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 »

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While hand-sewn clothes have largely been replaced by factory-made ones, the ability to sew remains a useful skill.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 »

Historic Northampton Museum & Education Center Highlights the History of Silk Thread and the Pioneer Valley

Northampton Silk Threads: The China Connection
Historic Northampton Museum & Education Center
May 1st-31st, 2013

Discover a part of Western MA history at the Historic Northampton Museum & Education Center’s May exhibit, “Northampton Silk Threads: The China Connection.” 

The remnants of the Pioneer Valley’s silk trade are still around – one can find the iconic Silk Mill, visit Silk City (Florence), and gaze up into the branches of mulberry trees all over Northampton. All of these things are representations of the city’s long-ago to silk production and the silk trade in China and Japan.

During the first half of the 19th century, Northampton was a huge producer of silk. Mulberry leaves fed the hungry silk worms, and women worked in factories, helping to spin the silk onto spools in order to be woven into beautiful fabric. Eventually, the demand for silk became too much for the town’s supply of silk worms, and manufacturers began outsourcing to China. However, Chinese silk production methods proved incompatible with mechanical production, and Japan replaced China as the valley’s silk provider until the industry collapsed during America’s Great Depression.

Read the rest of this entry »

Land of Lanolin: 5 Ways to Learn About Sheep & Wool this Spring

Honor Your Woolies

It is quite possible that you have on a wool sweater, right now! You might even buy sweaters from consignment shops to make cute little wool pants for your toddler. Thank goodness for sheep, farmers, and wool. We would all be colder without them.

In the next few months, you might be able to put your woolies away until next winter. What better way to commemorate the event than to spend time with sheep? Farmers around Western MA will free their sheep from the hairy locks that bind them and allow their skin to feel the glorious sun shine.

Here’s a sheep shearing demo from a previous season at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA:

Sheep shearing is a great opportunity to learn about animals and textiles. It is also a great excuse to visit a local farm! To follow is a rundown of what is happening in the land of lanolin this spring (and late winter) in Western MA:

  • Shearing Day at Winterberry Farm, in Leverett will be on Saturday March 10, from 9:30-4:30: With only a couple of weeks left of winter, the sheep will be shorn! Actual shearing is from 10:30am-12noon. They will shear 30 sheep this year, as there were no losses to coyotes! There will be great food, lots of music and gorgeous wool in many forms. There will also be fiber and herding demos, sheep and angora rabbits, goats, poultry and a llama named Sam. There is no charge- but contributions to the farm scholarship fund cheerfully accepted. If you just want to buy fiber, come by on Sunday March 11 from 2-4pm. Winterberry farm is located at 21 Teawaddle Hill Road in Leverett, MA. For more information, visit (DONATION)
  • The 39th Annual Massachusetts Sheep and Woolcraft Fair, at the Cummington Fair Grounds, will take place on Saturday, May 25th and Sunday, May 26th from 9am-4pm: This event has it all! There will be fiber and woolcraft vendors, sheep shearing demonstrations, sheep dog trials, fiber and woolcraft workshops for adults and children, sheep shows, a fleece show and sale, a fleece to shawl competition and food booths. It is sponsored by The Pioneer Valley Sheep Breeders Association, the Massachusetts Federation of Sheep Associations and the Massachusetts Dept. of Agricultural Resources.  For more information and map, go to ($)
  • Sheep Shearing Weekend at Hancock Shaker Village, in Pittsfield MA is on April 27th and 28th from 10am-4pm: In addition to the regular farm activities, the Village’s Merino sheep will be shorn and there will be special hands-on textile demonstration and activities conducted by volunteers from local spinning and weaving guilds. For more information on the event, call 1-800.817.1137 or visit ($$)
  • Wool Days at Old Sturbridge Village will be on Memorial Day weekend, May 25th -27th: The Museum is open from 9:30am-5pm. In addition to all of the learning experiences that are usually at OSV, there will be a full schedule of events, including herding, carding, dying with natural sources, exploring wool from different kinds of animals, knitting, crocheting, and much more.  The schedule of events is at ($$$)

  • The 10th Annual Sheep to Shawl Festival at Sheep Hill, in Williamstown will be on May 4th and 5th from 11am to 3pm, rain or shine: The Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation (WRLF) hosts this great event. It occurs on a beautiful hill, which allows participants a wonderful view of the sheep and the dogs as they move around. There will be food to purchase, activities for children and fiber arts and herding demos. WRLF is located at 671 Cold Spring Road, Williamstown, MA. ($)

Don’t settle with wearing a sweater. Learn how to make one!


Theresa Heary-Selah — Theresa is a teacher and a freelance writer, making her home in Greenfield, MA and Wright, NY with her family.  She teaches at S.H.I.N.E. (Students at Home in New England), a social and academic support program for middle school students in the Pioneer Valley, and writes about home-schooling and technology.  Theresa’s interests include home-schooling, gardening, cooking, hiking, and dancing.

