Socks for Shelters

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Appalachian Spring is partnering with Solmate Socks to provide warm, knit socks to local shelters.  In recognition of the annual national celebration of American Craft Week in October, Solmate Socks will donate a pair of their socks for every pair purchased at Appalachian Spring stores in October to one of four local shelters in the metro DC area.

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Solmate Socks has been producing their colorful handmade socks in their family owned Vermont studios since 2000 and have been a part of Appalachian Spring’s merchandise collection for many of those years.  Known for their unique idea of creating pairs of unmatched socks, Solmate knits all their products from recycled yarns. The designs come from the sock lady herself, Marianne.

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American Craft Week began as a small, grassroots effort to enhance the knowledge and appreciation of handmade craft.  Now celebrating its sixth anniversary, American Craft Week is a well-established, national event celebrating the tradition of American craft in galleries, artists’ studios, museums, schools and festivals.  This year’s official celebration will be held Oct 3 – 12, and for the first time all 50 states are participating, including the District of Columbia, and US Army bases in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

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This effort will benefit clients at Georgetown Ministry Center, The Community for Creative Non-ViolenceClean and Sober Streets, The Embry Rucker Community Shelter and Stepping Stones Shelter. Please join Appalachian Spring and Solmate Socks in our Socks for Shelters Campaign.

Buy one, donate one!

 

Peggy Karr

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Peggy Karr has been making things for as long as she can remember. As a kid she laid out the plans to make a “flying suit.” And she was convinced that she could make one! In College she majored in art with a focus on ceramics. Her knowledge and experience with clay, firing and throwing have been a useful foundation for her foray in to fused glass.

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After her first introduction to kiln fired glass, Peggy researched the art form at Corning and through other sources. She made mold out of clay and then fired them in her clay kiln at 1600 degrees. The first effort included a square plate with a cow.

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We love how delightfully easy it is to mix and match and use in any dining/serving situation.  Peggy has created custom colors to her specifications, making each plate uniquely her own. The colors are laid on to the glass blank using as many as 10 different stencils with sifted powdered glass colors filling in the blanks. Designs generally start as a hand drawing and then gets converted to the computer so that the stencils can be laser cut.

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Each piece can be presented decoratively or is “art you can use!” Peggy Karr’s Fall designs are currently featured in our store windows. Stop by and take a peek at these gorgeous Shades of Autumn.

 

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Chic and Stylish: farm to table serving stones

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Round Stone Beach on an island in Maine

I have spent almost every summer for the last 45 years in Maine. So if there is something that makes me feel like I am on the rocky coast of Maine, it’s going to be stones. I collect stones when I walk on Round Stone beach. I love to listen to the waves tumbling over the stones. I stack them in cairns when I walk in the woods. I have a small stone on the ledge of my vanity representing each member of our quickly growing family of 7, now 8! In my “garden” is a heart shade stone I lugged home to DC.

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Stone Cairn found on our beach walk

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Heart stone on my front step overlooking the “garden”

 

So when American Stonecraft stone slabs arrived- I was thrilled! These New England field stones are harvested, sliced, polished and then sealed.  Every field stone holds within a spectacular beauty that can only come from nature.  Each and every one is different, not only in size and shape, but the array of colors and amazing patterns of the interior.

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Field stones in New England are commonly called “New England potatoes”.  Farmers must constantly clear their fields of them.  Created by glaciers eons ago and buried within the soil, they rise to the surface and have to be removed, again and again, before the land can be farmed.   Historically they were used in the stone walls you see all over New England but these walls are too costly for today’s farmers to build and maintain so they often end up in piles.  The folks from American Stonecraft reach out to these small local farmers who are happy to supply American Stonecraft with lots and lots of field stones!

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Stone slab sandwich board

Whether you have a set of slabs and use them as plates or make it your favorite cheese serving platter, you will find hundreds of ways to put them to use. I keep one slab on my table as a trivet. I serve sushi, smoked fishes and cheeses on another. I definitely bought one to give and one for me–twice!

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Slightly large slab for summer rolls

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Keeping cheese at the perfect temperature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard Bliss

It’s that time of year when we can take some time to sit back and enjoy the great outdoors – right in our own backyard!

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In May and June there is a lot of yard work to be done.  Beds need to be weeded and mulched, vegetable and flower seeds need to be planted, and the grass seems like it needs to be cut at least twice a week.

July and August bring hotter temperatures which means the grass doesn’t grow so fast, our gardens are lush and plentiful (cucumbers anyone?) and the flowers are in full bloom.  We don’t even mind the extra watering of plants because the rain barrels have been kept full this summer with all our rainy days! It’s time to sit on the patio with a good book, a refreshingly cool drink and take in the view.

