Friday, May 27, 2005

working the workshops

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I have recently been teaching a few workshops at a not-for-profit educational farm for children, where they can participate fully in the daily activities of maintaining and operating a small scale, organic farm.
I was contacted by the owner because he had seen my little advertisement in a local farm newsletter. ( My advertisement is for production spinning, but it has more often led to other inquiries. )  He was interested in adding Fibers to the list of the curriculum that the Farm provides for the kids.
The Farm was founded on the idea "that getting children out of the classroom and onto the farm can provide tremendous opportunities for learning and self-development." And I can say from my observations that this statement is true.
My first students consisted of a very polite group of young girls who were really enthusiastic about fibers.  Some of them had previous experience with knitting and crochet.  They were very interested in the many different types of fibers that one could spin, but we worked specifically on taking wool through the process it takes from the sheep to a finished article.
The girls (25 all together) were mainly in 7th and 8th grade, and in my opinion, this is a wonderful age to introduce the craft of handspinning.  It was really fun for me to teach them and watch them learn.  My workshops consisted of groups of 5 or 6 at a I was really bouncing around when it came to the "handspindle help".  After a while, they were helping each other "catch on" and "get it".  Nobody cared about the "lumpy" yarn they were making, they were just excited to be "doing it".  I got such a kick out of watching the faces and expressions the girls would make when they would look at the drafting zone and watch the twist happen.  They were often amazed and acted like it was magic...I kept hearing them say "that is sooo COOL"...and I knew that some of them were going to become life long spinners. Well, I know for sure that at least one of them will be, because she told me so.  She stayed behind after the workshop was over, using her "free time" to keep spinning away on her spindle.  Before she left, she approached me and said, "Thank you so much for teaching me how to do this, because I really love it and I think I am going to do it for my whole life."  Priceless.  I was so touched, and happy to have been able to show her how to do something that she will get many, many happy hours out of, and produce beautiful handmade yarns to boot! 
The farm has several sheep (Merino/Cheviot cross), and one of the ewes gave birth to two little rams one morning during the 3 day stay that the girls were there.  This was a bonus for them, as not only did a few of them witness the live birth, but they got to help with the bottle feeding of one of the lambs.
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One last piece of good news...if you happen to have the summer issue of Spin-Off, please have a look at the articles (Fiber Basics: Finnsheep & A Finnsheep Lambswool Lace Scarf ) written by my friend and neighbor Grace Hatton.  As usual, Grace has produced  informative and (sometimes humorous) articles...and it is great to see the pictures of her work, as well as the beautiful wooden pieces that her skilled husband crafts. Grace will be offering a day of mini-fiber-workshops at her farm this summer...more on this later.. 


Monday, May 16, 2005

Arisaema triphyllum

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from the Species triphyllum...and the Family: Araceae...goes by many common names. Wild Turnip, Wake Robin, Bog Onion, Dragonroot, Marsh Pepper, Cuckoo Flower, Wood Pulpit and Indian Almond just to name a few.  The spadix, which is that little stick like shape inside the leaf, is the "Jack" and the cup shaped leaf that surrounds it is the "pulpit".
I discovered this plant growing on my hillside as I was on my way down to fetch one of my hens up the hill for the evening.  At first I was grouchy at the thought of having to walk all the way down to the bottom of the hill after "Whitey".  She has not been herself lately, and has taken to lounging in the late afternoon sun at the bottom of the hill, and after all the other hens are tucked in for the night, Whitey is still roosting in the tall grass, reluctant to come when I call her, leaving me with little choice but to go after her and carry her up to the henhouse.
Anyway, on my way down the hill I saw the Jack in the Pulpit and my mood changed.
I have seen Jack growing around here before, but never this type.  This one was all green, usually, we see the purple striped ones.  If I am correct, I believe this one is known as Swamp Pulpit.
I do not know if this is a Jack or Jill, that is, if it is a male or female plant...but I will be watching to see if gets berries in the fall.  The male plant has a small hole in the bottom of the spathe or cup, and this is the exit ramp for pollinators.  In the female plants, the pollinators are trapped and have no way to get out, and as a result they pollinate all the tiny little flowers on the spadix, and the flowers will turn into green and then bright red berries.
I have also read that this plant contains oxalic acid which can be toxic...however, here is another plant that contains oxalic acid...Image hosted by

But it made a pretty good pie...yum!   Rhubarb can be used as a mordant when dyeing wool because of the oxalic acid in the plant, but I have never tried this....yet.


Monday, May 09, 2005

maryland sheep and wool 2005

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The MS&W Festival was very very very crowded!
I did not enjoy myself as much as I would have if there were not so many people!   Living out in the country as I do, I am not used to the crowds, and at times I felt disoriented and nauseous just looking at the sea of people swarming around!
We arrived on Sat. morning around 10:00am, and waited for approx. 20 minutes in traffic just to drive into the place and park.  By the time we made it into the festival, the lines to vendors and barn were starting to form.  I made a few purchases, one of which was the beautiful fleece from a ewe #P29 Border Leicester, that has lovely, long, wavy, soft lustrous opal locks.  I brought it from Betty Levin, who raises Border Leicester Sheep as well as working border collies.  She is a lovely woman, who spread the fleece out on a sheet for me to look over and examine before I made my decision.  She was very helpful, and taught me a few things I did not know about selecting a fleece.  She was planning on retiring the ewe this year, but all she produced were a couple of rams, so she will breed her one more year because she is so fond of the fleece that she grows.  It really is lovely.  She made sure to remind me not to let it in the sun or it would cot, and made me promise not to store it in the plastic bag after I got home.  Are you kidding?  This will not sit around for long, my fingers are having a hard time waiting for an evening to spin it out!  I mean just look at it!
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I also purchased some Mohair from Greta, that goes by the name of "Indian Corn" is lovely as well.  For Mother's Day, the guys brought me the T-shirt, and a wonderful book titled. "The Colour Cauldron"...all about the history and use of natural dyes and plants and tartans of Scotland...a wonderful book! I don't know what I like more...the description of the plants or the pictures of the women scouring and dyeing the wool!
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