A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Gorgeous Gourds — Wilmington Debb Chiappisi picks up two of the dozen gourds lined up on a rug in her studio. She’s already scrubbed them with steel wool, and now

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Gorgeous Gourds — Wilmington Debb Chiappisi picks up two of the dozen gourds lined up on a rug in her studio. She’s already scrubbed them with steel wool, and now

3 Ways to Decorate For Fall

Gorgeous Gourds — Wilmington

Debb Chiappisi picks up two of the dozen gourds lined up on a rug in her studio. She’s already scrubbed them with steel wool, and now they’re beige and smooth — blank canvases ready to be painted.

The Wilmington artist sees a cornucopia of possibilities in garden-variety gourds. She transforms them into sea scenes and flower gardens, each one crawling with blue crabs or swimming with manatees or fluttering with hummingbirds.

“You can do so many different things with them,” says Chiappisi, who has painted hundreds of gourds since making them her artistic focus 16 years ago. “I never get bored with it. Once I discovered gourds, that’s all I wanted to do.”

She develops a vision for each one, then draws a pattern and etches it onto the gourds with a wood burner. She uses power tools to carve leaves and blooms, then swabs dyes for backgrounds and uses acrylics to paint details: daisies, dolphins, sand dollars. An enamel finish gives each rustic gourd a lasting luster. — Tim Bass

To learn more about Debb Chiappisi’s work, visit facebook.com/groups/artisticsoulsgallery.

At The Mountain Thread Company, you’ll find coiled-rope baskets in all sizes, from small trinket holders to large Crafter Totes. photograph by Matt Hulsman

Showing the Ropes — Blowing Rock

The sewing machine that Katherine Lile keeps in her shop in Blowing Rock whirs and hums as she coils and stitches 250 feet of solid-braid cotton rope into a tote that’s perfect for autumn apple picking. The sound is “somewhat mechanical, somewhat musical,” Lile says. “People come in all the time and say, ‘I recognize that sound; tell me what you’re doing.’ Sounds can really connect us to other people and other places.” That connection is one of the reasons that Lile loves owning and operating The Mountain Thread Company, a basket, fabric, and craft supply shop; the basketmaking community is enthusiastic and growing.

After spending much of her life quilting with her mother and grandmother, Lile was looking for a new craft that was less time-consuming — something she could do while her kids were napping. Her mother introduced her to coiled-rope basketry, and she started making and selling baskets from her home in New England. Wanting to raise their kids in their native Watauga County, Lile and her husband, Jesse, moved to Boone and opened their storefront in Blowing Rock in 2015. Lile has since developed her own rope that’s ideal for making baskets, and she works with a North Carolina manufacturer to produce it. The response has been enormous: She sells about 20 miles of rope per month and ships to all 50 states, supporting a community of like-minded makers. — Rebecca Woltz

The Mountain Thread Company
1098 Main Street
Blowing Rock, NC 28605
(828) 372-7024

Jennifer Swenk and her dad, Duane, use soy wax, cotton wicks, and certified clean fragrance oils to make candles that are good for customers’ health and the environment. photograph by Revival Creatives

Guiding Light — Sparta

Strike a match and light Sparta Candle Co.’s Apple-Achian candle: The notes of apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg are reminiscent of a warm apple pie on a cool autumn day. Breathe in the scent of the High Country candle, and Fraser fir, cedar, and cardamom transport you to a trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Jennifer Swenk started Sparta Candle Co. to shine a light on her hometown and the surrounding region, but her mission was about more than celebrating Sparta. Five years ago, after her mom, Sue, was diagnosed with breast cancer, Swenk began pouring soy candles in the guest bedroom of her home. She wanted to give her mom, a candle lover, a higher-quality product to burn.

In Swenk’s brick-and-mortar store on South Main Street, Sue’s memory lives on. She died last January, before the Main Street location opened, but her potted plant collection frames a colorful alcove, complete with dangling rose-gold disco balls and an armchair cheekily labeled “Husband Parking.” Swenk’s dad, Duane, works part-time at the store, mostly wrapping up soaps that come in scents like Peaches & Cream, which was created with Sue in mind. “Since Mom passed away, I think we both feel her in here,” Swenk says. “Sometimes we feel like we’re all together.” — Chloe Klingstedt

Sparta Candle Co.
16 South Main Street
Sparta, NC 28675
(336) 944-2219

This story was published on Sep 26, 2022

Our State Staff

Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.