Learning Ahead: Season of Sheep Shearing

The Fiber Arts & Local Farming:
Sheep Shearing & Knitting

In the 19th century, Western Massachusetts saw a huge merino sheep boom when many farms purchased Australian sheep for their incredibly soft fleece to produce wool for textiles.  The Hilltowns’ landscape provided ideal pasture for livestock grazing.

Although this craze for merino wool did not last long, and some of the farms no longer exist, there is still a rich and long tradition of fiber farms in Western Massachusetts that continue to produce fiber and yarn for hand knitters and textile artists.

The benefit of purchasing local yarn is that you are more involved in and aware of the entire process of producing your wool.  Unlike commercially produced yarn, which is often processed and shipped from overseas, local yarn speaks to the land and farmers that cared for the sheep and cultivated the land.  Often, the wool is processed locally and requires many hands to create it: from the farmer that cares for the animals to the sheep shearer, spinners and hand-dyers, locally grown yarn offer the hand knitter a deeper connection to our community’s agricultural roots.  It also supports the local economy and helps foster collaboration and sustainable consumption. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiber Festivals Begin with Shearing Season

Fiber Arts, Math & Mindfulness: Handmade Holiday Gift Idea

Knit Something!

Remember the knitted items you saw during the Agricultural Fairs towards the end of the summer? Get ready for next September’s aggie fairs while working on gifts for others this season! At www.ravelry.com, you to search for free knitting patterns that can help you come up with your next project gift idea.  Perhaps a one-skein hat? A pair of mittens?  Or a hand-knitted cowl?  Knitting is not only a fun activity and great way to hand-make a gift, but it’s also a wonderful way to get together with fellow knitters of all ages and knit together!  Who knows what new stitches you’ll learn and the new friends you’ll meet!  Read the rest of this entry »

Sheep and Woolcraft Fair Connects Visitors with Local History, Animal Husbandry, and Fiber Art

Annual Sheep and Woolcraft Fair Connects Visitors with Local History, Animal Husbandry, and Fiber Art

Want to learn how to dye wool with Kool-Aid or make a needle-felted fairy? Perhaps you’ve never seen sheep dogs in action or can’t tell a Cotswold from a Corriedale? Indulge your curiosities by attending the annual Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair this Memorial Day weekend!

You may sing your children songs about them and count them when you’re falling asleep, but did you know about sheep’s important role in our history and everyday lives? The first viable flock of domesticated sheep arrived in the colonies in 1609, and shortly thereafter a small but strong wool industry was up and running. Landowners built stone walls to corral their flocks (you probably have come across these in your wanderings!) and colonists even cleared the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket so they could be used for sheep storage. The colonies were so successful in their maintenance of flocks and production of wool that the British government eventually banned colonial wool exports to lessen competition with their own wool markets. This act was one of several that incensed colonists and led to the Revolutionary War. Sheep playing a role in our fight for independence? Absolutely! Read the rest of this entry »

Quilting Offers Multidisciplinary Exploration of Math and Art

Quilting Offers Multidisciplinary Exploration of Math and Art

Often, math and art are seen as opposites: structure and the lack thereof. At the intersection of the two, however, lies quilting: an art form that is inherently mathematical. Families can explore everything from shape identification to tessellations by learning to create quilts together!

Art and math are often seen as being disconnected and opposite from one another: one offering structure and systematic methods, and the other following no predetermined procedures and adhering to no rules. The two are, however, very closely linked and by finding the overlap between creativity and mathematical concepts, families can discover context for and the purpose of some of math’s big ideas.

Quilting offers a fantastic creative entry point for learning math at any age or level. Impossible without basic geometry concepts, quilting involves a great deal of math. The most obvious and easily accessible math topic to explore through quilting is geometry, as all quilts are designed and created based on a complex pattern whose roots lie in the properties of the shapes of the pieces from which it is made. Quilting does, of course, require some sewing skills, but as long as you can sew in a straight line, you can make a quilt. Read the rest of this entry »

Knitting Supports Explorations of History, Agriculture & Mathematics

Cast On for Explorations of Math, Local History, and Service-Based Learning Through Knitting

An age-old skill, knitting provides us with some of our most treasured warm clothes. Learning the art of knitting can not only help to provide warmth, but can lead to explorations of local history, local agriculture, and complex math – and families can even engage in service-based learning by donating hand-knitted goods to help support people in need!

Winter means the wearing of layers – some of our most treasured of which have been hand-knitted with love. Mittens from nana, sweaters from mum, scarves from caring neighbors – all of these handmade warmth-giving items are precious, not only because of the love and care that went into making them, but because of their connection to our agrarian history and the learning opportunities that they can spark. Learning to knit (whether self-taught or guided by an expert) is a creative endeavor like no other, and can lead to explorations of history, culture, complex mathematical concepts, art, and even service-based learning!

