Straw Into Gold!

with Tom and Joanne Blodgett

Saturday, April 1
11 am – 12 pm (1 hour)
3 pm – 4 pm (1 hour)

Cost: $30

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In the history of textiles, the oldest known fabric is linen; the earliest record of handspun cordage dates to 30,000 B.C.E., which was the fibers of the flax plant hand-twisted into linen thread. During Colonial times, flax and linen were significant commodities of agricultural America; each family was expected to plant and harvest flax for export and importing linen for clothing, toweling, bed coverings, etc.

“Straw Into Gold” is a demonstration of the steps traditionally used – breaking, scutching, and hackling – to extract fiber from the flax plant, spin the fiber into thread, and then weave the thread into linen fabric. The tools used in the program are traditional – and are still used in some parts of the world.

About the demonstrators:

Tom and Joanne began working with flax in the early 1980s when a group of interested individuals – some with spinning skills, others with weaving skills – decided to form a guild in New Carlisle, Indiana. One of the members, a retired Bendix Corporation engineer, offered an acre of his family farm for raising and drying the flax. For several years, Tom, Joanne, their son Ben, and another couple, demonstrated “Straw Into Gold” at the Feast of the Hunters’ Moon, a re-enactment of the annual fall gathering of the French and Native Americans which took place at Fort Ouiatenon (West Lafayette, IN), a fur-trading outpost in the mid – 1700s. When the Blodgetts moved to Jackson, MI, in 1996, they took a sabbatical from raising and processing flax to focus on their careers – Joanne in business and Tom teaching high school science. With their retirements in 2014, they decided to rekindle – and share – their interest in making linen using traditional methods and tools. They have demonstrated at the Michigan Fiber Fest, Sauder Village (OH) Living History Farm & Museum, Tompkins Township (MI) Freedom Festival, and other community historical events. They have also taught classes at Tillers International (a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of people in rural areas around the world) in Scotts, MI.

Joanne, a Cincinnati native, received her bachelor’s degree in “Clothing and Textiles” from The Ohio State University in 1971. She spins – wool, flax, alpaca, llama, rabbit, and silk – and weaves. Joanne also knits, crochets, tats, sews, and basket weaves. While living in Indiana, she worked as a part-time cultural history Interpreter for the St. Joseph County (IN) Parks and Recreation Department.

Tom was born and raised in southern Michigan. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Interpretive Work from OSU in 1972, then received masters’ degrees from Xavier University and the University of Phoenix in education. Tom has worked in early childhood education, 25+ years in natural and cultural history interpretation-environmental education, and 11 years teaching primarily science in secondary schools. Both Tom and Joanne learned to spin and weave at Pine Mountain Settlement School Environmental Education Center, Pine Mt., Kentucky.

In November, 2016, they moved from Michigan to North Aurora, IL, to become full-time grand-nannies for their granddaughter.

“They get you interested in flax even if you’re not interested in flax!”, Mrs. Kris Jemmont, Director of Historic Operations, Sauder Village, 2016.