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

Exploring Local History Through Textiles

Common Thread: Exploring Local Industrial History Through the Lens of Silk

Discover Northampton’s silk history via this handpainted silk quilt displayed at the Neilson Library at Smith College in Northampton, MA, one of many community-based resources to support an interest in local history and textiles. For a virtual tour, click on the quilt.

Once upon a time, the Pioneer Valley’s mills bustled with activity, producing all sorts of goods and providing a boost to the local economy. Today, many of these mills are filled with offices, art studios, and spacious high-ceiling apartments.

Despite the creative reuse of such industrial spaces, the area’s ties to industries of the past can easily be explored. In particular, the Pioneer Valley’s connection to the textile industry can be studied through self-guided explorations, museum visits, tree identification and hands-on learning opportunities taking place during the next few months. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fabric of History in Western Mass Weaves a Tale

Historic Deerfield Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Their Textile Collection

Early 19th-century tartan wool cloak.

On June 4, 1965, the brand new Fabric Hall was opened to the public at Historic Deerfield (then known as The Heritage Foundation).  Situated behind the Silver Museum in a renovated 1870s barn (now Historic Deerfield’s History Workshop), Fabric Hall showcased the museum’s growing collection of clothing, needlework and domestic textiles.  The gallery, which included innovative ambient lighting, air conditioning, and radiant floor heat, conveyed an early awareness of the need to monitor environmental conditions to protect fragile items.  Fabric Hall was the dream of Helen Geier Flynt (1895-1986) who, along with her husband, Henry N. Flynt (1893-1970), founded Historic Deerfield. No longer limited to the small spaces of the historic house museums, Fabric Hall allowed Mrs. Flynt free reign to display a range of items in the collection, from more exotic and opulent textiles to historic fashions and textiles demonstrating aesthetic or technical excellence. Read the rest of this entry »

Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield Hosts Interactive Web Site for New England History

American Centuries: Views from New England
Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield
Offers Online Educational Resources
on American Village History

Western Massachusetts today is home to scores of artists and artisans – a fact that brings visitors from near and far to see the unique and interesting products and pieces being created in the region.  Art has been a common thread amongst local residents for decades, and it could perhaps be said that the roots of the local art community lie in the American Arts and Crafts Movement.  Taking place around the turn of the 20th century, the movement was particularly prevalent amongst artists in Deerfield, MA.  The movement stood largely as an effort to counter the lack of artistry and creativity in decorative arts that resulted from the cultural changes that took place during the Industrial Revolution.  Artists in Deerfield created Colonial-inspired needlework, baskets, furniture, weavings, and more in the style of their New England settler predecessors.

Families can learn all about the movement’s local influence at the Memorial Hall Museum!  Located on Memorial Street in Old Deerfield, the museum is full of beautiful pieces illustrating the particular artistic style embodying the historic spirit of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, as well as artifacts from Deerfield’s earliest days and exhibits on the history and development of early new England.

The museum, which is one of the country’s oldest, also offers virtual educational resources.  In addition to offering information on much of the museum’s collection, their website includes resources for educators, a kids page, and links to educational interactive activities.  Interactive activities include:

  • Dress Up: See, hear and learn about the unfamiliar clothes people wore throughout American history.
  • First Person: Twentieth-century history as told by people who lived it and made it.
  • African American Historic Sites: An interactive map of Deerfield reveals historic sites with information on enslaved African Americans in the eighteenth century.
  • Now Read This: Try your hand at reading and transcribing some old and unusual writing.
  • Magic Lens: Move the Magic Lens over old manuscripts to reveal what the writing says.
  • Objects in the Round: Rotate objects from the collection to see them from every side.
  • Demonstrations of Early American Tools: Watch brief videos to learn how tools from the past worked.
  • New England Architecture: Explore New England house styles though history.
  • Chronologies:  Make a collection of items from the Digital Collection and place on a time line.

For those interested in learning more about the American Arts and Crafts Movement’s local influence, the Memorial Hall Museum’s curator, Suzanne Flynt, has created an informational and interactive website (www.artscrafts-deerfield.org) to accompany her new book, Poetry to the Earth: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Deerfield.  The site breaks down the plethora of information available into sections detailing important artifacts, artists and artisans, and places of interest.  Also included is an incredibly detailed timeline, matching significant local events up with historic happenings on a national level.

The information available from these resources can be adapted for use with students of any age, and can be used to help create a place-based component to studies of the Industrial Revolution, art history, American cultural history, and more.

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