13 Suggestions on What to Do with Tattered & Torn Clothes

Wondering what to do with old clothing that is ripped, stained or otherwise unable to donate/wear?

Melissa Weinberger of Easthampton writes, “I am about to throw a huge bag of old clothing into the garbage and wondering if there’s another way. We already use a lot of old t-shirts, etc. as rags, but this is stuff that seems headed for the landfill unless there’s another option.”

Thanks to Riché for recommending the short documentary, Secondhand (Pepe). “In this documentary about used clothing, the historical memoir of a Jewish immigrant rag picker intertwines with the present-day story of ‘pepe’ — secondhand clothing that flows from North America to Haiti. Secondhand (Pepe) animates the materiality of recycled clothes — their secret afterlives and the unspoken connections among people in an era of globalization.”

  • Jennifer Shiao Page writes, “I have the same conundrum, so am looking forward to hearing the ideas!”
  • Diane Kanzler writes, “Well, pure cotton and linen textiles can be composted. It takes awhile to compost, but it can be done. I’ve found it can take up to two years for cotton knits to compost fully, and often the nylon thread used to sew a cotton garment won’t compost and has to be pulled out of the compost. – The EPA has an interesting page on the topic of textile recycling: Textiles Common Wastes & Materials.
  • Susan Countryman writes, “If you sew you can repurpose the clothes into doll clothes, cool patches for jeans, throw pillows, etc.”
  • Michelle Harris Dzialo writes, “Give it to a quilter! All my grandmothers old quilts were made out of old clothing!”
  • Gillian Daley writes, “The Northampton DPW has special tags that you use on bags of textiles to be recycled, and the Salvation Army will take them. I don’t know if other towns have them as well but contacting the Northampton DPW is a good start.”
  • Jennifer Shiao Page writes, “But, does the Salvation Army want clothing that are “ripped, stained or otherwise unable to donate/wear?” I know that the Northampton Survival Center does not. I donate what I think is suitable, but what to do with the stuff that is not donation worthy?”
  • Gillian Daley writes, “Jennifer, the specially tagged stuff is recycled into other materials. They ask for the special tags so they are sorted separately from the wearable clothes.”
  • Riché J. Daniel Barnes writes, “I donate to Salvation Army and others because I know they give or sell it to other companies that process it into other stuff. There is a documentary about “rags” called Secondhand (Pepe) by a professor at Harvard.”
  • Maryellen Smith Rousseau wrties, “Give them to the Salvation Army. They take the items that are not saleable and give them to companies that recycle them into shop towels. Please, please don’t throw them away! We need to do everything we can to reduce what we are putting in the landfill.”
  • Arianna Alexsandra Grindrod wrties, “Doesn’t the Bag Share group use rags? Check with the Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington.”
  • Robin Morgan Huntley writes, “Braided rugs! Make one (or a few) for a space your kids play/create in- if they spill paint or jam clay into the rug, it won’t matter because it’s recycled. You can also make pillows and/or a quilt out of old clothes… also particularly effective when there are spill-y kids around.”
  • Kara Kitchen writes, “You can rip/cut into strips, tie together to make long rope and either crochet or braid+stitch into braided rag rugs or baskets/bowls.”
  • Sarah M writes, “Quilt! Then donate the quilts to a shelter or hospital! I use old clothes to put in the dog’s crate!”
  • Melissa Flanders writes,Freecycle?”

Textile Material Swap in the Hilltowns

Ashfield Needles and Threads Material Swap
Sunday, January 22nd at 1pm

Ashfield Needles and Threads (ANTS) is hosting a free materials swap on Sunday, Jan. 22nd at 1pm. The swap is an opportunity for families to recycle and be inspired!

Do you have bits and pieces of textiles left over from holiday craft projects that you’ll likely not use anytime soon, or tattered and torn clothes your kids have outgrown and you don’t want to see them thrown out?  Or are you a crafter in search of inspiration (or perhaps some new yarn or fabric) for your next project?  Ashfield Needles and Threads (ANTS) is hosting a free materials swap!

On Sunday, January 22nd at 1pm, ANTS’ swap will take place at the Ashfield Congregational Church.  Sewers, knitters, and crafters of all sorts can bring their yarn, patterns, needles, fabric, buttons, thread, and all other bits and pieces (including great ideas to share!) to the swap in order to thin out your collection or bulk up your supplies (or perhaps do a little of both).

Sharing supplies is a totally green way to start a new project- you’ll be preventing waste and will preserve resources by not buying something new!  Kids who are just beginning to venture into the world of knitting or sewing can especially benefit from the swap- they’ll get to peruse the collections of other more experienced crafters and will gain both great materials and project ideas!

All items leftover after the swap will be either taken home by their contributors or will be donated to ANTS for future projects.  The Ashfield Congregational Church is located on Main Street in Ashfield, across from the town green.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Laura Bell]

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