County Fair Results

I love the *idea* of the county fair. As a mom, I don’t love the execution of it. Maybe I’m a spoil-sport. Maybe I’m stuffy. I don’t know. I just don’t really enjoy it. We live in a TINY county, so if my kids enter anything, there’s a VERY good chance they’ll get at least one “blue” ribbon. But since EVERY entry gets a ribbon of some sort, I don’t even think that’s a big deal. They do though, and that’s why I do it.

I’ll do 4-H first. I was a “bad mom” and DIDN’T take pictures of the Cloverbud ribbons. They’re strictly participation. No judging at all. They’re green and pretty. And that’s it. Sariah participated in three 4-H clubs. Here’s her projects:

 

In Leatherworking, she got the 2nd place Champion Ribbon (the red rosette) for her dragon purse (and they didn’t award ribbons for the rounders). In Art, she entered her entire sketchbook, featuring the phoenix. And for hiking the leader had each child put together a scrapbook of the photos they took on their hikes.

Ribbon identification for Open Class: White = C Award (participation ribbon), Red = B Award (better than C, but not top quality), Blue = A Award (top quality, eligible for competing for the purple “Champion” and lavender “Reserve Champion” Rosettes).

And now, our Open Class entries. First up, the LEGO creations.

Left, we have the original “sunken ship” creation, by Sariah, age 10yo. Center is the mishmash Pirate Ship, Dragon, and Rocket/Space Ship (from instructions on the LEGO site) by Kent, one of the twins, age 7. Right is the DUPLO “Playing house with the twins” by Erik, the other twin.

Next, we have the watercolors:

Top left is called “Bookshelf and Toys” by Erik. Top Right is “Blackie the Midnight Horse” by Samantha, age 5. Bottom left is “The Dragon” by Sariah. Bottom right (this one I was most impressed with, because of his drawing ability before painting) is called “The Dragon Car” by Kent.

I want to add a sidenote here to state a disappointment in our county fair display and organization. The watercolors were NOT all in the same section, even though they were supposed to be. One was found in the middle of photographs, another was in the oil paintings, and the last two were where they belonged with the watercolors. When we dropped everything off, they were ALL placed with the watercolors, so I have no idea how that separation happened. It was odd, but okay. My REAL disappointment came in the fiber arts (knit, crochet, embroidery, quilting, and weaving). The displays were set in tables about 20 feet long by 3 feet wide (with a “wall” behind the 3 feet section). There were two full lengths of table for the art. When you went around the corner, you got to the fiber art. There was one FULL length of table covered by quilts, pinned to the wall hanging and displayed on the tables. NONE of them overlapped more than about 8 inches. When you turned the other side of the aisle, there was ANOTHER 15 feet of quilts, displayed similarly, with nothing overlapping more than 8″. Then there was the embroidery, very prettily displayed, not overlapping. Then the weaving. They folded my blanket to 8″ wide pushed it against the framed embroidery/needlepoint on one side and the knitting on the other side, and stacked my daughter’s entry ON TOP of the blanket so you could barely see it AT ALL. Then there was the knitting on the end, prettily displayed and easy to see. And my daughter and I had the ONLY weaving entries, there was NO competition and it was visually obvious they didn’t really care about them at all, based on how they were displayed compared to all the other fiber arts.

Here’s the photo of the weavings:

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So yes, I won the “Grand Champion” for the category. But considering I was also the ONLY entry for the category (children are in a different category than adult entries) it doesn’t mean much to me.

I’m now contemplating the idea of entering the state fair (which in our state is divided between the east and the west state fairs) to see how my weaving compares to others. It’s hard to “judge” a project with absolutely NOTHING to compare it to!

