Ready For A Wooly Winter

By Sarah Hatfield

Naturalist

Winter is hobby time. The days get shorter, the nights longer. The weather turns chilly and the desire for cozy increases. When I think of winter, the first thing that jumps to mind is reading and blankets. Curled up, warm blanket, cup of tea and a good book is the quintessential winter picture. Warmth. And somehow warmth is associated with wool. Wool sweaters, wool socks, wool hats, coats and mittens.

Wool is pretty amazing stuff. I used to work on a farm and we had sheep. They would sit outside in the snow and the flakes would settle on their backs and stay there. They wouldn’t melt. As the snow built up the sheep got whiter and whiter, even as their hot breath steamed from their nostrils in the frigid air. They were unbothered by the cold with such warm coats.

We served a population of people who, because of their religion, ritually slaughtered yearling lambs and sheep. They did it very humanely and with great solemnity. They were also very efficient at turning the animal into food, leaving behind other useful parts they didn’t want – namely the hides. I have two lambskins from lambs I raised and they are the softest, most luxurious things to sit on. Again, wool is incredible.

It was an educational farm, so school kids came through regularly. The sheep were used to children, and some loved the attention. I would tell the kids to use their fingers and dig right into the wool as they pet them. Then I would have them rub their fingers together to feel the oil on them. The lanolin in the sheep’s wool makes them waterproof so they don’t turn into soggy sponges. It is also great for soft, silky skin. I recall that the sheep shearer, despite the strong build needed to wrestle sheep around, had really nice hands.

People have been tapping into this natural resource since the beginning of the domestication of sheep. I can’t imagine getting through winter without it now, much less 200 years ago. Now we use wool for lots of things, not just clothing, though it is still one of the most superior materials for northern climes.

In the winter my mother disassembles wool clothing while watching television. She cuts it into strips, irons it, and rolls it. All winter long she does this.

Throughout the year she uses those wool strips to make rugs. Braided wool rugs. They are wonderfully warm underfoot (I have three in my house), durable, and upcycled. Everyone she knows has one (they make great gifts) and they have taken best-in-show ribbons, among others, at local county and community fairs. It is a hobby that produces a useful and beautiful product.

She has agreed (by coercion?) to teach a workshop on how she makes them. The Braided Rug workshop is Oct. 26 and runs from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. We will take a lunch break in that time, so bring your own lunch. And while you won’t make a huge rug, you should be able to complete the 14-inch chair pad rug – also perfect for pets – in the time allotted. She will provide all materials, including a custom made lacing needle, but your own fabric shears and a tote to carry things in are suggested. The cost is $32 or $24 if you are a Friend of the Nature Center (FONC). Prices are low due to a grant from the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Reservations with payment need to be made by Oct. 21.

Another crafty and creative use of wool is Tracy Kirchhoff’s felted chickadee workshop. Using wool roving and a barbed felting needle, you will actually sculpt a bird from wool. Yep, really. These crafty creatures are perfect for use as a holiday ornament or package topper. The basic techniques you learn at this workshop can be used for a wide variety of projects both two- and three-dimensional. Participants keep their needle and foam board and will learn where to buy roving for future projects.

The Needle Felted Chickadee workshop is on Thursday, Oct. 17, from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. The cost is $35, or $30 for FONC. Reservations with payment are needed by Oct. 7.

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Trails are open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. to avoid peak mosquito activity. The center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 daily except Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. Visit jamestownaudubon.org for more information or call 569-2345.

Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon.