‘Bringing new spinners to an old technique’ – 4-H Cloverbuds learn the versatility of wool

Betty O’Brien of the Twilight Treadlers sat in the middle of the room at the 4-H building at the Mower County Fairgrounds, a spinning wheel in front of her. Sitting on the floor surrounding her were children aged kindergarten through second grade, members of the 4-H Cloverbuds, who were spending the morning of St. Patrick’s Day learning about wool as part of the Cloverbud adventure program, “A Wool Wonderland 4-H Adventure.”

Using foot pedals, O’Brien adjusted the speed of the spinning wheel as she demonstrated various techniques of wool spinning. The children watched and asked questions as she worked. It was something O’Brien had done many times before. She is one of several members of the Twilight Treadlers who, as they say, are bringing new spinners to an old technique.

“This is the first time we’ve done this with the 4-H kids,” said Rae Ann Peterson, who works with the Twilight Treadlers to promote and teach kids about wool. “These ladies with the Twilight Treadlers come and do hands-on teaching with the kids.. We’re out to promote and bring awareness to wool. It’s a natural renewable resource.”

4-H Cloverbuds learn about the uses of wool.

The Cloverbuds also learned about raising sheep, shearing and cleaning wool, and the many uses for wool.

“There is over a mile of wool in a baseball, and it’s three different types of wool,” Peterson said. “There’s a white wool, a gray wool and a wool that is mixed with cotton. They wrap that around a core center.”

Peterson, who raises Corriedale sheep, said the children’s programs started about two years ago.

“My kids started 10 years ago with showing the sheep,” she said. “As we were doing the fleece shows and my kids were doing the lamb lead, it seemed like we had a whole new area. We’ve had a good response. (The kids) have learned a lot about what you can do with the wool.”

For this event, Peterson brought three orphaned bottle lambs. Volunteering to assist with the program were members of the Van Pelt family: parents Bob and Jodi and 13-year-old son Ryan. The Van Pelts raise sheep on a farm west of Austin.

“The ultimate goal of everything that we’re doing is to teach young kids something that they didn’t know about before,” Bob said. “I think within the lamb industry, the biggest challenge we’ve had is when you say ‘lamb’ to somebody, the first thing that comes to them is that was the mutton they fed to the soldiers back in the Civil War.

Since then, lamb has gotten a bad rap. It’s a great product, it’s a healthy product, it’s versatile, whether it’s the meat or the wool and that’s what we’re trying to promote. Lamb is a very versatile animal.”

Ryan Van Pelt is a 4-H ambassador and is in his fourth year of participating in lamb leading competitions at the county and state levels.

4-H Cloverbuds learned about lambs and wool during “A Wool Wonderland 4-H Adventure.”

“The lamb lead is a show where you take your lamb in and you’ll wear clothing that you made out of wool,” he said. “You’ll take (the lamb) around, show it off, and the judges will ask you about the outfit, like how much wool is in it, and ask about your knowledge of wool. The biggest thing is to promote the wool industry because wool is much more durable than anything else, but people don’t realize how durable it is.”

According to Peterson, there are three primary types of wool.

There is fine, which comes from Merino or Rambouillet sheep, which is primarily used for clothing or any kind of fine wool product,” she said. “There is medium, and that wool can be used for clothing or any other product you want. The spinners like the medium for the elasticity that they can do their spinning with so it’s not just short strands for spinning. Then there’s coarse wool, which comes from the meat breeds, the Suffolk, the Hampshires and the Dorsets.”

The Twilight Treadlers don’t just teach their skills to children. Peterson said they meet once a month at the 4-H building of the Mower County Fairgrounds. It is open to anyone that wants to learn how to spin or gain other wool-related knowledge, such as needle felting and dying,

As for the kids, they never knew learning about wool could be fun.

“You can see it in the faces of these kids,” Peterson said. “(The Twilight Treadlers) are so giving and happy to pass on their knowledge. This is just something these ladies are willing to share and it’s been a good venture. It’s exciting and it’s rewarding.”

Upcoming Wool Workshops

• April 29, 1-3 p.m. at the Mower County 4-H Building

• Aug. 11, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Mower County Historical Society

• Sept. 22, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Mower County Historical Society

• Oct. 28, 1-3 p.m. at the Mower County 4-H Building

• Nov. 18, 1-3 p.m. at the Mower County 4-H Building

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