Eula Russ Osborne was born in the Three Top community of Ashe County, where she lived and made woven lace crafts. Though she moved around as a child to some of the different communities in that area of Ashe County, Eula said, “We always lived way back in the mountains.”
Her grandparents ran a small store in the basement of their house, selling flour, sugar, and other staples to people from the community to tide them over between trips to the general store. “Back in those days, if you had a stock of tobacco, snuff, crackers, and such, that’s all you needed,” said Eula. Her grandparents were farmers, and her grandmother was the keeper of the local post office.
When Eula was just 10 months old, her mother died, and her Aunt Elsie moved in to help raise her. Her father moved to West Virginia to work in the coal mines, and Eula went for only a few months before moving back to North Carolina to live with her grandmother. “Grandmama Humphrey had pretty much raised me from a baby,” she said. Her father moved back to Ashe County, and Eula spent many days farming on the family land. “I used to get out at 5:30 and work until dark,” Eula said. “After that, I still had to milk the cow, feed the animals, cut wood, and carry it in.” Her grandmother taught her about traditional farming and homemaking, including harvesting, canning, and making cheese.
Eula gathered and sold herbs to make money to buy fabric for making clothes, and her aunt would help her sew. When she needed a new dress, she would sew one herself, with her aunt’s help. “We had sewing machines with pedals to make them go,” she said. “This was better than my grandmother and great-grandmother had it.” She also helped make quilts when she was young, and remembers that she would sell finished quilts for $1.50 each.
When Eula married Vernon Osborne, she found herself with a talented man who cooked, sewed, farmed, and made music. “He’d get his guitar, and I’d get my mandolin,” she said. “Some evenings we’d sit on the porch swing and play and sing.”
“Doctors came in more after I was married,” she said, “but I learned a lot about cures from Grandma.” She learned how to use local herbs to make cough medicine from pine needles, boneset tea for colds, and catnip tea for a good night’s sleep and rest.
When she retired more than 25 years ago, Eula began making lace products. Her daughter-in-law and sister showed her how to make lace, and soon she was selling her work. “I call it knotting and tasseling,” she said. “At one time a lot of people around here did it for extra money. It was a small opportunity for mountain women to make a little cash.” She was known to lace for up to 18 hours a day, becoming a master of the craft. “There are no written directions,” Eula said. “It all comes with practice of how to get the hand tying smooth and even.”