May was an exciting month for Martin and I as we headed across the pond to join our wonderful drapery friends in America for a two week whirlwind trip across Nashville, Tennessee and North Carolina. It was a jam-packed fortnight full of teaching, learning, sharing and exploring…teaching at and attending the Custom Workroom Conference 2017 in Nashville, a little escape away with friends to a rented house in Tennessee followed by some time with our dear friends Susan and Rodger at their home in Tryon, North Carolina.
I wanted to document our trip in as much detail as possible so I took plenty of photos and I’m so excited to share them with you: make yourself a cup of tea, grab a couple of biscuits and let me walk you through our amazing trip…
As you can see from the above picture we didn’t travel light for this holiday – unfortunately this was due to a huge shipping error which meant all of the samples we’d made for the conference were delayed in transit, and wouldn’t make it in time for the conference. We had to re-make as many as we possibly could in the week leading up to our departure, and pay extra to take them with us – what a stressful start to our break! It was sad to have put in so much hard work, only to have to re-do it, but at least we got some notice and were still able to take some examples of our fantastic work along to the conference.
NASHVILLE (Music City)
We arrived in “Music City” Nashville after a 23 hour journey, including a short stop at Charlotte Airport. We were very luckily upgraded to the Presidential Suite in our hotel upon arrival – which we were very thankful of, especially after such a long journey.
It was both mine & Martin’s first time in Nashville and we were determined to soak in as much of it as possible during the short amount of free time we had before the Custom Workroom Conference began.
What a wonderfully exciting place we found Nashville to be! Full to the brim with bars, music venues, and cowboy boots! Yee-ha!
We arrived in Nashville to their annual marathon, which meant the streets were even busier and more bustling that usual – we had a good walk round exploring as much as we could before taking the Open Top Bus Tour of the city. We were amazed by the stunning architecture, especially the AT&T “Batman” building, which was my absolute favourite – it truly looks like something out of Gotham City!
We got to see the breathtaking Parthenon which is a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon in Athens. It was built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, this building now functions as an Art Museum/Gallery.
And I even found a ZOLTAR machine – does anyone remember the 1988 Tom Hanks film BIG? Then you’ll know why I squealed with excitement when I saw it!
I especially loved seeing the hundreds and hundreds of cowboy boots in their amazing array of designs and colours – I was so tempted to buy a pair, if only they wouldn’t take up so much room in my luggage – I’m bringing an empty case next time for sure!
It was a shame we didn’t have more time to soak in the atmosphere in Nashville, but the time we did spend there was fabulous and we definitely crammed in as much as we possibly could.
CUSTOM WORKROOM CONFERENCE 2017 – NASHVILLE
Before the official Custom Workroom Conference began I attended a special one day course called Profit Building Workshop II ran by Jeanelle Dech from The Workroom Channel and Michelle Williams from Scarlet Thread Consulting. I have attended a course lead by Michelle before, back in February 2012 which was called ‘Pricing Without Emotion’ and it truly changed my business mindset forever, I am so very thankful that I attended that course when I did, it really was game changing stuff…
So, as you can imagine I was eager to attend this new workshop by Jeanelle and Michelle. As expected, I was not disappointed and the course covered everything from how to maximise your profit, recognise bottlenecks in your business, why you should outsource to lighten the load, to this brilliant ‘Focus Funnel’ analogy for prioritising your to-do list.
We learnt that by using the ‘Focus Funnel’ you can multiply the time you have by giving yourself the emotional permission to spend time on things today that create more time tomorrow.
Each of the five choices in the Focus Funnel represents a different strategy for multiplying time. You take each task on your to-do list and pass it through the funnel until you reach a final resolution for that task:
Firstly, you ask can I eliminate this? In other words is this task even worth doing?
Secondly, you ask can I automate this? Because you know that anything you can create a process for today will save you time tomorrow.
Next, you ask can I delegate this? Because if I invest time today into training someone else how to do the task then moving forward they will be able to complete it, instead of me.
