Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/1/2015 (2437 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MIAMI, Man. -- Yes sir, yes sir, that wool is indeed three bags full -- as though teacher Elaine Owen has never heard that one before.
Or as though no one has ever suggested she's pulling the wool over the eyes of her Grade 6 students at Miami School.
"Don't tell anyone I'm having fun. Ssshhh," chortled Owen as she surveyed 17 kids working looms, spindles, spinning wheels and drum carders and separating wool with their fingers.
It's a social studies class, but you can barely see the desks for the bags of wool -- yes sir, including three full bags in one pile -- yarn, piles of separated wool, kids following the ways of their ancestors... and, sneaky as only the best teachers can be, Owen has got the kids using science to dye the wool and math to measure it.
Up comes student Jared Friesen. Like his classmates, he's really into wool. Holding up material, he tells Owen with a discerning eye, "This yarn is awesome, but it wasn't grippy enough."
So how do 11-year-olds get this into wool?
Everyone just stands back and watches in amazement as Owen brings in grandmothers, elders and donations galore, said Miami School principal Lise McNair. "Grandmas are coming in to teach the kids to spin," she pointed out.
The Grade 6 social studies curriculum covers Manitoba's becoming a province, Louis Riel, immigration and the railroad, explained Owen.
"What would be a wild idea to teach the kids how to connect with values and hard work? What would everyone be affected by? What does everybody have to have? Food and clothing," she declared.
Owen grew up in and lives in the country. Her late husband came from Pauingassi First Nation -- she knows what it takes to live off the land. "Manitoba has a fibre festival; did you know that?" asked Owen, breathlessly spinning out all the ideas and resources she picked up at the so-named festival in St. Norbert.
People have come from Manitou and Austin to help out. She's had enormous donations of raw wool and equipment. Grandmothers have cleaned out boxes full of yarn and brought them to the school. She's heard back from experts in Wales, Nova Scotia, and even the Scottish Tartan Authority.
As the kids dig their fingers into raw wool and crank century-old machinery to work the wool into usable material, Owen does a teachable moment about the development of child-labour laws, from back in the day when kids couldn't simply put down the wool because it was time for recess, time to get out their spelling books or because they were exhausted.
"People in the 1870s had to make everything," said Owen, whose students have "discovered it takes a really long time to make one outfit."
The wool studies also "get kids connected to the seniors in their lives."
Owen even has a sheep shearer coming to the class in May and bringing along sheep he'll shear: "I'm thrilled out of my socks," she exulted.
Having her class in a former art room, Owen is blessed by a sink, running water and scads of deep drawers in which to stash stuff during other subjects.
Over at the sink, student Lori Steppler was at work: "I'm dyeing the wool I spun. I'm trying to dye it blue. I put in vinegar and water, and in a while I'll put in food colouring."
Bethany Hector used her fingers to pull apart the washed raw wool.
"I'm using my hands picking the wool, getting all the dirty stuff out of it. Feel it, it's so soft. In sheep, there's curls, so you pull out all the curls to make it soft. Our arms really hurt."
But, chimed in Avrey Murdy, "It gives me muscles."
Kezia Swain and William Dyck were operating really gruesome-looking devices straight out of a dungeon scene in The Tudors, wooden cranks and rollers filled with dozens of sharp spikes, on which wool is stretched taut, then stretched some more and some more...
"It's just like a dog brush, kind of," said Kezia.
Not nasty at all, assured William: "We're turning this wool, and turning it into this soft wool."
At Christmas, Kezia made a pot holder for her mom, a stark lesson in how long it took our ancestors to make essentials, Owen said.
Said Kezia: "I washed it and dried it and carded it and hand-spun it with the drop spinner and then I used the loom."
The spinning wheel with all its hooks and wheels and threaded strings of wool just waiting to becoming a world-class tangle looked really intimidating until Jared calmly explained its operation. "When you push down this pedal, it moves this, and this, and then moves this, and you can spin wool. And you can tighten this."
While the wool acolytes are strictly students in her Grade 6 class, students in grades 5 to 12 can join Owen's twice-a-week fibre club -- no double entendres, thanks very much.
She plans to grow cotton seeds in the window planter boxes in her class and may have her fibre club tackle a quilt next year. No ideas yet for a possible major project next school year.
Meanwhile, the students are making scarves, hats, tuques and mittens.
They've donated items to the Main Street Project in Winnipeg and to the Genesis House shelter in Winkler. They've made a lot of items for gifts and donations.
"You may not always have money to give, but you will have time. We have a mantra -- we make one item for ourselves, and one item to donate," said Owen with a mammoth woolly smile.