We live in Wayne County, North Carolina, where my great-grandfather, E.K. Sanderson, and my grandfather, Joe Sanderson, grew cotton for a long time before the boll weevil came in.
People in our area got away from cotton for a while — but are now coming back to it. Today, my dad, Kenneth Sanderson, and my brother, Matt, run the farming operation, which is mostly row crops.
Some of my most memorable cotton moments happened when I was very young. My dad is very particular about the quality of his crops, so we had to spend a lot of time chopping cotton. That entailed us walking through each field with hoes in hand, searching for any pigweeds or other unwanted weeds. It wasn’t a fun job, so we had to make the best of it.
I spent a lot of time with my siblings — Matt, Nicki and Josh — as well as my cousins on the farm.
We’d usually pass time by making up rhymes or songs to sing and chant while we worked. One of the most memorable cotton songs we had went like this, “It is a field that never ends; it goes on and on my friends. Some people started chopping it, not knowing what it was, now they can’t stop chopping it because….it is a field that never ends…” and so it continued. We also created a chant that said, “Chopping cotton!! What is it good for??!! Absolutely nothin’!!!”
One day my mom, Vickey Sanderson, was going by one of the cotton fields and thought the burs looked like beautiful little flowers. She gathered up some bundles, took them back to the house and made a wreath. We took it to the State Farmers Market in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it was a hit. People in the city don’t see cotton every day like we do, and they don’t know what a cotton bur is.
For several years, we gathered just the burs and made them into wreaths to sell at the market along with our garland. We already had a “Choose & Cut” Christmas tree plantation my parents started many years ago to make money to send us to college. Later, we started gathering cotton bolls before the picker got in the field and added them to our designs. Our original workshop was set up in an old house here on the farm. About 5 years ago, we built a new shop on my great-grandfather’s home place.
Working with fresh Christmas cotton boll wreaths happened naturally for me. We have made them since the 1980s, and I’ve spent every year helping do so. I learned by watching my parents and practicing. I have always been very crafty and handy. My brothers and sister used to call me Ms. Fix-It so it’s a perfect fit for me.
If kept inside, a cotton wreath will last indefinitely. If you hang it outside, birds will pick the fiber out and sometimes nest in the wreath. The birds love cotton!
We’ve also created cotton bouquets and boutonnieres for weddings, attached cotton wreaths to homemade red oak tobacco baskets and are looking to conduct classes to teach others how to work with cotton in unique ways.
I am a mom myself now. My daughter’s name is Kennedy “Bless” Hobbs, and I would love for her to have the same passion about working with her hands as I do. Maybe cotton wreaths will still be “a thing” when she gets old enough to help.
The main value I want to pass on to her is the strong work ethic that helping in the cotton field and other areas of the farm instilled in us. We learned you have to do things you don’t always want to do. But that makes you a better person and develops your character.
We are passionate about cotton, and each member of the family chips in to work long, hard hours to make sure we deliver beautiful joy to your front door.