A big part of first grade in the Waldorf curriculum is learning to knit. Thought by many to be an antiquated skill, it is actually quite valuable, not only in teaching one a type of handwork that creates clothing and other necessary items but it also aids in math, helps one to calm and sooth anxieties, and much more.
Before learning to knit, it is common to learn about where the supplies used come from. Students make their own knitting needles, for example, as well as learn about the origins of the fiber itself, usually wool.
When planning our handwork lessons this year, I wanted to kick things off with a visit to a sheep farm. I couldn’t find a farm, but I did find the Fall Fiber Festival & Montpelier Sheep Dog Trials in Orange, VA, near the Montpelier estate. Waiting for the festival meant holding off on our handwork lessons a bit longer than I would have liked, but I really felt it was important to see where the fiber comes from before starting that block.
Since the Festival occurs on a weekend, we were able to make this trip a family affair. It was the first weekend in October an was unseasonably hot, so the girls enjoyed lemonade by the tub while watching the sheep dog trials, making fiber crafts and wandering through the animal tent petting sheep, alpacas and angora bunnies.
With the cooler time of year fast approaching, I didn’t think we’d get to see a sheep being sheared, but apparently it is common to do a fall shearing here, so we were able to watch a very informative demonstration, in which the shearer talked about the different tools and methods and ways to hold the sheep so that it’s safe and comfortable for both him and the animal. The girls were very interested and Aria moved as close as she could, mere feet from the animal. Only later did we realize it probably would have been better for her to be a bit farther away, when the sheep kicked, causing the shearer to cut his hand with his blades. In response to the children’s laughter at seeing the sheep kick, he explained that that was actually the most dangerous part of his job because of potential injury not only to himself but to bystanders in the event that the tool was kicked from his hands and into the crowd.
After watching the shearing, Aria and I got a quick lesson in carding then headed to the fleece tent. I showed her the different types of fiber – they had a variety of wool, alpaca and mohair (goat) – and explained that the fleeces we were feeling were sheared the way we’d just seen. She then helped pick out both a sheep’s and an alpaca’s fleece for us to take home and work with. In the coming weeks, we’ll be washing and carding the fiber as the next part of our handwork lessons.
I’m looking forward to this becoming an annual event for us. The Festival was well-organized and offers many classes and activities and demos that we missed. In the coming years, I hope to have the girls participate in some of the more in-depth classes for kids, like shepherding and felting and I’d love to take a class or two myself.
The homemade donut ice cream sandwiches weren’t bad, either.