Harvesting Memories: The Blackberry Gown and The Tall Woman

Explore Southern Appalachia's heritage with the Blackberry Gown, a couture tribute rooted in cherished traditions and memories of blackberry picking. Created by Amanda Tweed for the Southern Appalachian Women project, this gown embodies the spirit of Appalachia and its enduring legacy. Join us in preserving these narratives through photography and support our journey to keep storytelling alive.
Two women in historical attire stand in a forest; one in a simple blue and white dress holding a cloth, and the other in an elegant burgundy gown, embodying a blend of Appalachian heritage and ethereal beauty.

A Couture Tribute: The Blackberry Gown Emerges

In a recent gathering, Mandy unveiled the poignant backstory behind her choice of blackberries as the muse for her inaugural design despite having a plethora of sketches at her disposal. She wanted to pay tribute to cherished memories of time spent with her grandparents in Coffee Ridge, Tennessee.

A woman in a stunning blackberry-themed gown by Mountain Flower Fantasies, standing amidst lush greenery and yellow wildflowers.

Mandy’s Grandparents Wisdom: A Legacy of Love

Mandy reminisced, “When I was six, my Great Grandfather Casey Jones would lead my sister and me to the fields to pick berries. He ingeniously tied two milk jugs, tops removed, around our waists with bailing twine, creating makeshift buckets for our harvest. My brother incessantly craved ‘the purple stuff’—Great Grandmother’s, Kathleen Jones, homemade blackberry dumplings. She preserved the berries annually, and even after she passed, he treasured the last jars of her preserved blackberries. Now, every year, my husband and I continue this tradition by taking our daughter Adah berry picking, keeping the memory vibrant and alive.”

 

As Mandy shared her heartwarming story, I couldn’t help but smile, transported back to my own late-summer memories with my grandparents in Hot Springs, North Carolina. They resided in a quaint ‘holler’ close to the railroad tracks, a few miles from the town’s heart. I playfully mentioned to Mandy that we were slightly more “sophisticated” in our berry-picking equipment, using plastic buckets with metal handles instead of milk jugs.

Close-up of hands holding blackberries, complementing a blackberry-themed gown by Mountain Flower Fantasies, set against a backdrop of lush foliage.

Sabrina’s Memories in Hot Springs, NC

We would meander down the dusty road at twilight, my brother eagerly scampering ahead while my Papaw, dressed in his signature overalls, button-up shirt, and ballcap, would amble behind him. All the while, Granny would be on edge, cautioning us with a stern, loving voice, “Watch for snakes! Oh Edna (referring to my mom), you better keep an eye on those young’uns; you know how copperheads are around here!”

 

This warning from Granny would invariably freeze me in my tracks, her words echoing in my ears. From my earliest memories, she had instilled a deep, enduring fear of snakes; a caution so ingrained that it has stayed with me unfalteringly. Her warnings, delivered with a mix of concern and sternness, left a lasting imprint, shaping an instinctive wariness that lingers to this day.

 

Then, Granny would dedicate an entire weekend to crafting her blackberry jelly, turning the kitchen into a sweltering workshop as if the flames of hell themselves had seeped into her home. Yet, amidst the oppressive heat, a divine aroma would fill the air, a sweet fragrance that promised delights to come.

 

“Oh honey, can’t you just taste this when I make us some cathead biscuits in the morning for breakfast, with butter dripping off of them?” she would say, her voice rich with anticipation. Wide-eyed and with a mischievous grin plastered across my face, I would stand there, barely able to contain my excitement, imagining the blissful breakfast awaited us.

 

Watching Granny diligently work, stirring the berries as they slowly “rendered down” in the pot, was an experience almost as enjoyable as listening to the jar lids make their satisfying ‘pop’ as they sealed themselves. This process, mesmerizing in its simplicity and tradition, was a cherished ritual in the kitchen, where time seemed to slow down, and every moment became a memory etched in the warmth of summer afternoons.

