Tag Archives: Teaching

More Smithfield – 8/16/17

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.

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Kitchen Alchemy and Camp – July 25, 2017

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This is the time of year that the herbs and wild plants that are used in the salves, balms, and some soaps in the shop are growing and being harvested.  Once a batch is dried, jars of the herbs and the oils that make the infused oils are started.  Sometimes they are suntea processed in a window sill for a month or so, but sometimes one or more are needed sooner than that and they are infused in a makeshift double boiler system for 3 hours.  Once the infused oils are made and cooled, they are strained into a clean jar and the portion needed measured out and rewarmed to melt the organic beeswax needed to make the oil into a salve or balm.  Before our weekend away, a kitchen alchemy session was conducted and several salves resupplied, labelled, and put in the shop.  Some of the oils are needed for the Mountain Makings camp that is in session this week.

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Today was day 2 of their camp, my first of two sessions working with the young ones.  My friend, Jennifer, and I worked with them last year and again today.  The children are 7 to 12 years old and all very involved in the activities.  We had a very brief discussion of spinning and how  and why it was used in past generations.  They were each given a few ounces of hand dyed fiber and a hand made drop spindle, an improved version of last year’s with a heavier whorl.  One parent was fascinated with this portion of their program today and stayed.  She was given a spindle and fiber and followed right along with the children, making her first spindle full of yarn singles.  After the spindles were all being used without too much more assistance, they put them down and each were given a packet that contained a cardboard loom, weaving needles, yarn, and an instruction sheet for reference at home and they began a small wall hanging that they wove themselves.  Once they were all working well with that, we moved to our spinning wheels and gave each child an opportunity to spin a long enough singles to double it back on itself to create a length of hand spun yarn that they can use in their weaving.  At the end of the day, they will go home with their spindle and fiber, their loom, yarn, and weaving needles.

Tomorrow, I will return alone to take the children on a plant walk to identify some of the plants that can be wild harvested for their salve making.  They will get a handout of plants, their uses, and recipes for making the infused oils and instructions on making a salve.  We will make salves together and they will take home a tin or jar of their salve.

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Once home today, with a clear bobbin on the wheel, I tackled a one pound bag of raw alpaca locks that I had purchased at the Farmers Market earlier this spring.  I have never spun raw unwashed fiber before, but the alpaca lacks the lanolin of wool and other than picking out some vegetable matter, it is clean to spin.  The fawn colored alpaca is from “Graham” an alpaca living at Poplar Hill Alpacas, a local farm.  It will be plyed with a brown ply from another local Alpaca farm.  This yarn will be knit into fingerless mitts for the Holiday Markets.  If enough is spun, perhaps a hat will be made to match.

Blue Skies and Garden Firsts – 6/27/17

The past week went so fast having eldest grandson here for a visit.  He spent his first years here as we watched him grow from 9 weeks to Kindergarten before they moved for schooling for Mom and Dad.  I see him more often than Jim as I will go up for days or a week or so at a time to help out with care.  He is so big now, soon to be as tall as I and he just turned 12.

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Many activities were planned, a day trip to Smith Mountain Lake Dam, a play day at the Frog Pond (a local pool with slides, basketball, and shallows for tiny people), basketball, ping pong , and a movie with dinner evening with Jim, lunches out, books to read, and lots of good food at home for a growing kid.  His Dad, our eldest, came Saturday in time for dinner and ping pong with the young one, and Sunday, son climbed the 28′ extension ladder and got a good portion of the very exposed west wall of our log home re-stained.  They left after dinner Sunday to return to their home for a work and camp week.  Son is returning alone this weekend with hopes to finish that wall and the south upper dormer.

Friday night, daughter’s family returned from their vacation and resumed their house hunting, possibly finding one that will allow their kids their own bedrooms and a start of the school year in their new home.

For the next few of weeks, the grands are in our care during the day with some swimming lessons scheduled soon, transport twice a week to Taekwondo to meet parents.

The weather has cooled and dried out for the past few days.  This morning, a much needed garden session was done with some tomato brutality as I cut suckers that should have been cut before now and the plants tied to their stakes.  Last year there was a huge mess as a new support structuring was tried and failed miserably with many lost tomatoes as they were on the ground for the pill bugs to attack and hidden for purposes of harvest.  This year, there will be only one main stem per plant, determinate varieties, and tied regularly to garden stakes until they reach their full height.  The process revealed many small green tomatoes and one that is already ripening.

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Tied and before the cut stems were removed.

Today there was a first sunflower set against the prettiest blue sky.

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I’m not sure that any of the sunflowers that I planted are going to produce.  The two volunteers may be all we get unless I can get some seedling going soon.

Last night, preparation for the two days of camp that I will be teaching was begun.  One day will be a plant walk, herbal medicine discussion, and making of an herbal salve to take home.  The other day, with my friend that worked with me last year, we will again teach some fiber arts with homemade drop spindles that they get to keep, a chance at using one of our spinning wheels with help to make a necklace with “their” yarn, and a chance to weave a few rows on a rigid heddle loom.