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How to Weave (the VERY Simplified Version)

1) Decide what your’e going to weave. This is NOT simple! Good luck. For this example (with the photos) I chose a baby blanket I found in a Handwoven magazine. I decided to do it “as written” EXCEPT I decided to do enough for two blankets instead of just one. And that requires lots of calculating, to make sure you’re going to have enough yarn in the right colors to make it all work. (See, homeschool is EVERYWHERE in life!) The draft I chose is “Sweet Honey in a Waffle” Baby Blanket, available for purchase here:  https://www.interweave.com/store/sweet-honey-in-a-waffle-baby-blanket (NOT an affiliate link) This is an 8 shaft, 40″ wide draft, so requires a large floor loom. The loom I planned to use for this is a 60″ Didier Schwartz countermarch loom, built in the 1970’s. And no, looms of this size don’t come inexpensively.

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1) Wind the warp threads. This blanket is made from 8/2 cotton yarn from the WEBS company. It required 960 warp threads; half were “Turquoise Green”, the other half the variegated “Baby Pastel”. I wound them in 10 sets to make it easier to keep them straight. My toddler was amazingly a great help with the vertical warping mill. (Admission: the yarn on the warping mill in the photo was a different project; I couldn’t pull a decent still shot from the video of my toddler helping and I ONLY had video of that project on the warping mill.)

2) Thread the reed. I threaded this reed with 2 threads per dent. And the close-up photo shows where I missed a dent and had to rethread about 50 threads to fix it.

3) Thread the heddles. Every single thread needs to go through a separate heddle in the correct order and position to make the pattern on the loom.

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4) Tie up the treadles. On jack looms this isn’t as big of a deal but on this large countermarch loom, it’s quite an adventure to get it done. It’s always nice when I have a willing helper, especially since I’m not exactly small and I have to be INSIDE the loom to do the tie-up properly.

5) Tie the warp to the warp beam rod, wind it on, and tie the other end onto the cloth beam. This is an adventure keeping the threads straight, especially since it’s 40” wide and I wound 4 yards of yarn for this project (enough for two baby blankets).

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6) Weave a header (yellow in this project), check for errors, and start weaving! This project used two shuttles, switching every two passes of the shuttle to make the honeycomb/basket weave effect.

7) Measure as you go, to make sure your project is the size you want it. I was aiming for (mostly) square. Since the warp is 40” wide on the loom, I measured a ribbon 40” long to act as my guide. The wood “stick” on the top is called a weaving temple. It helps hold the fabric stretched to the proper width, which helps avoid warp breakage and keeps it more uniform in width as you weave (very helpful with over a yard of fabric length for the project).

8) When you’re at the “end” cut your project off the loom! I only wove off half the warp before cutting off the first blanket. I’ll retie the warp to the warp beam to weave the second blanket later. (I was in a rush to get it off to be able to submit in the county fair.)

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9) Do the finishing work! This includes fixing any mistakes, wet finishing, hemming, and pressing. For this project, after fixing the mistakes I hand-hemmed the blanket, then did the wet finishing. In the photos, before (on the left) and after (on the right) wet finishing and pressing. There is a HUGE difference between the two, and it’s one of the most important steps for a fully finished woven cloth.

And that’s it. That’s the process of weaving. Except it’s really NOT as straightforward as that sounds. Because nothing is. In the duration of this project, I finished weaving off a different set of baby blankets on the other loom (you can kind of see it in the photos on the left side sometimes); had a baby; wound, threaded, warped, wove, and finished a set of towels for a contest/service project; and went on vacation twice. I started winding the warp while we were visiting family for the New Year’s celebration, and cut the first blanket off (remember, there’s still a second to tie back on and weave) just in time for the county fair the first week in August.

Weaving is awesome, amazing, and time consuming, especially with 6 children. And it’s worth every minute when I finally get to the finished product. This blanket will be my now 6mo baby’s blanket for the next while, until it gets too cold. I’ve got another set of blankets planned that will be thicker and better for our frigid snowy winters. That is, if I get them woven off in time.