Closeup of Blackberry Earrings handmade by Mountain Flower Fantasies

Crafting Authenticity: Lifelike Berries and Social Innovation

In the spring of last year, I was buzzing with ideas for our Southern Appalachian Women (SAW) project and decided to swing by Mandy’s house in Mars Hill, NC. Upon arrival, Mandy revealed she had a surprise for me. She ushered me into her workroom, where the morning light illuminated the completed blackberry gown. My reaction was uncontainable; I squealed with delight, and my jaw dropped as I admired the gown, lost for words to describe its breathtaking beauty. The vibrant color immediately reminded me of the berries in the pot as my Granny stirred them.

However, the aspect that captivated me the most was the lifelike berries adorning the gown. Despite our exhaustive online search for suitable ones, none seemed real enough for us. In awe, I held one, marveling at its authenticity, “Mandy! Where in the world did you find these?” I exclaimed, “They look real, and they even feel real! They move when you touch them!”

With a laugh, Mandy replied, “I didn’t find them, I made them.” My shock was evident. Imagining how she could craft such perfect replicas without a mold was hard. After a moment, I managed to ask, “How?”

She explained, “I never found any that I liked, so I decided to experiment and see if I could make some. I ordered seed beads and kept playing until I came up with something I liked.” She continued, sharing how the creation process became a social event, “I even had a friend come over, and we spent evenings just making berries for the dress as we visited and watched TV.” Her ingenuity and dedication to authenticity were as inspiring as the gown itself.

Standing before Mandy’s masterpiece in the soft morning light, the urge to immediately showcase this blackberry gown through a photoshoot was overwhelming. However, the timing wasn’t right. I wanted summer’s lush, vibrant greens to envelop us, providing the perfect backdrop for such a magnificent creation. At that moment, I realized the necessity of patience; this brilliant work of art deserved to be presented in an environment that would accentuate its beauty fully. Thus, I resigned myself to the wait, knowing the outcome would be worth it.

A woman in a dark purple corset adorned with blackberry-inspired embellishments stands contemplatively in an Appalachian forest, embodying the spirit and history of the region.

Bridging Past and Present: A Vision Inspired by “The Tall Woman”

Months after that revealing morning at Mandy’s, my mind wandered back to “The Tall Woman” by Wilma Dykeman, a cornerstone of my literary journey at Mars Hill University. Re-engaging with this powerful narrative wasn’t just a nostalgic act; it sparked an innovative idea for our photoshoot, merging the profound legacy of Appalachian history with the avant-garde flair embodied by the Blackberry gown.

Inspired by the novel’s depiction of Lydia’s cherished spring, a vision took shape: What if the photoshoot could encapsulate Lydia’s character and a contemporary fashion statement? Imagine the fusion of historical depth and modern style, set against the backdrop of a serene spring, all while celebrating the motif of blackberries.

Compelled by this concept, I contacted Sybil Todd at White Knight Entertainment, our other talented in-house designer. My enthusiasm was met with equal fervor as she immediately embraced the idea. Sybil’s excitement was palpable, “I know the perfect person who can embody Lydia, and we’ve recently completed a historical piece that aligns beautifully with this era. And oh my gosh, this book is phenomenal! Thanks for introducing it to us!” Her response was the affirmation I needed; our collaborative vision was set to become a reality, blending the essence of Appalachian heritage with the spirit of contemporary design in a tribute that would bridge generations.

A portrait of a woman with hair and makeup by Fab Flawless Hair and Makeup Artistry by Sheri Gaffney, featuring a nature-inspired look with leaf and berry motifs, set against an Appalachian backdrop.

Embracing Collaboration: Turning Doubts into Endorsement

After processing the initial shock, I mustered the courage to reply, proposing a meeting to share our vision. Jim’s positive response set a meeting in Weaverville, NC, in motion. The anticipation was palpable; Mandy, especially, was fraught with nerves, questioning her ability to articulate our mission. To ease her fears, I reassured her, emphasizing the power of her design alone to communicate our intent. However, as the meeting commenced, I was overwhelmed by nerves, leaving Mandy to steer our conversation eloquently.

 

What we anticipated to be an interview with Jim turned into an enlightening dialogue where he also probed into our concepts and intentions. His insight was a revelation, articulating what we hadn’t yet managed to say ourselves: our project could bridge generations, intertwining modern fashion with Appalachian studies to captivate and educate a younger audience.