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As I look around my backyard I realize that my love of handcrafted items is reflected outdoors too. We have two sculptures from the studio of George Carruth; a statue of St. Francis is standing by the birdbath and Fern prominently looks over the yard from his perch on a fence post. These pieces are delightfully detailed and will weather year round temperatures, but as you’ll see many more to choose from in our stores, many pieces are perfect for indoors too.

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My eyes fall on a butterfly house from Heartwood Architecture, witches balls by Kitris, Jeff Price’s levitating marble (my personal favorite) and a repurposed wine bottle holder from Delia – still holding wine bottles, but now being used as yard art.

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Stop by any of the Appalachian Spring store locations to see many of the fabulous items that make up our Garden Department.  Perhaps you’ll see the perfect birdhouse or garden sculpture to add to your yard.  Then take a break, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor and experience Backyard Bliss!

Singing the Blues for Summer Dining

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Newest work of Mark Matsui, in stores now!

Blue is my favorite go-to color, it’s calm and soothing. Blue ranks number one around the world as a favorite color, slightly more popular with men than women but mostly equal regardless of age or nationality. In advertising green is associated with nature and environmentally friendly products. Red and yellow are often used to suggest speed, energy or urgency as in fast food logos. Blue is thoughtful, contemplative and peaceful.

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Colony Hotel, Kennebunkport ME

There are only a few naturally blue foods (blueberries, some cheeses and the errant ear of corn), fewer people have blue eyes,  blue seems to be a color that is just a little rare and special. It comes in bold cobalt, the softest of powder tones, or add a smidgen of green and it moves to aqua or turquoise.

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Kaser Shells

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When setting my table for a summer dinner party- I love to have a few blue pieces that catch the eye. Starting with my Fire & Light condiment dishes in cobalt and aqua, I might add a platter from Silver Ridge Studio with the fish imprint.

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Silver Ridge platter, Greenheck bowl, Byers serving dish, Schultz vase, and #Goodthingsnyc container

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Aronin platter and bowl, Cohen trivet, Massarella mug and Jeselskis plate (and more!)

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Matsui bowl, Fabrico long dish, Hillborn aqua tray, Massarella chip & dip and mugs, Meuller pitcher and plate

When I serve red potato salad gremolata*, I use a Winthrop Byers deep oval serving casserole. Crisp white linens and blue accent pieces can make my table feel cool and breezy for summer. Add some turquoise or aqua and my table suddenly feels at home at the beach or lake house. Visiting friends on the Cape-perhaps I will bring a hostess gift in blue: a bowl, a mug or two, or a vase. So many choices and each one appealing to the eye and satisfying to use.

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Byers serving dish makes a great container for a big batch of Red Potatoes Gremolata

*Red Potato Salad Gremolata

1# of “new” or red skinned potatoes, boiled in salt water (cook through but not too soft)

6 hard cooked eggs, peeled and cut in to 6 wedges each

3-4 cloves of finley chopped garlic

1 Bunch of parsley, finely chopped

3 ripe red tomatoes, chopped in chunks

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

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Toss potatoes with olive oil, tomatoes, parsley and garlic. Fold in the chopped eggs. Season with Salt and Pepper.  Garnish with additional Parsley. Serve in a blue bowl!

 

 

 

 

I love to Make things!

I love to MAKE things.

Over the years I have identified myself as someone who enjoys the process of making things by hand. Years of working at Appalachian Spring have given me a true appreciation of the works created by our craftsmen and artists. In the interest of feeding my own desire to be creative, I joined a neighborhood “crafting” club, where in the company of friends, we tried our hands at various projects for home and garden. (These days, we are more of a Let’s Go Out to Dinner Club!)

I am a good student of any discipline.  I love the tools of the trade that support creative endeavors and I enjoy the process of making things by hand from scratch.  My latest projects have included a holiday cross stitch sampler, a crocheted throw for our guest bedroom, and a knitted scarf. I love what I make and enjoy the time that I spend making things.

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I was inspired when I met the delightful K. Gereau, one of the fiber artists whose work we carry at Appalachian Spring.  Kristin creates fabulous wool/silk knitted scarves that she then “felts” or “fulls” to the most spectacular creations that I have seen in a long time. She has an amazing eye for color and fiber choices and artistically blends them into a unique, easy-to-wear original designs.

Kristin Gereau is an artist! During our brief conversation, she casually mentioned that she would be “knitting all summer” in an effort to get our order ready for early September. I like to envision Kristin working on one scarf after another, with the latest season of Downton Abbey in the background, because that is exactly what I will be doing!

 

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Why Wood?