4-H and the County Fair

4-H. The savior and sometimes bane of a homeschool family’s existence. It helps with the dreaded “But what about socialization?” question that gets batted around. It helps my kids make friends and learn to interact and deal with others that aren’t their siblings. And really, it’s generally a LOT of fun… for the kids. But for mom? Not so much. Keeping the calendar straight is difficult for me. Making sure their projects are done on time, they’re attending the meetings, scheduling around 4-H events, getting their demonstrations ready with them (my kids are NOT natural spellers, and can misspell the same word three different ways in a single paragraph), and everything is stressful for me. And then there’s the dreaded record book. I get it, I really do. Keeping a running record of things, tracking your progress, completing records, it’s all important. BUT… These are kids we’re talking about. Which means mom (and sometimes dad) takes the brunt of making sure things are happening with the book.

This was our second year in 4-H. My kids are 10, 7, 7, 5, 3, and 6 months now. The 5 year old has a January birthday, which means she missed the cutoff to join Cloverbuds this year by a couple weeks. But we still had the twins in Cloverbuds, and the 10yo was originally told TWO clubs, that’s it. She ended up in three. But it could have been worse?

We went on vacation the week before judging. Not the smartest idea in the world, but it was a family reunion and family is more important than 4-H. We got back Sunday night at 8 pm. At 9:30 pm, we finally had everything unpacked and put away enough to pull out the record book. I KNEW my daughter still had to finish her “My 4-H story” for the year (or really, start AND finish it). But I didn’t realize how much she HADN’T done that I thought she had. She tried, she really did, to work on it. But she was exhausted. She went to bed around 11 pm after we BOTH dozed off, her with pencil in hand trying to do her goal reports, demonstration reports, and such. She didn’t even get to her “My 4-H story.” We got up at 5:45 am to go at it again, and barely finished “good enough” by 7:45 am. Judging started at 8 am in the next town over.

Judging. It’s apparently always hit or miss on how long it takes. And we’ve apparently missed two years in a row. Last year people told me it wasn’t a big deal if we didn’t get there right at the start, that we could show up any time in the allotted block. We got in around 9 (judging is 8-12) and waited in line until close to 11! People swore up and down that the people who got in before 8:30 were gone before 9:00. So this year I did my darndest to get there as close to 8 as possible. We got in at 8:10. It STILL took over 2 hours!!! We didn’t get done until around 10:30. I was not happy, but oh well. My daughter, on the other hand, really enjoyed showing off her project to her club friends and the judge, so there’s that.

Then there’s the general county fair portion of it all. I’ve really worked hard the past few years to make sure my kids get to enter things in the Open Class portion of the fair. That doesn’t have the age limits and time requirements that 4-H entails. This year they all decided they wanted to enter LEGO creations and watercolor paintings. And of course those decisions were made Monday, AFTER 4-H judging, and the Open Class submission slot was Tuesday from 12-7 pm. So we did our best. Because no matter how good my intentions to get them to do it all year, and choose the best when it comes to fair time, it hasn’t happened yet. LEGO isn’t that big of a deal for me; they just made things and went with it (and of course they had to REMAKE them when we got to the fairgrounds because they’re LEGO and they fall apart when bumped). The 5yo decided she did NOT want to enter a LEGO creation, but wanted to enter a weaving she’d been working on using a tiny 3-D printed loom I had hanging around after doing a Maker Faire booth this spring. So she finished the weaving (really nothing fancy, but I think she did well for a 5yo) and ignored the LEGO fights over who got to use what bricks. We really do need more!

The watercolors were interesting. Some of my kids really dedicated themselves to putting out a good picture, while others didn’t seem to care at all. One child didn’t even finish painting what he’d sketched, so I think it looks odd, but it was his creation and his choice. We found a shipping box from Prime day (yes, I ordered WAY too much on Prime day) and glued their creations to cardboard “mats” to help in the display. I don’t have frames sitting around enough to frame 5 kids’ work whenever they want, especially the correct size for the watercolor paper I had on hand. Cardboard worked well enough.