If you cannot eliminate, automate or delegate, then at that point the task drops out the bottom of the funnel and you know that it is a task that must be completed by you. At that point, there is only one remaining question…
Should I do this task now or can it wait until later?
If it must be done now, then that is concentrate which is the corresponding permission to protect. It represents the typical strategies you hear about time management theory such as maintaining focus and eliminating distractions.
However, if the task can wait until later then that is where we are challenging you not to eliminate, automate, or delegate, but to procrastinate on purpose. You don’t procrastinate on it forever but you pop that activity back to the top of the Focus Funnel.
(Source: Procrastinate on Purpose)
I also got to attend a session by the wonderful Deborah Cronin from Leatherwood Design Blog, who is an absolute master of Roman Shades/Blinds, her work is always inspiring, and as a fellow lover of pattern matching, Deborah was in good company!
Monday saw the official start of the Custom Workroom Conference and I was excited to kick off proceedings with my class Specialist Curtain Headings. I’m pleased to report that the session was full to bursting with attendees, who were all eager to develop their knowledge and skill in techniques such as relaxed hand-gathered headings, pencil pleats, using contrasts and more. It was fun to share my knowledge and I loved showing off some example pieces using samples that were made in the Denton Drapes workroom.
On Monday I also attended a class by my wonderful friend Nancy Letts from Pinehouse Drapery called Chair Cushion Details. I also got a chance to see Deborah Cronin from Leatherwood Design Blog talk about Relaxed Roman Shades and Streamlining Top Treatments, and saw Donna Cash’s class called Double-Flange Pillow with Mitre and Zipper – you can find Donna at Designs by Donna.
On the Tuesday I attended the Vendor (Trade) Show where companies across America had stands selling their workroom-related products and demonstrating them throughout the day. I saw demos on the day from Elkie Horn on Relaxed Roman Shades and my lovely friend Susan Woodcock lead two demos, one on Roman Shades (blinds) and one on Light Blocking Techniques.
I also enjoyed exploring vendor stands, especially Sam Sloan Machines – who sell incredible industrial sewing machines along with an array of machine feet/zipper feet and Wolff who supply an amazing variety of workroom scissors (pictured below).
It was a pleasure to catch up with the lovely Grant Trick from Design Industry who produces the most exquisite couture upholstery in Alabama. I especially love his Instagram profile @grant_trick, do make sure you give him a follow! He presented an excellent class on Upholstered Ottomans and Upholstery for the luxury market, the attention to detail in his work is really quite something.
Tuesday also saw my fabulous friend Susan Woodcock (HomeDecGal) give the incredible Keynote Speech along with Michelle Williams and Jeanelle Dech. Susan & her husband Rodger Walker are the brains and brawn behind Custom Workroom Conference and it was truly inspirational and very up-lifting to hear her passion for the industry during her Keynote presentation. You could tell that what Susan, Michelle and Jeanelle said in the keynote speech really resonated with the crowd. It felt so special to be in a room with a group of such like-minded, talented individuals who are all successful in their own right in the same industry.
The theme of the keynote speech was Core Values:
C – Competence
O – Opportunity
R – Relationships
E – Experience
The speech explored all sorts from confidence, competence, accountability and understanding your value to the importance of being around positive people and learning to always accept compliments. I loved the part of the keynote speech that talked about growth and knowledge – about how vital it is to accept that you can’t know everything and instead you should embrace what it is you don’t know and find someone who can help you to learn/understand it. This really provided me with pause for thought, as I’m sure it did to everyone else in attendance.
I also took part in the Sew Much More Podcast along with Nancy Letts, which we recorded together on the Tuesday for the fabulous Ceil DeGuglielmo. Our podcast is #44 and we talk about the differences between a workroom business in the UK compared to the USA.
On Tuesday night Martin and I attended the CWC ‘Shindig’ which was so much fun – I think I spent the whole entire evening laughing! What a lovely way to socialise with fellow instructors and attendees: we truly let our hair down, that’s for sure! I even rode a bucking broncho – need I say more?