The haying for this year is done and the hay scattered around our fields like big sedentary buffalo.  Farmer Jeff came by as I was mowing a few days ago to pick up a piece of his haying equipment and it always amuses me to see his behemouth tractor with my tractor beside it.  Mine looks so small, though it is a full size, but small tractor.  Pictures of them together in the header.

I love summers in our mountain home.

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Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things.

Spring in the mountains brings 80ºf days with or without rain, followed by dull, gloomy 53º days with rain like today.  By the time the garden is dry enough to be worked, the unfilled beds will need major weeding.  This morning, another package of the heritage peas were purchased.  They are going to soak overnight in a bowl of water and be planted in all the empty spaces tomorrow with hopes that we will indeed have peas this year.  Perhaps a tunnel of plastic poultry net will be suspended over the top and sides in case it is critters getting them.

Before the threatened storms last night, I realized that the ten year old peonies finally decided to bloom this year.  The two open blooms were cut and brought inside in case we really got the threatened hail (we didn’t).

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One benefit of the cool wet weather is that the planters of herbs on deck are thriving.

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Some of these will go in the ground as a permanent herb garden if the bed ever gets prepared.  There are two more of the barrels with sage, flat leaf parsley, basil, and cilantro started from seed on another part of the deck.  I sure haven’t had to water this spring. The Iris blooms are beautiful.  Two of the ones added from our neighbor last year began to bloom this year, the third one, a reddish color didn’t come up.  I’m sure another start of it can be obtained once his are blooming and we can see which one to dig.  Most of mine and the daylilies  will need to be divided this summer.  Perhaps the divisions can be used to naturalize the driveway bank along with some more Forsythia rootings.

Yesterday was a delightful day.  Smithfield Plantation House had 3 classes of 4th graders scheduled for tour and I was asked to come spin if available.  As my location is in the summer kitchen/slave cottage, the opportunity to be part of the tour excited me.  With one of my antique wheels there, carders to demonstrate fiber prep, several different heritage wools to show off and pulling from the never dying teaching skills, the classes got a lesson in where the food came from, how it was prepared, where the fiber came from and how it was used.

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With a class at a time, sitting on the floor around me, engaged groups of 10 year olds were questioned, shown equipment, handled wool and yarn, saw two types of spinning wheels, the Appalachian Rocker Loom, old style shears, and a 150+ year old spinning wheel in use, and the iron pots and storage crockery of an 18th century summer kitchen.  A teacher may retire, but the desire to teach stays on.

A busy summer is approaching with fiber retreats for me, HOG rally for Jim, a music weekend for both of us, and ending with a cruise in the fall.  In the mean time, garden  work is scheduled if it will ever dry out.

The coop got cleaned out between storms, but straw hasn’t been purchased to put clean bedding down, and with the rain, the chicks are still crowding on the perches in Huck’s coop each night.  The double fence idea is still lurking if the weather will break to allow a better assessment of the situation.

The painful knee has behaved for the past couple of days.  Hopefully to stay calm and allow the hike with son’s family in mid June.

Teaching Old Arts

To my joy, I am being given more and more opportunities to demonstrate and teach the old fiber arts.  Today it was with a camp run by our Local Community Arts (LoCo Arts) organization to a group of kids.  They have 7 children enrolled this year and each day they are tackling a different theme.  Yesterday they did plants and as part of the day, they made an herbal salve.  Today part of the theme was fiber.  A friend in our spinning group and I volunteered to work with the children teaching about fibers, how they were prepared and used to make household fabric and clothing.  With only 2 hours to work with them, we were somewhat limited, but it was fun.  My rusty teaching skills were drawn upon, my friend also having been a teacher, and both of us being grandma’s of small children.

The children were able to handle many different animal fibers and flax.  Each child was given a light drop spindle that I had made for them, along with bumps of fiber dyed by my friend and natural colored fiber provided by me.  They were shown various types of drop spindles from my whorl less Dealgan brae, top and bottom whorl, and Turkish spindles and how they worked.  They took apart a length of string to see how each ply twists in one direction, then the several held together twist in the opposite direction to hold them together and provide strength.  They were taught to use their new drop spindles.

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In addition to learning to spin with a drop spindle, we gave each child the opportunity to spin a couple of yards of a single on our wheels.

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They then walked away from us holding the end of their single, we cut the other end while holding it and gave it to the child, letting go of the middle so it self plyed.  Their piece of yarn was then strung with a large wooden bead and tied into a necklace for them to keep.

Two rigid heddle looms belonging to my friend were set up by her and she gave them a demonstration on how to use them and the children were given the chance to weave a few rows on the loom to see how the yarn that they could spin could be used to make a fabric.

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The children and their two teaching camp counselors seemed to appreciate the lessons learned and the gifts of fiber tools and fiber to continue to practice with at home.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with the kids, they were wonderful.

Next I get to demonstrate spinning at the historic Smithfield Plantation House on the University campus on July 4 at their Independence Day celebration.  It is only for a few hours, but I will also be selling yarn, bar soap, and lotion bars if it isn’t too hot that day.

I love the opportunities that I have had this summer to demonstrate and teach some of the ancient crafts that I have grown to love.