Another opportunity to educate. The teacher may retire, but never gives up teaching. Today was a special event on a day that Smithfield is normally closed, but was booked for a USDA event in cultural awareness. They specifically asked to have as many of the craft volunteers available as possible. One of the blacksmiths and his wife who assists him are retired. The lace maker was able to get the afternoon off, and I am retired, as are several of the docents that give the historical tour of the inside of the house. Though there are several areas in which I can sit and spin, the winter kitchen in the main house, the large shaded side porch of the house, my favorite is the slave cabin that itself has a history, having been moved at least twice and houses the huge functional Appalachian Rocker Loom, a non functional weasel, a non functional great wheel, and the accouterments of the slave household. This location allows a sharing of slave life on the plantation as well as history of spinning and demonstrating fiber prep and spinning on spindles and one of my wheels.
Today’s fiber for prep was some of the Dorset that I washed from raw and am still carding for spinning, and it was used with the drop spindles. Combs or a teasing board are going to be needed to get that done. For spinning on the wheel, I used some of the Hebridean from Hebridean Woolshed in Isle of South Uist. My bucket list contains a trip to Scotland to visit them. One skein of that wool was finished last night so the visitors could see the unspun wool and yarn from the wool.
Each visitor from the group today thanked the volunteers for giving up their day for them and at the end of the day, each of us was presented with a thank you gift, a small burlap sack with bread, honey from Virginia, Peanuts from Virginia, and a few apples. A delightful and pleasant surprise.
Today was such a fun experience. All along the fence posts were flags from various battles, regiments, units. There were two encampments of re enactors, the Rebs above with their formations and cannon which was fired off every hour on the hour from 1 when the activity began until 4.
The Union encampment was up by the blacksmith shop.
Under the trees was a quilt with period wooden toys and two of the re enactor’s daughters who would demonstrate the toys and let adults and children play with them.
Josh was in the blacksmith shop pounding with heavy mauls on hot metal on the anvils.
I held my usual station in the Summer kitchen spinning local wool and discussing slavery, the summer kitchen, the slave cottage structure, the slave garden, and the spinning and weaving arts and how they were used on the plantation.
Day lilies blooming just outside my door.
The house tour and all of the other activities were included in the gate fee today, including a dance and concert from 4:30 to the end.
During the afternoon, a skirmish occurred using the back and sides of the slave cabin for protection with much blackpowder gunfire. I had several of the blacksmith’s children trapped in the cabin with me by the “fight.” At one point, the cannon was pointed down in the direction of the Union soldiers hiding behind the cabin and fired. It was loud when it was across the yard and pointed away from the cabin and deafening when fired in my direction. The Rebs came down as a unit and apologized to me after it was over for not warning me ahead of time that a battle was to ensue. They didn’t know anyone was in the cabin.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the dance and concert as after leaving a fun filled day, I drove to eldest son’s house and am now sitting by the creek where I will spend the next few days prior to our backpacking trip next weekend.
Today was the official season opening of the Smithfield Plantation House, the historic home of William Preston in Blacksburg, Virginia. This is the site where I have been demonstrating spinning for the past year when there is a special event. For a while, I will be going in and spinning in different rooms of the house itself while I learn the history to become an interpreter and give tours. Last November for their final event, I sat in the dining room and learned the information for the school room/office of the house and that part of the house, but there are 4 other rooms that I have only toured once and not an official tour, so that information must be learned.
Today, being opening day, spinning was in the summer kitchen. The site excavation showed that the slave cabin was erected on the summer kitchen area and until this year, it has been the Weaver’s Cottage with old wheels, weasels, winders, and a huge Appalachian Rocker Loom. All of that has been removed except for the loom and a small work table and set up with crocks, pots, and tools of an 18th century kitchen.
Today, I was in this cottage/summer kitchen spinning on one of my antique wheels in full costume. Because it was opening day, just inside the gate was a Civil War re-enactors encampment, they spent the night there last night and will again tonight. It smelled so good with bacon cooking on their open fire when I arrived this morning.
As you can see from the lack of leaves on the trees, we are still in early spring and today was an early spring day, very breezy and cool. The cottage is drafty and by the end of the day I was pretty chilled through. One of the hazards of the cottage is the very low doorways to the outside and to the lean-to addition. This is the warning on the inside of the door as you prepare to exit. It is at the bridge of my nose. The door opening is only about 5 feet.
During one of the sunny periods, I was sitting on the steps in the sun to warm and two horses were lead through the property. They were lead down to the cottage to graze while the owner and her friend went to use the facilities, I got to hold and provide some attention to the two beauties during that time.
The turnout today was not very heavy, there were lots of other activities on campus and around the area and the day was chilly and mostly overcast, but it is so enjoyable to have this opportunity to participate in teaching and demonstrating this ancient art, to spread out my Scottish spindle, hand carders, fiber in various stages of preparation and get to talk about something that I have come to love. Each visit provides me with some education too.