Wednesday was the closing day of the Custom Workroom Conference – and a busy one it was too! Firstly, I attended Nancy Baldwin-Letts’ class on Mastering Upholstered Cornice Construction. Nancy is always a fountain of knowledge when it comes to her trade, and shows a great passion and enthusiasm for all things interiors! Following on from Nancy’s class I presented my English Hand Sewn Curtains class to a packed room…it is always so wonderful to see a sea of eager and enthusiastic faces when you stand to present a class – it’s a nerve wracking thing, so lots of smiling faces helps no end.
Once again it has been an absolute pleasure to work as an instructor for CWC – each year I leave the conference feeling energised, proud of my industry and I never fail to come away having been inspired and having learnt a range of new skills.
I also met up with Jane Crawford, who had come all the way from the UK as an attendee to CWC – now there’s a commitment to her industry if ever I’ve seen one! You can see Jane’s fabulous work on her Facebook page Jane Crawford Interiors.
Susan Woodcock presented her closing speech to end this years fabulous conference, she spoke beautifully about her passion for the industry and why she works so hard to create a conference for fellow workroom owners:
“In my moments of exhaustion it lifts me up, I am so proud to be part of your journey!”
Following the close of the Custom Workroom Conference for another year, Martin and I headed out through the Smoky Mountains to a rented house called ‘Hilltop Haven’ in Tennessee with our dear friends Susan & Rodger (of CWC/HomeDecGal), Nancy & Rob (Pinehouse Drapery), Denise Hooper, Beth Fathbruckner (Crabtree Interiors) and Nicole Kemer (The Impeccable Nest). I call the girls my Drapery Ladies/Gals and it was amazing to relax and unwind with them after such a whirlwind few days at the conference. We drank, ate, chatted and played scrabble – and of course, talked all things draperies!
I couldn’t write about our trip without sharing the incredible interiors of the house we rented – I like to find design inspiration wherever I go, and this house was abundant with beautiful design elements – each room had a meticulously planned interior with themes running throughout the house. What a pleasure it was to relax in such an amazing home.
I’m sure you’ll agree that the house was really something quite special – a ‘Hilltop Haven’ it really was – providing the perfect location for some much needed rest and recuperation. Plus some incredible views to boot.
TRYON – NORTH CAROLINA
Upon leaving Tennessee we headed 4 hours in the car to the next stop on our whistle-stop tour: Tryon in North Carolina. A few miles into the journey we found a signpost for Pinhook Rd and of course I had to stop and take a photo…it’s not every day you find a road name with such a industry specific name!
Tryon is a wonderfully creative place full of artists of all kinds and a popular retirement destination too, and having spent lots of time there on this holiday I can totally understand why.
Home to our friends Susan and Rodger, we spent happy days with them exploring Tryon and all it has to offer. Heading to a wine and jazz festival, visiting its many cafes and shops which are full to bursting with interesting antiques and ceramics, we even visited a shop dedicated totally to olive oil and balsamic vinegar!
I was thrilled to get a chance to visit the new premises for Susan & Roger’s latest endeavour Workroom Tech. Custom Workroom Technical Center or “Workroom Tech” will open this summer with weekly hands-on classes for window treatments and soft furnishings. Classes will be offered for all skill levels, whether you would like to learn to sew home decor and start a workroom business, or are an established professional seeking to hone your skills. The premises used to be a bar and in fact the original bar is going to be preserved and used as part of the interior of Workroom Tech! It was lovely to see the space, and I’m excited to return to see it up and running really soon.
On the Sunday night Martin, Susan, Rodger and I headed to Saluda to watch the musician Jamie Laval (an amazing fiddler) perform – he’s no stranger to the UK either – I found out that he has performed at none other than the Edinburgh Festival!
Monday saw us visit the town of Landrum which was an enchanting place nestled against the backdrop of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains. Landrum is famous for its Foothills Quilt Trail – where key buildings across the city proudly display a beautiful quilt block on the building exterior – we had lots of fun finding them as we explored the city…while some blocks are easy to spot, others are hiding on the back or sides of buildings. I also enjoyed having a rummage around Landrum’s quilt shop which is called Elaine’s Attic.
