Friday, June 29, 2012

Colcha Embroidery Material

Miss Abigail has completed the first two levels of the 4-H embroidery project work. The next embroidery level includes the traditional colcha embroidery we saw demonstrated at the museum this last weekend. We have put off doing this next project largely because I didn’t know where to find materials and I haven’t felt confident enough to teach her. I’ve experimented with colcha a little and the stitch isn’t hard to learn, but skill certainly comes in as you try to decide how to break up and fill the spaces in the design. Another difficulty is in finding materials to use. Tapestry wool isn’t as common as it used to be! Coincidently, traditional materials for colcha embroidery were for sale at the museum on this last festival weekend and one of the museum volunteers offered to help Abigail learn the stitch and design a project.

So - we’re set to learn colcha embroidery this next year, with purely traditional materials, no less! I was able to buy a piece of the traditional wool backing, beautifully handspun and handwoven. The picture makes the fabric look a little like burlap, but it is perfectly even and much softer. I understand that the fabric tightens a bit after being washed. This wool thread is also handspun and hand-dyed as well. Traditional materials are not necessary for the 4-H project, but it certainly is more fun anyway. Hopefully, we’ll have a report coming along by winter.

If you would like to know more about this unique Spanish Colonial embroidery, this link gives information along with a great short video filmed at El Rancho de las Golondrinas.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

El Rancho de las Golondrinas

We have been so busy lately that a day together, as a family, feels precious. This last weekend, we took a little time to attend one of the festivals at El Rancho De Las Golondrinas south of Santa Fe. The Rancho is now a living history museum and on certain weekends different areas of the ranch are staffed by volunteers who demonstrate historic skills from the early Spanish Colonial period of northern New Mexico history. Many years ago, we used to live across the highway from the ranch. I took our little boys several times, but they are all grown up now and Abigail had never been. We had such fun! The weather was pleasant --hot, but with just enough of a breeze to make it comfortable. The cicadas were singing and it was truly a lovely day to just wander around and be together.

Some of you may be familiar with Josefina - one of the historical American Girl dolls. Josefina was “born” at this Rancho and the books are based largely on the local history depicted at the museum. So, it was especially fun for Miss Abigail because she has enjoyed the Josefina books.

I particularly enjoyed all the fiber demonstrations. There was lots of spinning and weaving going on and dyeing with traditional methods and material.

Because of my own recent activities, I was especially interested in the demonstration on washing wool with yucca root. It actually works! I knew that the early settlers and local native people used the roots from the soaptree yucca plant to wash with, but I never imagined that it could work so well. The docent pounded the root a bit, then swished it in a pan of water. I saw the dirty wool go into the water and then I watched the grease melt away. It was remarkable. I’m going to try this for myself! Of course the sample was quite small, so we’ll see how it works with a larger amount of wool. It certainly made a great demonstration.

I was also pleased to get up close to the demonstration on Colcha embroidery. In New Mexico, colcha is a form of traditional embroidery. The word actually means a bedcovering, which was a common household item embroidered with the colcha stitch. But the term also is used to designate a traditional piece of embroidery where the the colcha stitch is used predominantly. It is a couching stitch, with wool thread on a wool background using traditional folk motifs. Floral designs are especially used, but stylized birds are also common. Because the wool materials were so valuable, the challenge was to cover as much area on the top of the fabric and not leave much wool on the back - hence, the long couching stitches. The picture shows an antique colcha bedcover acquired at some point by the musem.

In the old chapel is a beautiful altar decorated with Spanish Colonial style art. My interest was the colcha altar cloth and the gorgeous embroidered altar piece to the side depicting San Ysidro, who is the patron saint of farmers everywhere and of this rancho in particular. (read the legend)

Volunteers at the musem were working on a colcha blanket in order to demonstrate the art of colcha embroidery. I enjoyed seeing the method and design worked up close.

There were other fun things to see. Two baby lambs had recently been born on the ranch. There was a sample of yummy bread made in the horno ovens. Willow basket weaving, blacksmithing -- all kinds of interesting demonstrations.

The fabulous antique leather box inside the museum was used as a packing trunk on the old carts that came up the El Camino Real del Tierra Adentro from Mexico. The carts on the grounds of the museum must surely be replicas. Altogether a wonderful day!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Washing Wool

I thought I would show you all what I'm doing that is keeping me from working on hope chest things. This week, I've been washing wool in connection with an upcoming crafts workshop for the 4-H kids next week. The workshop will teach how to felt wool with both the wet felting method and needle felting. I did this same workshop with another 4-H mom a couple of months ago with the kids from our county. We're now going to repeat the experience with even more kids, and probably some adults, at the District 4-H Contests next week. My friend Karen is in in charge of actually teaching the kids how to felt and I am only in charge of teaching some about wool in general and preparing enough material for the kids to felt. I think I have the easier job!

The wool in this particular fleece is beautiful, and very soft! But it has quite alot of what spinners nicely call vegetable matter, so I've had quite a bit of picking and teasing to do. But the fleece was one that my husband would part with - mostly because of the VM. It came off of one of our Shetland sheep. Though the picture doesn't show it well, the color is a beautiful black, charcoal gray, and silver mix with a bit of brown as well. Shetlands are naturally colored and quite variable. I really like all the silver in this part of the fleece. It washed up well and if not for the bits of hay and weeds, I would wish I could keep it myself. But then, I'm starting to think that about all the wool I handle. I think I could become a wool addict! Alas...I'm hoping the children will be willing to pick out the stray bits that I've missed. 
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