This is Part 4 of my Homeschooling in France series where I have invited you into our homeschool & daily life in rural France.
Today, come along to a French fibre festival which my family & I recently attended.
La Tonte des Moutons
(The Sheep Shearing)
We set out on a beautiful Sunday afternoon & arrived at a marvelous historic outdoor museum/living history site, the Ecomusée du Pays de Rennes. Our first stop was a sheep herding exhibition which included a flock of tiny Ouessant sheep & a very eager border collie. Originally from the island of Ouessant just off the coast of Bretagne, these rare sheep are one of the smallest breeds in the world (the males are only 19″ high at the shoulder). I have a friend who has a flock & she says that she just “pops” them into the car if she has to take them the vet !
Next, we watched a professional shear a sheep in a couple of minutes (flashbacks to The Thorn Birds for me…). The sheep looked like she was in a trance & afterwards was thrilled to be free of her heavy & dirty fleece.
One thing the French do quite well at their fairs & historical events is actually engage the entire family. There was something for everyone – even little girls who’d rather colour the sheep pink than glue the fleece on it !
She comes by her love of colour honestly – I’m absolutely addicted to colour & people make fun of me because my whole family ends up going out in matching outfits (really it’s not on purpose – it’s just that I have such specific colour tastes & I buy everyone’s clothes!). I found the dyeing demonstration fascinating. The fact that a French dyer would have an English book in her library made me think that this one must be pretty good (& it’s now on my Amazon wish list).
Imagine being able to see & touch so many natural dye plants all in one place ! It was so inspiring to see that one can achieve such vivid colours without synthetic dyes.
Look at those vibrant shades ! These skeins were spun by the lady who dyed them with plants that she had grown & harvested. They included wool, mohair, silk & samoyed (yes, dog fur).
Gaude is french for “weld” & garance is “madder” – I think you can probably guess what the other colours are. This whole experience made me want to run out & buy these plants & substances (cochinelle/cochineal is extracted from an insect) & start dyeing up a storm. But then… we went into a huge tent filled with even more delights ….
Arabella was captivated by the Angora rabbit & talked to it for quite some time until she noticed the lady who had a drum carder on her table. Although she was drawn to it, she was quite apprehensive at first.
When she found out that she could have a try AND use pink fibre – she jumped right in !
The tent was filled with fibre exhibits & experts & enthusiasts. My mother & I were in a fibre paradise… This display featured many types of spindles & other spinning tools. The book is “Respect the Spindle” – in case you’re wondering.
Other fibres were represented as well – here are flax & nettle. I asked the lady at this table if that was the same nettle that covers large sections of my yard & she said YES. Who knew I had a fibre crop growing down in the orchard !?
Her display included a replica of an ancient vertical loom with terracotta weights – she said that it was a type of loom that was used 1000’s of years ago (or at least that’s what I THINK she said – when these ladies got going talking about their passions – they forgot that some of us are still learning their language !) It reminded me of looms which I read about in Elizabeth Barber’s amazing book – Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. If you are interested in anything to do with fibre – this is a must read.
Eventually, my husband dragged us out of the knitting, spinning, weaving, crocheting heavenly tent & we continued on into a typical mid-19th century kitchen/living room in the main house. Those are beds beside the huge fireplace. Both of my kids now want a bed with doors. Everything here is real, no replicas or reproductions. It is all available for touching & looking – I suppose there is no shortage of these items & so no one worries about them being handled. According to a sign on the wall , the people who lived here had 10 children & 2 servants -they all lived in just this room & one above… talk about family ties.
Andrew & my husband, Will, enjoyed the eco-museum too – although they were more drawn to the machines & displays about historic building techniques. What an entertaining & enlightening day !
Interested in seeing the other parts of this Worldschooling in France series? Click HERE