Sheep shearing today!

First, I have got to unload my baggage: I'm exhausted and my sink is piled high with dishes that I don't feel like doing, my desk is piled high with papers that I don't feel like sorting through, and my bookshelf is piled high with books I want to read but don't feel like opening tonight.

Okay, now on to the good stuff, the thing I feel like doing - recounting our morning trip to the Brookside Museum to see the sheep shearing demonstration!

The Brookside Museum here in Ballston Spa has so many well-organized programs and today we went with the MOMS Club to see their sheep shearing demonstration. I was very impressed with how well it was geared for students of many ages. We were able to see what happens when the sheep are sheared and learn about why it is done. Look at that photo above - yes, that's my 'A' standing in front of the man with the sheep and the shears. No, don't fall over with disbelief, pick yourself up and sit back down. I couldn't believe it either. Her desire to learn won out over her fear of everything. She stood there and watched intently.

Somewhere under that pile of wool is a sheep that's in the process of getting sheared. The shearing that was done today was an interpretation of what would have been done here in the mid-19th century. To make the experience authentic, the shearers used actual shears to clip part of the sheep and then used electric shears for the rest of the sheep, to show the children how it's done today.

Here is the shorn sheep with its two handlers, who by the way told tales with glee, and although none of them seemed too tall, I'm willing to bet that they have a few stretched truths hiding up their sleeves. They interacted well with the visitors and kids.

'A' took this one of the sheep in the pen who were waiting for their turn:

After the sheep are shorn, it's time to wash the wool. The shearing and the washing would have been done in late spring. The children would wash the wool and pick it clean (lots of grass accumulates in the wool and needs to be painstakingly picked out). Then it would all be set aside while the summer gardens were tended and the animals were taken care of, and when autumn turned into winter, the bales of wool would be brought out again and carded and spun and finally woven into cloth.

The woman at the washing station was in period costume. Her dress was made from wool that still had the lanolin in it, making it softer and heavier than today's wool, which is stripped of lanolin. Apparently the cosmetic industry finds lanolin to be too precious to leave on the wool, and they pay top dollar to have it removed and packed up for their use.

The girls got to hold some wool and check it out.

You know, the older I get and the more I learn about how we learn, the more strongly I embrace the idea of "unschooling." In a nutshell, unschooling is letting children explore the world and learn without a predefined curriculum. It allows children to follow their interests.

Take today at the museum. I brought them to the demonstation and introduced them to the idea of sheep shearing. They're too young to really follow the unschooling way, but if they were older, and if they liked the demonstation then as much as they did today, I can see how it could easily lead to learning about the culture and history of textiles, of husbandry, of 19th century social history; if they were old enough (and interested), I would throw in a copy of Little Women, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Huckleberry Finn, introduce them to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, and talk about the highs and lows of the reconstruction period. There are so many neat things to learn.

But for now, they're 2 and 4 years old and it's enough to just see that this is all out there, that it exists, and that we can look forward to coming back in the future.

So, they held the wool, and felt the wool...

And washed the wool, a few times...

And then finally put the wool up on the drying rack to dry.

Look at it, fluffy and white, and loaded with little pieces of grass. That grass is what the children would sit and pick out. I guess their good eyes and little fingers are just right for the job.

Now use your imagination and pretend it's cold and you're inside for the winter (I know, if you're up here in the north it wasn't that long ago, so you don't have to stretch your mind that far to remember). It's time to spin the wool to make it usable. Young women would learn to spin by holding the wool with one hand and spinning it with the other. When they got really good at that, it would be time to learn to use the spinning wheel. Most the of technique when using the wheel is still in the hands, so it's important to learn it right with the hands to begin with.

No, it's not possible to prick your finger on a wool spinning wheel, I asked. That only happens on a wheel that spins flax into linen.

After the wool is spun into yarn and wound into skeins, the women would set up the loom and begin to weave. They could do all sorts of patterns with the loom. All of their clothes were made by hand like this. All of them. As much as I like to make things by hand, it makes me really appreciate the modern fabric and clothing manufacture process. I just can't see doing all of this at home.

One of the men who was shearing the sheep told us that not that long ago (less than 100 years ago - this is how you can tell I'm getting older, that I don't consider 100 years to be that long ago), children around here were sewn into their long wool underwear for the winter. When spring came, their mothers cut them out of it. If you had told me that a few years ago before I had experienced the cold winters up here, I would have thought you were crazy. But now I get it. I totally get it.

That's it for my photos and the dishes are still waiting for me, so I'm sending you happy good night wishes and peace for all of your hearts and minds.


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About Me

My name is Jillian. I started this blog as a way to experiment with my camera and it's a become a nice little spot where I enjoy spending time. I'm a mother to 6 and 4 year old daughters, wife to a cool computer guy, and mama to a cuddly cat. We enjoy eating local, organic food; managing several food allergies; homeschooling with love; spending time in nature; and we love to take time each day to be creative. You can also find me over at From Scratch Club from time to time. Welcome!