Diary of a Transplant: Wool Workings at Olana

  |  May 15, 2012

In the on-going city v. country debate, the city usually wins on the “stuff to do” list. Yeah, yeah, the city’s got endless opportunities, workshops, festivals, fairs, happenings,  etc, which the country could never compete with in terms of sheer, vast quantity.

But I’ll tell you where the country ekes out a lead: in the quality of the events. Living in the city, I had gotten to where I didn’t even try to go to special events. There was either a four- hour line for the free concert, or the pianos were broken by the time you got there, or the materials were lame and cheap, and there weren’t enough of them. (Sorry, city people, and please do leave comments attesting to your opposing experience. I would love to know that it’s different now.)

One of our first weekends living upstate we went to an Easter egg-dying event at Art Omi. Oh my god: there was actually space at the table for my kids, there were enough eggs, the dyes were good quality… After 14 years in the city, it blew me away. There was even parking!

The wooly workshop I recently attended at Olana was no exception.

Olana is a the former estate of Hudson Valley painter Frederick Church; it’s now a state park that is maintained by the Olana Partnership. Over the last couple months, Olana offered a series of classes on the “Art of Farming”. In a partnership with the Hawthorne Valley Farm (a bio-dynamic educational farm in Harlemville, NY) the $45 three-part workshop took participants through various stages of wool-working. I missed Part One, about carding and twining.

But I made it to Part Two, and I’m so glad I did. This one was about felting. There was an abundance of beautiful brown wool which had already been carded — combed out into even, airy sheets of wool. We chose a rock from an assortment that was provided, and then we wrapped our rocks.  We wrapped one way, we wrapped the other way, then back the first way. When the rock was neatly enclosed, we tucked it into a stocking, tied a knot and soaped it up. With natural dish soap, of course.

About 20 minutes of scrubbing and rubbing and massaging ensued.

Those lucky rocks. A million years of kinks and knots were surely worked out. We rinsed, we dried, and we cut open. Voila! A felted pouch.

Yesterday I went to Part Three, in which we needle-felted designs onto our felted pouches (using wool that had been brilliantly colored with native plant dyes), wove bracelets which could also be needle-felted, and dyed silk scarves with natural plant dyes.

It was three hours of focused, fun work. About 20 of us, ranging in age from 7 to senior citizen, dyed, wove, needled, and chatted. Here’s some finished, and almost-finished work…

This is the first workshop I’ve done at Olana, but I’m all in for anything else they have to offer. It was a luxurious, generous experience, with ample, high-quality materials, and great instruction on some of the lost arts of farming.

Go to Olana.org to learn about upcoming programs, events, and summer camps for kids.

And go to Hawthornevalleyfarm.org for info on their amazing classes on biodynamic farming, cheese-making, bee-keeping, summer camps and more.

This weekend, May 19 and 20, Olana hosts its Heritage Weekend 2012: entry to the site is free, with scheduled free tours of Frederick Church’s house and grounds, and lectures.

And mark your calendar: June 16, 2-4, Olana partners with Etsy to host a craft fair.

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