I loved that a sewing theme found its way into almost every part of our trip!
Quilts were a running theme around Landrum, and I enjoyed gaining tons of inspiration for my future quilting makes.
For our lunch we headed back to Saluda to enjoy a true American Diner experience, eating at Ward’s Grill. It was like taking a step back in time – we felt transported back to the charm of the 1950’s and enjoyed a delicious lunch there, such fun!
Saluda was a fascinating place to explore – with its intricate architecture (even the Police Station is beautiful) and Saluda Grade, which is a really steep disused railway line whose tracks still run through the town. We enjoyed a gentle climb up Pearson Falls after lunch, well, we needed to burn off some of that delicious diner food, didn’t we? The views were spectacular and it felt great to immerse ourselves in the great outdoors.
Something that made me chuckle as we explored Tryon was the Drive-Thru Bank, where you can access your banking via a drive-up hole in the wall. Depositing cheques and drawing out cash all from the comfort of your car! How long until we have this here in the UK?
During this trip it was so lovely to get so much quality time with good friends; as much as the trip was largely about the conference and a chance for Martin and I to get away together, it was a pleasure to be able to have so many nice days out with wonderful friends too.
The last few days of our trip saw us make a workroom visit to Julia Tamer at her company called Golden Valley Slipcovers. Julia is an amazing upholsterer based in Hendersonville – it was a pleasure to see her workroom and some of the incredible projects she currently has on her work table. Julia’s husband had the most impressive original 1950’s bright blue Chevrolet truck parked outside, which we couldn’t help but admire…you just don’t see this sort of thing back in the UK!
After our workroom visit we headed on to North Carolina Arboretum which houses a heady 65 acres of outstanding cultivated gardens including one of the finest, most unique bonsai collections in the United States – I was in heaven!
A personal highlight for me was the Viola quilt garden (pictured centre), which was really quite special – again with the theme of sewing and quilting but emulated using tiny violas. The gardens were also brimming with statues and art installations – some permanent, some temporary: there was even a bug hotel! I particularly enjoyed the giant sunflower – what a masterpiece…
The original garden designer and landscape artist at the Arboretum was Frederick Law Olmsted he designed these gardens in the late 1890’s – he also designed the uber-famous Central Park in New York and the gardens at Biltmore Estate, which we went on to visit later in our trip. There is a statue of him in the gardens of the Arboretum (pictured above).
The following day we had the pleasure of visiting the Biltmore Estate – a 250 roomed stately home originally built for George Washington Vanderbilt II from the prominent Vanderbilt Family.
Living in one or another of his family residences well into adulthood, George decided to construct his own country mansion and estate in 1888. For this purpose he acquired 130,000 acres of woodland in North Carolina, employing the architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a limestone house modeled on the Chateau de Blois among other chateaux of the Loire Valley. It is also rumoured that the pair visited Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, UK (not far from my home county) and drew much inspiration from the beautiful house for Biltmore. With up to five acres of floor space this is believed to be the largest domestic dwelling ever constructed in the United States.
The house is a staggering 175,000 square feet (four acres) with 33 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces and 43 bathrooms. Almost 10 million pounds of limestone were used to build it. The entire estate originally covered 125,000 acres (now it’s a modest 8,000 acres).
The house and grounds contains the most amazing gardens – including a rose garden that houses over 250 varieties, the French Broad river, deer park and forest. You can also explore Antler Hill Village and the winery. To top it off the whole estate has the most breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I particularly loved the amazing array of plants and flowers in The Orangery – what a sight it was.
The highlight for me was getting to explore the opulent interiors of Biltmore House: from the Great Hall to Edith Vanderbilt’s circular bedroom; there is so much to see inside this impressive house.
Everywhere you turn you see intricate Flemish Tapestries, wood panelled walls, stunning wall coverings, giant original fireplaces, antique furniture and a whole host of mind-blowing window dressings and soft furnishings – I wasn’t short for inspiration for my worktable back in Bedfordshire, that’s for sure.