It dawned clear and biting cold today. Knowing that we were going to spend more than 4 hours on the road, we went for breakfast, picked up some greens, breads, and granola at the Farmers Market, but didn’t get any meat to thaw out during the drive time and took off for New Country Organics to pick up our chicks. When the forecast was checked, the snow chance for Monday was all but gone, but it still seemed expedient to go on to get the chicks. I failed to note that their hours end at 1 p.m. on Saturday and fortunately we got there about 12:45. Sixteen adorable chicks, 50 pounds of feed, and a second warming table were loaded into the car and we were serenaded all the way home by a box full of peeps and chirps.
Sixteen little noisy balls of fluff, 4 that look like chipmunks and a dozen little yellow balls. They are bedded down in the 110 gallon plastic animal water tub in the finished part of the basement with food, water, and two heat tables to tuck under. The tub has a bent window screen over the top to discourage too much handling and to keep curious cats away if they should get past the gate.
Once home, half of the adult flock had escaped and several had gotten in the garden, scratching the mulching hay all over the place. With much effort they were removed from the garden, the temporary gate put back in place, and they were lured back into the safety of their run. The dogs were let out during their foray to freedom and must not have seen them as no one was chased or caught.
Today’s mail brought the last piece of my costume for spinning at the Plantation. It is a short gown to go over the petticoat and shift.
This is about as authentic as I will get for this venue. Please note that I will remember to remove the Fitbit before spinning there.
While getting the chicks and chickens situated and the costume photographed, the forecast is back to 5 inches of snow on Monday afternoon and evening. We will see what happens. Glad we won’t be traveling then.
It is March, the most changeable month of our seasons. Three days ago it was in the 70’s, then the rain came, the wind blew, trees around the region fell and with them the temperature. Today it is barely at freezing and this. . .
Yes, that is snow folks. Only a light dusting, but this is what we expect this time of year, not 70+ºf. Tonight it drops into the teens. If the sun comes out, the garlic will get another blanket of hay or a piece of row cover to keep the 9 inch shoots from burning to the ground. In town, the flowering almonds, daffodils, and forsythia are blooming. We have a young maple with flowers and tiny leaves. It is weeks too soon.
The chickens fled back into their coop as soon as the flurries began this morning. Those birds just don’t like snow. The dozen new chicks get picked up in 10 days. Their abode needs to be set up this weekend so that the warming table can get the environment right for them when they come home. So far, Tractor Supply has done a great job of keeping me from buying a few Welsummers as the two times we have gone down, the bins have been empty. It wouldn’t work out too well to have 4 chicks almost 2 weeks older than the tiny Buff’s coming home with us soon. The brooder coop sides that remained plastic last year still need to be enclosed within the next 6 weeks.
Mother Earth News alerted me that the onion sets can be put out under cover. To do that, another day of moving compost is in order. There is still a big pile and 2 empty boxes to fill.
Over the winter, steps were taken to make spinning at the Smithfield Plantation House a bit more authentic. Two antique wheels entered our home, both have had parts made or repaired by Bobbin Boy and returned. The little Saxony style wheel, the older of the two spins. The effort to spin on her is much greater than on the contemporary wheel, but yarn has been made.
It is a bit rougher than yarn generally spun by me, but it is yarn! Yesterday an attempt to spin on the great wheel was made. Something isn’t aligned quite right and the drive band walks off the back edge. The wheel does not have a groove and it was suggested that a beeswax paste be thinly smeared down the center to help hold it, but it still moves off the back. It is hard to learn properly when so much attention is given to keeping the drive band string in place. Also during the winter, additions were made to the costume that is worn while spinning at the plantation. A Dormeuse/Mob cap, Apron, and Fichu/kerchief were added to improve the look. A gown should also be worn, but that is not in the budget right now, plus it gets terribly hot in the weaver’s cottage during the summer months. Here is the new look.
One of the issues with the petticoat (skirt) was that it was one long panel with a single seam and a drawstring of ribbon. It was awkward and bulky at the waist. Some of the re-enactors and seamstresses on Ravelry, the social network for fiber artists, gave me some pointers on how to deal with that issue. Yesterday, the drawstring was removed, the single panel split into two, hidden pockets added to the front panel and the side seams resewn to the bottom of the pockets. Cotton twill tape was added to the tops of the two panels distributing the fullness and stitched in place. The back twill is tied in the front, then the front overlaps the back a few inches on each side and ties in the back. It is so much more comfortable and now I have pockets for my very nontraditional keys needed to get there and for my Hussif, a small needle book, that has needles, pins, thread, and my tiny scissors.
The Hussif, a contraction of the word housewife, was carried my many people, women of the house, pages, soldiers, and sailors. It is a small rolled sewing kit. Mine doubles as both a small sewing kit and a tiny knitting notions kit with the addition of a cable needle, a few stitch markers, needle gauge, and a tape measure.
