Domestic Arts at Agricultural Fairs
Agricultural fairs are a great way to explore the domestic arts and understand the quality of items made by hand. Exhibition halls are filled with different handmade crafts and culinary arts, such as quilts, preserves, knitwear, canned goods, and pies – all tokens from our past that still have a place in our present today.
Learning how to quilt takes skill-building and patience, but is a wonderful way to integrate an exploration of the humanities by learning about quilting techniques and patterns that have been used during different historic time periods. The creative process of quilting allows the quilter to think about color theory, pattern, design and assembly. Some quilts are commemorative or refer to a particular period in someone’s life or may have been received as a gift. Family trees were sometimes included into the quilt-making process!
Curious to know more about the history of quilts and their stories? Check out the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project at www.massquilts.org. This project documents historic quilts from all over the state as a way to preserve their heritage and record the history of quilt-making in Massachusetts. You can also checkout Massachusetts Quilts, Our Common Wealth through your local library which includes chapters related to the geographical, social and political influences on quilting in Western Massachusetts and across the state.
- Make quilting even more multi-disciplinary by adding in a literature study of Lisa Campbell Ernst’s Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt.
Knitting is the production of many hands: from the sheep to the shepherd who raises and shears them, to the spinners at the wheel and the hands that knit the garment. Knitting celebrates this agricultural process and local fiber production in Western Massachusetts. In fact, in the 19th century there was a huge merino wool boom in the Hilltowns when farmers used their pasture land to raise merino sheep and meet the demand for this luxuriously soft wool. Now there are many breeds of sheep raised in the region and other fiber animals that produce different textured wools for making knitwear.
At agricultural fairs, you can support an interest in knitting by visiting with farmers and their animals, learning about different breeds, and then making your way to the exhibition hall to see some of the beautiful hand-knitted garments on display. Knitting, yarn dyeing, and spinning are a rich part of women’s history in New England. The art of knitting and fiber dyeing offer a hands-on method for learning about design, color theory, farming, and even plant science via natural plant dyes.
Interested in learning to knit? Find in a knitting meet-up group or someone in your community that already knows how to knit and ask them to teach you! A wonderful opportunity for intergenerational collaboration, knitting is a great way to engage older neighbors, hear their stories, and make a scarf too! The long tradition of knitting is a useful skill that can be passed down from generation to generation, supporting connections through engagement between youth and elders.
Connect an interest in knitting with a discovery of local educational farms in the Hilltowns, including Winterberry Farm in Colrain, MA, and Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. Both offer community events and programs that connect the interests of learners to local farming practices.
Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Sept/Oct), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.