Wool Week at the Frontier Culture Museum

Wool Week at the Frontier Culture Museum

When we buy new clothes, we usually think no more deeply about the process than going to the store and picking out what looks best on us. But the process was much, much more involved for our ancestors and the early settlers of the Shenandoah Valley. Not only did they have to harvest the raw materials, but they also had to clean them, transform them into cloth, and then transform the cloth into wearable clothing or other textiles. Each year during Wool Week, the Frontier Culture Museum invites visitors to celebrate spring as well as the process of creating useful products from raw materials.

Come to the museum during the week of April 24-30 to see demonstrations and exhibits focusing on wool and flax processing. The stall will be shearing sheep twice a day at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Enjoy strolling the paths in the warm spring sunshine. As an added bonus, you’ll get to meet the new baby lambs.

 

How long will the lambs be lambs?

Lambs are usually born in the spring when there’s plenty of grass to eat and the weather has lost its winter chill. Ewes tend to give birth to one to three lambs at a time. Twins are most common and tend to weigh about the same as human babies. They can usually walk within a few hours of being born! Besides sheep, the museum is home to ducks, goats, pigs, horses, cows, and cats.

What is wool, anyway, and how did people on the frontier harvest it?

Wool is the heavy winter coat of the sheep that’s harvested once a year, often in the spring. While we typically use mechanical clippers now, people from the frontier would use sharpened blades like scissors with the pivot point at the end. A skilled shearer can remove the wool quickly and in one piece.

Do sheep like getting shorn?

Sheep shearing is very much like getting a haircut. During the shearing process, though, the sheep may struggle, and it takes a lot of strength to hold them still and clip the wool at the same time. Sheep shearers should take their time to prevent injuries. Shorn sheep feel cooler for the upcoming hot weather and probably relieved to be rid of their heavy, dirty coats. 

Contrary to picture postcards, sheep are pretty dirty. How do they get that wool clean?

The wool fibers are pulled and teased apart by hand to get rid of dirt and parasites. The wool is then washed and carded. Carding untangles the fibers and stretches it out so that it can be spun. The museum staff will teach you how to perform each of these steps.

How did they turn that pile of wool into my favorite sweater?

Spinners wind stretched-out wool fibers are into yarn, which can be dyed before or after spinning. Next, the yarn is formed into a fabric by knitting or by weaving on a loom. Both the German and the Irish farms have looms and visitors can watch the intricate, time-consuming process of working one.

Flax? What’s that?

Flax is a kind of plant. When it’s harvested, it is dried, deseeded, and retted, which means that the interior of the plant is removed and the rest is split into long fibers during a lengthy series of steps. The fibers are spun and then woven into linen fabric. Though it’s difficult to produce, linen is one of the most durable natural fabrics.

What else can I see at the museum?

The Frontier Culture Museum is a living history museum that will connect present-day people with the lives and histories of those who lived in the past. The walkable museum offers a chance to explore the homesteads of the various people who settled the region from other places. They include farms from West Africa, England, Ireland, and Germany. The museum also offers a Native American village and American farms from various time periods.