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I have a confession to make. While I have had many wood cutting boards over the years, I recently realized that I my current cutting board collection was not suited to my cutting board needs. I arrived at this realization while planning and setting a new window display in the four stores. In preparation for the display, I reviewed the various artists and current selection of cutting boards we had on hand. I estimated what I thought I would need to “fill” each window. I reread the materials we had about our artists and how to care for wood. I rewrote the product knowledge materials adding new thoughts about why wood is great to use in the kitchen. I talked with Polly about the core information on care and use. We compared notes about what boards we each have at home and how we use them. Though I do have wood cutting boards (a very large carving board with a trough, an old generic one, a new and glorious walnut board that I ironically save for special occasions), I have come to realize that I am in need of some particular cutting boards for convenient every day use.  Suddenly I felt inspired to shop for new  wood cutting boards.

I went to the Georgetown store to identify the boards I would put in the window and how I would present them. This meant that I picked up many boards and looked at them. In doing this I started to fall in love with particular cutting boards.

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 The Dickinson checkerboard end grain one is made of walnut, cherry, oak and maple. It is 9 inches square and 1 inch thick and can be used on both sides. The Larchwood end grain board at 2” thick,  reminds me of a butcher block. It comes in rectangle, circle, and oval shapes in varying sizes. It is a warm creamy color with honey tones in the grain figuring. Northwood makes a delightful small board with inlaid circle and arcing designs and a cutout hole for hanging. At 6.5” x 9” it is a perfect small board for quick jobs. JK Creative and Hardwood Creations make striped boards in every shape and size.

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 I covet Wooden Palate’s end grain, fumed oak cutting board with feet at 19”x14” x5”. It is visually spectacular and would make any serious chef lustful. I can definitely imagine planning my kitchen around this board!

I have given cutting boards for wedding gifts for 30 years. I received cutting boards as a wedding gift 30 years ago. I gave my husband a glorious walnut board for Christmas last year. I love to cut on wood cutting boards.

Within 24 hrs of sorting wood boards for the window, I identified what I need immediately and what I want in the long term.  I definitely need a small every day cutting board. I slice tomatoes for breakfast every day; I make muesli with chopped fresh fruit every other day;


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 I chop dinner veggies for two every night. I want a board that is small enough for me to keep it on the counter in easy reach; I bought myself the Dickinson 9” square in the checkerboard pattern (and I have used it everyday since!)

My sister always has a designated board for onions and garlic to avoid any chance of garlic flavored strawberries. I want a bigger board for prepping meats and fish for dinner; big enough to cut up a chicken. And perhaps one more in between board for larger chopping endeavors such as prepping quantities of fruit or veggies for my juicer.

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A small board with a gutter might be handy for juicy small jobs like tomatoes and fruit. Generally, I want cutting boards to “live” on or near the counter where I use them. I like them thick enough to stand on end without tipping over. I might consider hanging one or two on our “Julia” styled pegboard.

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I have a particular appreciation for end grain boards as they “play nicely” with good knives. Grain and color will be the final defining feature for me. The board I gave to my husband was a slab of walnut with a blond streak running through it on the edges. It was cut to highlight the rings of the tree and pays tribute to natural shape of the wood; I can envision the tree as it grew.

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After all of the reviewing, rewriting, and planning, I went to each store and set the window with kitchen wood. Let me know what you think next time you are in the store.

Pens for Spring

When I think of spring, I inevitably think of Merrie Bachman. In addition to being an outstanding polymer clay artist, she is totally immersed in the beauty of spring flowers. Around her home in Connecticut she maintains a bountiful garden filled with an amazing array of flowers that are the inspiration for her Spring Collection of pens.

 

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She collects the flowers and twigs from her garden, carefully dries them, and then combines them with a transparent polymer resin. The resin is rolled into thin sheets and made, one at a time, into pens. The flowers are so real that you can feel the crushed petals in the barrel of the pen.

The first flowers of spring are the daffodils, which grow in abundance in her garden. That’s where her collection begins. The flowers are gathered and dried, then the petals are ground and combined with the polymer to preserve their beauty long after their brief blooming season has ended.

 

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Hydrangeas bloom later in the season and Merrie gathers both flowers and stems for her hydrangea pen. She dries and grinds both, but the distinctive color and texture of the pen comes directly from the blossoms.

 

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As a delicious addition to the floral collection, Merrie makes a pen from watermelons. For this she uses a dehydrator to dry the beautiful red fruit. Once dried it is mashed and mixed with the polymer. The finished pen not only shows the color and texture of the watermelon, but sometimes there is evidence of a watermelon seed as well. The finished pen is decidedly evocative of the fruit from which it is made.

 

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Merrie’s pens are a delightful way to capture some of the fleeting beauty of spring and carry it in our pocket even after the season itself has passed.

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Breathing in Good Design

In my travels, I sometimes have the pleasure of seeing jewelry that knocks my socks off. The geometry and architecture of Petra Meiren pieces remind me that good design is all around me if I just breathe it in.

