About 20 years ago, Linda Hall, a Zachary resident, noticed that some 4-H members were clipping wool from their show sheep to get them ready for competition. They were only clipping an inch or two off, she said, and were planning to throw it away.
She asked if she could have it, because she wanted to learn to spin wool into yarn.
“You weren’t supposed to use that to spin, it was so short, but I didn’t know it,” Hall said. “And it turned out just fine.”
Fast-forward 20 years, and Hall sat beside Tracy Flickinger, both spinning away with pedal-operated spinning wheels at the 19th annual Rural Life Museum Harvest Days on Saturday, teaching everyone who stopped at their stations about the practice and answering questions.
Hall taught herself how to spin all those years ago, she said, and spent the intervening years teaching others, including Flickinger, to do the same. Both women use the yarn to knit or crochet gifts for family and friends.
“I try to make (the yarn) as uniform as possible, but it’s not always going to be, and that’s part of what makes it unique,” she said. “I want people to know it’s homemade.”
Hall shows off her fingers, stained dark with homemade dyes she uses to dye wool bundles before spinning them. All the colors in their baskets — ranging from dark blues, oranges, greens, pinks and yellows — are made using plant material.
“Onion skins for the yellow, lichens for the pink, indigo. Even the green things don’t necessarily make green dye,” Hall said. In fact, green was the color she had the most trouble creating from the natural world.
“We ended up using indigo to make a dark blue, then use yellow over it to make a green,” she said. “It took a long time to work that out.”
Meanwhile, just outside the building, Mearl Harville operated the 154-year-old walking beam steam engine, occasionally offering a rope to passing children, which, when pulled, relieved the air pressure built up inside the machine, emitting a lonely, mournful-sounding whistle.
Harville said the engine was brought to Baton Rouge in 1860 to the Longwood Plantation, now the site of a subdivision, and was used to split logs on the property.
When the plantation stopped using the engine, it was parked in the woods nearby, and years later, Steele Burden bought it and brought it to the Burden land, where it was restored to working order and where it stands now.
Using compressed air, “which is safer than steam made from building a fire, and much easier to control,” Harville said, he cranks the engine up for living history demonstrations.
It’s old folk knowledge like this that the Rural Life Museum tasks itself with preserving for future generations, said David Floyd, director of the museum.
The museum operates year-round, Floyd said, but it expected more than 5,000 to attend Harvest Days on Saturday and Sunday, where a slew of artisans volunteered their time to demonstrate skills like syrup-making, candle- and soap-making, blacksmithing, plowing with horses, bow-making and music-making.
In addition to those volunteers, the museum had nearly 100 senior docents and 52 junior docents, many dressed in period costumes.
“We have a great group of volunteers,” Floyd said.
The Harvest Days Festival, which also offered food plates, was held at the same time as the opening weekend of the LSU AgCenter Botanic Garden’s Corn Maze.
The Botanic Gardens also had games for children, pumpkin painting and foods made with corn — popcorn, corn dogs and roasted corn on the cob.