Monday, May 09, 2011

The Fiber Building at Landis Valley

Many of my friends are fiber junkies. Trends come and go, so some of them are picking up needles and wheels for the first time during the last decade, while others have it in their blood, coming from families that grow the flax or cotton or fiber bearing animals. I have enough hobbies, so other than a little felting, some macrame and embroidery, I mostly admire the work of others. Occasionally The Essential Herbal magazine runs an article on dyeing or using plant fibers for twine, etc., but fiber is a topic all its own and we don't do a lot with it.
The museum that hosts the herb festival we attended this weekend also has an amazing array of just about anything one can imagine from early American farm life. If I recall correctly, two brothers (the "Landis boys") were basically some hybrid of collector/hoarder - depending on who you talk to. They held on to everything and collected a lot of things that had no apparent value at the time. I know someone like that now, who continues to purchase buildings to contain his vast collection of seemingly pointless stuff, and wonder sometimes if he is a modern-day Landis boy, or if they were viewed in the same negative light he is now.
The building that houses the collection of fiber processing equipment had at one time an impressive dyer's garden out front. Perhaps it was too early in the season, but I fear that many of the dyeing plants have wandered off. Inside, however..... wow.
As you enter the building, you immediately face one of two large, working looms. Another is set up at the other end of the room.
There is an aisle down the center of the room, and to one side, you see a selection of spinning wheels.

Here in Lancaster County, hemp and flax were grown and used quite a bit in the early days. Especially hemp. We have East and West Hempfield townships, Hempfield school district, and a history enriched by hemp.
The demonstration room uses flax and most likely there is a fair flax patch on the farm somewhere. Photo from WildflowerInformation.org, flax is an unassuming plant. It is lovely in bloom and the stems yield a sturdy fiber that we've come to know as linen. Linseed oil also comes from flax.
In this picture, the first object is a hemp wheel, made specifically for spinning hemp. The second object is for flax. Notice the use of the adjective "tow". Now at some point I'm going to have to sniff around and find out if the term "towhead" for one with light-colored hair comes from the hand-processing of flax!
The fibers grow down the length of the stems, reminding me of the long strings that form in celery stalks, except that in flax, they make up most of the thin stem.
They were brushed out with this nasty looking apparatus, and then spun into beautiful, linen which would then be woven into cloth on the looms.


One of our friends spent time watching the blacksmith and plans to take some classes now.
Seriously, Landis Valley Museum is a gem. Visit if you're in our area, and if you've living here and would like to volunteer, they can use you!


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