I am from Golden Meadow in South Louisiana — the land of swamps, moss, shrimp and crawfish. Outside of seafood, sugarcane was the main plantation-harvested food. The first time my family and I traveled through an area with cotton fields, I asked, “Is this snow?”
As a young girl, I began sewing with my grandmother and won many 4-H competitions. I also enjoyed doing other “crafty” things. When I was 20, I discovered stenciling, bought some supplies and stenciled everything in sight.
I have always created things with my hands. Where I grew up, people had shrimp stands, which consisted of a pick-up truck with a tent over the back. My dream was to get myself a truck and put whatever I was making for sale on the side of the road.
I later moved to Natchez, Mississippi, where I was in car sales. In 2001, things got slow, and I was laid off. A friend came to me at church one day and said I should check out a marketing director opening at the Cotton Plantation and Gins in Frogmore, Louisiana.
During my interview, when we entered the old gin, I was in awe of the tools and machinery and how people accomplished what they did with what they had. While looking around the small gift shop, I spotted an angel sitting on one of the shelves. I was so intrigued by it I literally walked into the counter. As I examined the angel, it occurred to me how beautiful it would be if it were made from a real cotton boll.
I landed the position, and that fall they allowed me to pick some cotton bolls and try my hand at making cotton boll angels. The first one took me a while. I arranged the wings in a way that looked and felt right and figured out how to work with the other segments of the boll so the angel didn’t fall apart or over dry. I wanted to make it with a spirit of excellence.
Today, I have my own business: Must Needs–Cotton Boll Gifts. The angels are my favorite to make, but I also fashion Southern belles and snowmen from authentic cotton bolls and “poinsettias” from deconstructed cotton burrs.
In the fall, I love going out into the cotton fields. When I pick, I put my hand behind the burr and pull off the boll. When I first started, I gathered them in a plastic bag. One year I went too late after a lot of rain, and the bolls all stuck together.
I now put them in rows in cardboard flats so they stay in good condition. I also learned I can’t pick the cotton if the leaves are too crinkly because they break up and create debris. After gathering the bolls, I take them home and stack them in a room with some heat to let them dry and fluff out.
The angel bodies are the soft white lint, and the wings are made from burrs. I paint their little faces on wooden balls and finish off each ornament with a shower of gold glitter.
After completing the cotton boll angel, I add a tag that says, “Your one-of-a-kind sparkling cotton boll angel has been handpicked and crafted from an authentic cotton boll with its original seeds left intact.” I also inscribe each tag with the Bible verse from Hebrew 1:11: “NOW faith is the thing hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Today, the childhood dream of a roadside stand has evolved into a yearlong business at craft shows, tourist attractions and on the Internet, followed by a brick-and-mortar shop in the future.
Cotton is my passion and provision from God. I love everything about this beautiful plant, especially the three-day cycle when the bloom turns from creamy yellow to pink to fuchsia and then dies off. As the seeds and white lint begin to form in the boll, I wait and watch for just the right moment to pick my angels from cotton fields.
– Nanette Terrebonne