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The earrings and necklaces are crafted with clean lines encompassing a contemporary sensibility. Petra uses textured gold and silver in simple shapes with subtle curves, and the result is wearable art that makes a strong statement.

.. a simple but striking home reminds me that folks all over the world take pride in craftsmanship and satisfying design.

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I admired this home on a trip to Sweden’s North Sea coast. One of the things that struck me in this small town was the care and consideration to detail in gardens and homes alike. Many of these houses have been in their families for years, and great attention is paid to creating something handcrafted and beautiful that lasts for generations.

On a quick trip to Portland, Oregon last May, I admired these magnificent peonies at the Portland Farmer’s Market. Ahhh, good design in glorious color.

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Japanese Inspired American Crafts just in time for the National Cherry Blossom Festival

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photo credit: ©DavidMDworkin

March heralds the arrival of spring in Washington DC along with the celebration of the cherry blossoms that bloom along the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. In 1912 the mayor of Tokyo bestowed upon the United States 3000 Japanese cherry trees as a gesture of lasting friendship between the two countries. The initial gift was commemorated by a simple ceremony that featured First Lady Helen Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planting the first trees along the banks of the Potomac River.

In 1915, the United States government sent a reciprocal gift of flowering dogwood trees to the people of Japan. In 1981, when thousands of Japanese cherry trees were destroyed in a flood, cuttings from the original gift of trees were sent to Japanese horticulturists to replace the lost and damaged flora.

Over the years the festival has emerged and grown. It is a time in which Washingtonians celebrate the arrival of spring, the beauty and variety of Japanese art in America, Japanese cultural experiences from drumming and dance to tea ceremonies and historic dress. In addition to events that are scheduled to honor Japanese culture, there are traditions that draw over 1.5 million visitors to the nation’s Capital each spring including among others: the annual Cherry Blossom parade, paddle boats on the tidal basin, throngs of photographers-professional and amateur alike, and the daily bloom forecast telling us that spring has truly arrived! Over the years we have seen Japanese influence in hand made objects ranging from glass to wood, pots to silk and jewelry to kaleidoscopes.

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I love that American made objects owe so much to the craft, practice and techniques of untold people who came before us throughout history and across the globe.  As these trades and crafts passed through cultures, countries and time, they reflect the particular flavors of the people and period. And yet the origins of each can still be seen and felt in the very fiber of glass, wood, silk and metal today.

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I see the Japanese influences in a surprising number of our American or Japanese-American artists. Nichibei, which translates as Japan and America, is a studio that blends the elegant tradition of Japanese folk art with the flair of contemporary American pottery. The “chop” used to sign Matsumoto’s pieces is the Japanese character for Pine Tree, the English translation of his familial name.

Good Elephant Studio produces rice bowls, plates and platters evocative of her Korean roots and contemporary graphic design training.

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Marc Matsui uses the simple elegant lines of his finely thrown bowls as a canvas for his spectacular glazes that integrate color and geometric designs. Marc is truly a master of the glaze, transforming clay into a glass-like finish with brilliant colors.

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The Japanese art of flower arranging is known as Ikebana. Over the years various American artists have begun to create forms or vases that can be used to make Ikebana flower arrangements in which heaven, earth and humans are united in a pleasing design. The use of a kenzan in the interior gives a firm base for these elegant arrangements.

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 Ikebana artists study for years to acquire the knowledge and skills that eventually can lead them to mastery. It is not surprising that we see Ikebana vessels made from wood, glass and clay. All of these materials were available in early Japanese culture and utilized to create organic presentations that were one with the environment.

Several of our woodworkers have been inspired by the Japanese aesthetics of elegant refinement, delicate detail, and subtle metaphors using archetypal shapes and forms. Cherry blossoms represent classic beauty and fragility. It reminds us that life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful and yet tragically short.

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The architectural flavor of Japanese influence can be seen in the boxes made by Bill Bolstad. Using spalted woods infused with colored resins, he has created a limited edition set of boxes in various sizes. The ebony detailing and the shapes are evocative of miniature pagoda like buildings.

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Silk originated in China in 1700 BC, but there have been silkworms in the oldest of Japanese mythology. Shibori is credited as being a Japanese dying method that clearly gave rise to all of the many forms of tie dye that we have seen over thousands of years. Vivid colors and repeated geometric patterns can be seen in the Antrim Street designs.

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Theresa, one of our textile artists, spent 7 years in Japan as a university administrator, where she fell in love with the local textiles. She was immersed in Japanese culture and came to appreciate the embroidered silks and hand painted fabrics used in making kimono. Vintage kimonos are given new life in these handmade silk scarves by her studio.