Alongside all the original features and charm of Biltmore House, there was also a display of costumes from the movies – having started my career in fashion I was particularly pleased to have timed our visit to Biltmore to coincide with this exhibition. Some of the hand sewn detailing on these costumes were out of this world…
Bilmore even boasts an original indoor swimming pool with underwater lighting (amazing for the time period) which was built in 1893/4. We were told that they used to have to empty and re fill the pool every few days, as back in those days chemicals such as chlorine were not yet used to treat the water. Unfortunately, the pool is no longer in use as it leaked into the basement, and could not be fixed. However, it is still an impressive feature of the house – the original tiling was still so pristine, what dedication and workmanship must have gone into building it.
My favourite pictures of our time exploring Biltmore House are these of the spectacular staircase. As we stood on the stairs and looked up I imagined all the previous owners sweeping down the stairs in exquisite dresses – the sense of history I felt was quite overwhelming.
We ended our tour of the Biltmore Estate with wine tasting at the winery within the grounds – it was a perfect way to end a perfect day. If you’re ever in North Carolina this is a day out not to be missed!
Martin, Susan, Rodger and I spent Thursday evening enjoying a giggle at a pub quiz (my first ever!) in an Irish Bar in Tryon. This holiday was incredibly diverse in its activities and culture, as you can tell.
Friday was our final full day in America, and so we decided to make full use of our time and headed over to the historic Grovewood Village in Asheville, NC. Home to Biltmore Industries, a unique Arts and Crafts enterprise founded in 1901 by Edith Vanderbilt (George’s wife).
Edith moved Biltmore Industries over to Grovewood Estate when it outgrew its home within the Biltmore estate. The company’s beginnings was in the craft of woodcarving and homespun textiles. Edith Vanderbilt has long been an admirer of the spinning and weaving traditions of Appalachian families, but she wanted to find a more efficient method of preparing and weaving wool. Also committed to producing a higher-grade cloth, she became determined to find softer wool to use in her textiles.
In order to study how the best wool cloth in the world was made, Edith sent two of her employees to Britain, where they studied Scottish techniques and bought back a loom from a mill in Killin, Scotland for their woodworkers to study and replicate.
In its heyday, Biltmore Industries had a total of 40 looms in steady operation, producing bolts of some of the highest quality homespun fabric in the country, worn by U.S. presidents, first ladies and many American icons.
The mill sadly stopped trading in 1981, and the building and contents were abandoned, leaving it still in its exact state from the final day of trading. We took the Homespun Museum guided history tour and it felt rather like walking around a ghost town – where all the people had disappeared!
As someone who works daily with high quality fabrics, with a special love for wools, it was such a treat to see where the wool would have been processed, dyed, woven, pressed and finished.
Also at Grovewood Village is an incredible 500 bedroom hotel that sits next door to Biltmore Industries/Homespun museum. We visited the main reception of the Omni Grove Hotel and it took my breath away! I’ve never seen such a huge fireplace in all my life, plus the views from the hotel’s terrace was unbelievable, even on a cloudy/overcast day.
While visiting the Grovewood Estate we also enjoyed a tasty lunch at The Golden Fleece restaurant on site – it was only halfway through eating that Susan and I looked up and realised that the light fittings were made from large spools of thread…amazing!
We spent our last evening enjoying a wonderful dinner with Susan and Rodger at the Stone Soup Market & Cafe back in Landrum, which was a really wonderful eatery serving fresh, local foods using artisan produce.
I even managed to fit in a little shopping at Mary Jo’s Cloth Store just before we flew home on Saturday. It wouldn’t be a #PennyAcrossThePond trip without a little shopping, after all…
What a whirlwind of a trip it was and what a pleasure to share it with so many wonderful friends and fellow curtain makers. I can’t believe it has been a month already since we arrived in Nashville – how time flies when you’re having fun!
I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures and that it provided some interesting reading (hopefully!) and some links to some brilliant curtain makers, upholsterers and fellow workroom owners, as well as some holiday inspiration if you’re ever planning on visiting these parts of the USA.
Until the next #PennyAcrossThePond adventure…
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