Today was one of those special days when I got to combine my passions - textiles and Scouts. I taught Scouts from my friend's troop in Newtown, Connecticut the Textile Merit Badge. It's a four-hour class and the boys generally come to the class thinking it's going to be a little wimpy - and leave - totally surprised at how much fun they had and how boy-centric textile can be.
I added a new fabric to my board - the aramid from a friend's old sail boat racing days. Very cool!
These Scouts were naturals! I honestly couldn't believe they were just learning how to make a primary loom.
Seriously, after this video and a little bit of hands-on instruction, they all made amazing samples of handwoven projects.
And we make it fun by learning how a sheep gets sheared. "It's just like getting a haircut. It only hurts if the barber nicks you." I have a bag of dirty, unwashed fleece straight off the sheep that I share with the boys. While I have them looking at it - I basically talk about the dirty fleece and what might be in it. I ask them if they see anything in particular. The answers I get are: dirt, twigs, grass, until one Scout sheepishly answers "Poop." Bingo!
Did you find the poop?
Needless to say, we don't use this sheep's fleece except for a demo. I have a bag of cleaned, processed fleece. We do talk about how the fleece is cleaned, processed, carded, spun and made into skeins of wool for sale in a store. I even give them a quick demo on my craft mini carders. And since hand carders look like instruments of torture - the boys love them and can hardly wait to get their hands on them. Here's a real demo with full sized hand carders
After they've all taken a turn or two using the mini hand carders, I show them my drop spindle. I'll admit. I absolutely stink at spinning. I need some help in this department. But I enjoy showing the boys how poorly I spin before I show them this drop spindle video
BTW, I let the boys continue working on their weaving projects all the while I'm showing these videos. It's great because they're dual-tasking and paying attention to either one or both of the activities. Most boys seem engaged in both.
After the drop spindle, which was around since time began, I show them the spinning wheel. I have no experience whatsoever with a spinning wheel so I show this Scottish video.
We then begin a discussion of whether to clean or not to clean the fleece. There are many theories - and both sides of the argument are quite vehement in their point of view. Here's a great article from Spinning Forth about the different practices. Of course, I have to share the Scottish method with the Scouts - because what's not to like about using aged urine (aka ammonia) as a scouring agent. Once again, bodily functions come into play. The Scouts love it!
Next up, I show a video of a woman on a Union 36 loom. There are many weaving videos out there, but I like this one because it's brief, interesting, and exposes the Scouts to another use of weaving - making rag rugs.
I show them how weaving has evolved since prehistoric times. From sheep farming, shearing, spinning, weaving, sewing - to more modern methods - spinning wheels, looms and even the industrial revolution. We watch an excerpt of a mill in BBC’s production of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (first episode – 10:54 time mark). This is an example of the weaving machines in the Industrial Revolution in Northern England circa 1885.
Finally, I bring the Scouts to today by showing them this modern clip of computerized looms today. After they've spent the last hour and a half weaving their little sample - I mention that this modern loom could do the same amount of weaving in a matter of seconds.
So the Scouts have now learned the background of the various methods of turning fiber into fabric. I show them a quick video of the basics of knitting, all the while knitting on my sock du jour while chatting and walking around. They love to see that!
After all this talk of making fiber into yarn into fabric, I tell the Scouts that after lunch, they need to BE PREPARED TO DYE! (That's d-y-e not d-i-e.).
We quickly watch this Etsy Lab video about how to dye with natural dyes.
This is a great video and the boys quickly get it. I tell them we're going to dye our fabric swatches in onion skins and cochineals. Then I pass around my ziplog bag of cochineal and ask them if they can guess what it is and what color the dye is.
Sometimes some will guess it - beetles!
Before we dye, we watch one last video about the cochineal beetle. They eat it up - literally!
OK - no actual beetles are eaten in the course of my merit badge class, but the boys will never hear the term 'bug juice' in quite the same way.
If you want to dye with natural dyes - save yellow onion skins in an open container (so they dry out). Use about 2-4 handfuls in 3 cups of water. You can buy the Procion MX red dye on Amazon. Two teaspoons will make a brilliant red dye. It's harder to find the actual beetles - but a quick internet search will provide some vendors.
After today's class, the parents arrived promptly to pick up their Scouts. As we were wrapping up, filling out the blue cards, and cleaning up, one Scout was overheard saying "I can't believe it's already been four hours. It seems like it's only been an hour and a half."
I wonder if any of them will pursue a career in textiles after today's class. I will likely never, ever know. But I'll continue to wonder just the same.
P.S. My personal goal is to move the Textile Merit Badge up in the popularity rankings. It ended up in the bottom quartile last year at slot #92. I hope to push it into the 80s this year, or maybe next year.