Drawing upon western Massachusetts’ rich fiber culture, families can find numerous resources to support knitting-based studies of sheep and shepherding. While sheep usually steal the springtime barnyard show, sheep-based learning can take place any time of year with a few skeins of yarn and some needles! Once upon a time, all yarn would have come from hand-carded wool and been hand-spun, but these days, most woolen yarn is processed in a factory. Nevertheless, it’s still possible to get locally-sourced yarns (and even hand-spun local yarns!) by doing a little research and shopping locally. CISA offers a list of nearly twenty fiber-producing farms in western MA, proving that the tradition of local wool is still alive today!  Read the rest of this entry »

Sewing Skills Connect Local Culture, Local History, and Self-Sufficiency

Sewing Skills Connect Local Culture, Local History, and Self-Sufficiency

While hand-sewn clothes have largely been replaced by factory-made ones, the ability to sew remains a useful skill. For children, learning to sew can present opportunities not only to learn a new skill, exercise creativity, and hone fine motor skills, but it can lead to community-based learning about local culture and local history, as well!

Learning to sew can be difficult, but by starting small, families can share (or learn together) the basic needle skills necessary for hand sewing. Adults or teens who are able to stitch using a simple needle and thread can share that skill with children, allowing them to learn how to patch together fabrics or perhaps mend their own clothes. Families who have sewing machines at home can share machine skills with older children who are able to control the machine’s pedals, buttons, and dials while still keeping a good stitch pace. Read the rest of this entry »

New England Culture & Learning Through the Lens of Sheep & Wool

Sheep & Wool: Catalysts for Community-Based Education in Western MA

In the early spring, New England history and culture come alive with the arrival of newborn lambs and the shearing of sheep for the production of wool. The wool industry has strong ties to western Massachusetts, with annual events that celebrate our historical past and other events which showcase modern day shepherds and their flocks.

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Four community events take place this spring that are rich in learning opportunities! Baby animals, history, animal husbandry, and even fiber arts, are all great catalysts for learning through community engagement at these annual events: Read the rest of this entry »

Experiential Learning this Weekend at the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair

Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair this Memorial Day Weekend at the Cummington Fairgrounds

Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair provides children with the opportunity to learn experientially about portions of agriculture, art, and the manufacturing of small-scale goods that are important both within our history here in western Massachusetts, and in our current modern culture as well.

There’s a lot more to sheep than fancy sweaters and toasty warm socks – and the upcoming Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair has got it all! From shearing to spinning, raising to eating, showing to herding, the Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair will showcase all things sheep-related. A visit to the fair can bring lots of animal-induced excitement, spark creativity, satisfy curiosity, and inspire all kinds of learning.

Held over Memorial Day weekend (Saturday and Sunday, May 25th and 26th) at the Cummington Fairgrounds, the fair offers many different ways to learn about raising sheep, sheep-derived products, and the many different creative ways in which fleece is used today. Not only will there be lots of sheep on hand to observe (and pat, if you’re prepared to get lanolin on your fingers!), but there will also be sheep shown in many different categories by both adults and children. Families can also learn about the role of dogs in raising sheep, as sheep herding demonstrations will take place throughout the weekend. By watching farmers and their well-trained dogs move sheep around the field, families can learn about the hard work that goes into such a practice. Such styles of herding have been used by shepherds all around the world for hundreds of years, and it’s an important part of our global agricultural history.

In addition to the live animals on hand, families can also explore a wide variety of displays from farmers, artists, and craftsmen whose product relies on sheep-derived materials. Many of the fairgrounds’ barns will house tables filled with felted wool creations, hand-knitted pieces, beautiful yarns and fleeces, and tools and materials for knitting, felting, dying, spinning, weaving, and doing anything else you can think of with wool!  Read the rest of this entry »

Annual Fiber Festival of New England Returns to Western MA

Fourth Annual Fiber Festival of New England
November 2nd & 3rd in Hampden County

The 4th annual Fiber Festival of New England is back in West Springfield, MA, and offering an incredible learning experience to guests interested in workshops, demonstrations and all things fiber. Workshops offered at the Fiber Festival includes needlefelting, hairpin lace crochet, and rug hooking. Other activirties include spinning and weaving demonstrations and a fiber fashion show.

Learn about all things fleece and fiber at The Fiber Festival of New England! Held on November 2nd and 3rd, 2013, at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA, the festival includes workshops, demonstrations, fleece and fiber art vendors, and even a woolen fashion show filled with beautifully spun, felted, knitted, and crocheted clothing items of all kinds. Families can learn about the vast artistic potential that fiber offers as a medium, as well as the specifics of raising animals for fiber.

Both days of the festival will include workshops where older students and parents can learn new skills like needle felting, crocheting, rug hooking, and more. There are workshops for all abilities – some are designed for absolute beginners, while others are geared towards teaching skills to more experienced fiber artists. Felting, knitting, and other fiber-related crafts are all based on their own fairly simple skill set, the basics of which still allow for a fair amount of creativity and originality in the pieces created. Additionally, once you’ve learned the basics of a type of handwork, there are lots of resources available for self-teaching. Kids who learn the basics of needle felting, for example, may expand their own skills using books, videos, and other educational resources

Read the rest of this entry »

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