 

Leaving the meeting with Jim Stokely’s endorsement and the notion that Wilma Dykeman herself would have been pleased to see her legacy intertwined with our efforts was profoundly uplifting. Buoyed by this support, Mandy and I felt invigorated, ready to weave together our designs and bring our envisioned magic to life within the Appalachian woods, hopeful to engage a new generation with the rich tapestry of their heritage.

 

The final puzzle piece was setting a date and finding the perfect location. Scouting locations is an adventure I cherish deeply, often embarking on spontaneous journeys driven by the allure of discovery. This unpredictability, a cherished aspect of residing in Western North Carolina, means beauty and serenity are never far away, often just a drive into the unknown.

A captivating portrait by Sabrina Greene Photography, featuring a woman in a nature-inspired gown near the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The setting is a lush, moss-covered forest, highlighting the serene beauty of the Appalachian region.

Serenity in the Storm: Immersing in Literary Inspiration

However, with time pressing and responsibilities at home, I decided to turn the necessity of location scouting into a family outing. Packing the kids into the Jeep, we set off, not just in search of a place but also of shared experiences. Our previous explorations, guided by the locales that inspired Jim’s mother’s literature, had proven unsuitable, lacking the safety needed for our project’s demands.

 

That day, as we meandered through the backroads of Haywood County, our adventure was magnified by an unexpected thunderstorm, adding a thrilling backdrop to our quest. The children’s laughter echoed as they watched their mother—me—overflow with excitement at Harmon’s Den, only to comically slip into the creek. The day was filled with joy, from the sheer fun of navigating through mud puddles and splattering our Jeep with the earthy signs of our journey to the silent moments of awe in nature’s midst.

These spontaneous experiences evolved into unforgettable memories, firmly embedding themselves in the depths of my heart.

A detailed close-up of a garment by Mountain Flower Fantasies by Amanda Tweed, showcasing intricate blackberry and leaf embroidery on a rich, burgundy fabric. This design beautifully captures the essence of Appalachian flora.

Sustaining the Narrative: A Call for Support

Join us next time as we delve deeper into “The Tall Woman” by Wilma Dykeman, showcasing how her love for our rivers and streams is intricately woven into our latest shoot. We’re just beginning to explore the layers of this project and are eager to unveil more. Reflecting on the extensive work behind our endeavors, it’s clear that each project is a culmination of meticulous planning, creativity, and dedication.

 

Producing these photographic narratives has been a labor of love, with an average cost between $5,000 to $7,000 per shoot. This commitment to storytelling extends beyond the lens; I spend considerable time collecting resources, traveling to local archives, and diving into research to ensure authenticity and depth in our work. Over the past year, we have self-funded these shoots, embracing the financial challenges to bring these rich narratives to life.

 

However, we are at a juncture where we seek your support. The investments we make in resources, travel, materials for outfits, labor, equipment, and more are substantial. By contributing, you help alleviate these out-of-pocket expenses, allowing us to continue bringing fictional and real stories to vivid life.

 

We wish to continue sharing this journey of creation and discovery with you. By donating, you become a part of this creative process, supporting not just the visual representation of these tales but the deep historical and cultural research that underpins each photograph.

 

Join us in this endeavor. Your support enables us to keep exploring, creating, and sharing these beautiful narratives, ensuring the art of storytelling and the wonder of the natural world are celebrated through our photography. Together, we can keep this labor of love thriving and ensure the stories we tell are as rich and authentic as the landscapes we capture.

Support our journey to bring Appalachian women’s history to light with a donation!

Collaborators in Creativity: Bringing the Vision to Life

Photography: Sabrina Greene Photography

Blackberry Gown Design: Mountain Flower Fantasies by Amanda Tweed

Blackberry Gown Model: Emilie Alberts

Lydia McQueen Dress Design/Model: Heather Dubay

Hair and Makeup: Provided by Fab Flawless Hair and Makeup Artistry with Sheri Gaffney

Assisting on the Shoot: Sybil and Dakota Todd of White Knight Entertainment

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