Traditionally, each pocket was made of a different fabric and was used to contain the necessary tools of a sewing repair kit.
Participation as a historical spinner is encouraging me to learn more of the period, customs, and terms. The location is beautiful, though earlier this week, a very old, maybe 300 year old maple tree on the property fell. Not during the storm, which is probably a good thing, as with little wind, it fell away from the forge shop into the yard. During the storm, it might have taken a different path down. The lead blacksmith rallied a group and the trunk and larger branches have been salvaged and once dried, will be made into tables, benches, handles for tools and knives. Saving a bit of the area’s old history.
In the early 1960’s I was in junior high school in Virginia Beach. We were in school when the infamous Ash Wednesday n’easter hit the beach, taking out houses in the expensive north end and obliterating houses on the beach in Sandbridge. The resort area of the beach had a boardwalk and two piers, all of which were severely damaged, putting large pier pilings through the lower floors of hotels and filling shops and hotels with sand and water. They held us at school to assess how to get us home. The military used amphibious vehicles to get people in and out. My Dad at some point, because our house was on the Lynnhaven River, had taken a string level out from the lowest point of our house and nailed a bright red disk on a live oak at that height. We watched the water rise closer and closer to that disk, wondering where we could go if we had to abandon our home. The house was a split level and the garage, utility room, a work room, and my Dad’s office were on that lowest level, the rest of the house safely above the rising tides. The water lapped on the sidewalk around the side of the house, barely reached the outer most corner and no trees fell on the house. We were safe, but many others in our area were not.
Today is Ash Wednesday and the storms that ripped through Illinois, Arkansas, Kansas, and Kentucky last night are threatening us today. Most of the threat is south and west of us, but local schools closed 2 1/2 hours early, we have secured items like we did on the coast for a hurricane, bringing what we could into the garage. Wind gusts of 60 mph buffeted us as we went in to get granddaughter from preschool and back to pick up grandson from the school bus. The roads are littered with branches. We have not seen the predicted hail. The temperature fell 15º as the front started through and we will see seasonable temperatures for the remainder of the week. It is raining, hard off and on, the wind gusting at times. So far we have seen no reports of tornadoes, but a few years back, a local community was devastated by one, so they do occur in the mountains. We ride this one out, having a safe spot low on our basement stairs, interior away from windows, supplied with flash lights, water, and a battery/crank generated radio. Hopefully this will pass with nothing more than a few downed trees and power outages in our area.
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Jimi Hendricks
This is a nation built on immigration. Peoples who fled oppression, religious control, poverty, famine to build a life in “the new world.” Nearly all of us must say that either we or an ancestor from not too many generations back came to this country from another part of the world. We are black, white, yellow, brown. We are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic. We have worked hard to build a nation that is strong. A nation of diversity. A nation of respect.
We came in before and later under a statue that says on it’s base,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
It doesn’t matter where you are from, what color your skin, your religious preference or lack of one, we need to stop the hate mongering, the fear. Your ancestors came here from abroad too, remember that. We are Americans, but few of us are Native Americans. We need to re open that golden door.
Let us hold on to the rights that we have earned, let us work together toward tolerance, toward helping those who do not have the privilege and safety under which we live.
This has been a great weekend spent in the beautiful Smithfield Plantation House, an 18th century museum home in our region. The restored, furnished home was decorated with period decorations for the Christmas season by one of the local garden clubs. All of the decorations were for sale or through silent auction at the conclusion of this weekend. The event was the Holiday Teas event, a conclusion to the touring season for the home. The weekend relied heavily on the volunteers, as the decorations, the baked goods for the teas, servers, the interpretative tours, musicians, and craftsmen were all volunteer efforts.
This weekend, I was in the house spinning. Because the drawing room was the location for the musicians, the lace maker, and hemp rope maker were in the downstairs bedroom and I set up in the dining room. Being in one of the first rooms visited, I was able to listen to the historian talk about the local history, the house history, the Preston family, and the furnishings.
I had been very generously given a raw Dorset fleece by a friend and fellow Smithfield volunteer for me to work with. I had never worked raw fleece before, so it was a learning opportunity for me too.
I took a bag of the dirty raw fleece with me to demonstrate where the process starts. A hemp fiber bag of locks that I had washed was also taken, the locks were hand carded as needed and made into rolags and spun.
The room lit only by daylight through the two windows and with small electric candles for safety, I could only work until about 4:30 before it got too dark to see. Many visitors there for the music or the teas stopped by to watch and listen to my discussion of the breeds, the fiber, and the process. Today was cold and wet, but the visitors just kept coming.
We are so fortunate to have this home in our area and so many people who give of their time for the good of this venue. I feel fortunate to have been given the chance to be a part of this educational and historical opportunity and look forward to help out during the private and school tours during the winter and again during the tour season beginning in April.
Farm life, knitting and spinning, cooking and family