingredients. Her chocolate chip cookie are delish, although my addiction is the peanut butter ones (I can be bribed with these).

 

 

Hibiscus Orange Flower ginger syrup at Bang Candy Company, $19

Bang Candy Company produces some of the world’s best artisan marshmallows, and owner Sarah Souther also does a bang up job on truly unusual simple syrups that need to be paired with Prosecco before your next holiday party. I might need some now – where’s my bottle of rosemary ginger? Of course, Olive & Sinclair chocolate is really becoming a big deal. I favor the salt and pepper variety, because sweet and salty is good.

 

I’ve mentioned Miss Daisy King before – if you’re in Nashville, drop by and see her at the Grassland Market (2176 Hillsboro Road in Franklin) and pick up some of her amazing sides or desserts to take home for your holiday indulging. Take home a cookbook or two as well. Hint – go for her pound cake. And of course, remember you can also buy Allan Benton’s bacon there.

 

If you’re in East Nashville, drop by and see Kathleen Cotter at the Bloomy Rind for handmade cheeses and, in the same space, the guys at Porter Road Butcher – artisan does taste better than mass produced.

 

 

Lastly, sadly only available on Saturdays at the Franklin Farmers’ Market so far, Ellie’s Old Fashioned Doughnuts are a revelation of sweets. Save up all your points or calories or carbs for them. Buy a big bag to take home and reheat the next morning (20 seconds in the microwave makes a doughnut perfect). Eat one as you leave while sugar dribbles down your chin. I don’t obsess over much food, but these are that good.

 

I could go on and on, but we’ll save more for other posts as we approach the holiday season. Meanwhile, don’t forget to also shop your locally owned businesses and boutiques – because having a gift that really is one of a kind is truly worth it. And also because supporting local artisans and small businesses just makes sense, and makes for a better holiday season for everyone in your community.

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