Loading everyone up to go take everything to the fairgrounds is always an adventure. The 3yo and baby fell asleep on the way, and rather than wake them up I parked RIGHT in front of the open garage door opening to the fair building, rolled down the windows, and had kids take turns sitting with the sleepers while I tried to get EVERYTHING registered. That was absolute chaos. The 10yo wanted to write her own tags, but needed my help to figure out how to do it correctly. One twin couldn’t come up with “names” for his entries (each entry needs a description in case the tags fall off, and the tags identify who it belongs to) but didn’t want me to come up with them for him. And the other two were so excited they were really impatient and that didn’t help much. Overall we had 8 individual tags to write for the kids, plus one for me.

Yes, I entered something in the fair. I worked my backside off to finish a baby blanket I’ve been weaving on my big loom, so I could enter it into the fair. It’s an amazing “honeycomb” looking basket weave double weave that I LOVE how it turned out. I didn’t think I’d be able to get it done in time, but I managed to barely finish it Monday, in time to get it hemmed, wet finished, and pressed to enter. I also added something new with my entry this year, that we’ll see how it goes. I included pictures of the entire process, winding the warp, threading the reed, threading the heddles, beaming the warp, the actual weaving, cutting it off the loom, and doing the finishing work. I also included a small length of the yarn used, because I’ve found most people don’t really understand just how fine of yarn I work with (and I do NOT work with “fine” yarn at all, compared to most floor loom weavers!).

When we went to put the weaving stuff on the tables (my daughter’s and mine), they hadn’t even made a tag for the weaving category (which IS included in the fair book, so it is an official category). There wasn’t a single other weaving entry yet (about 4 pm), so it was confusing for the volunteer helping us to figure out where to put them. I don’t like the idea of winning by default, but it may turn into that.

Before we left, the kids were able to go look at the 4-H displays again, which had been judged that morning, and my 10yo was excited to see that her leatherwork purse (that she did all the tooling on and my husband helped design and put together) had won reserve champion for her category. It’s always fun to see how excited they get at the ribbons! I just need to figure out what to do with them now.

Homeschooling, Weaving, and Life

Thanks for joining me! So what do homeschooling, weaving, and life (especially large family life) have in common? NOTHING ever goes as planned, and if it does absolutely, it’s an amazing thing.

Here’s my homeschool story: When we were dating, my then boyfriend now husband said “I really want my kids to be homeschooled.” I ended up marrying him, and agreed on that informal condition. Except I had NO idea what that meant really for me! I knew I wanted to homeschool. I studied elementary education for long enough to know that I absolutely HATED the politics of the education system here in the US. I was also either always behind or always ahead, and usually bored, in my years growing up in the public education system. But I really didn’t know HOW to homeschool. My husband thought he did. He’s a homeschool graduate, having been homeschooled for all but 1st grade. We learned VERY quickly that there’s NOT a one-size-fits-all in homeschool. I do things differently than his mother (big surprise) and he was convinced her way was the only right way. It caused chaos in our home for a few years while I tried to do it her way and miserably failed, while when I did it my way we did relatively well but it caused stress in our marriage because I “wasn’t doing it the right way.” We’ve now worked through that stress (and yes, I do it my way, and now he sees that it’s working), but it’s pretty much been the course of life. NOTHING went according to my idealized view when our first child was born.

So what was that view? I thought I’d do school at home. You know, buy a nice boxed curriculum set, sit down at the table every day, work through assignments and worksheets, and be done. Everything neat and tidy! There’s even satellite school programs that you can register for (that cost a LOAD of money) that they send you all the materials, your child does the work, you mail it all back, and they do all the review, grading, and mail you accredited completion certificates at the end of the year. Yeah, that’s what I thought I’d do. Not a big surprise for most homeschoolers, that didn’t work AT ALL. Every day was spent with my oldest spending HOURS at the table, crying, because she hated doing her math worksheets and just wanted to read.

I couldn’t handle the stress, so I went searching. Caveat: the things I mention here work for MANY families, including traditional “school at home”. Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it for you! I learned about and tried Robinson Curriculum with her. That didn’t work for us. I learned about the Thomas Jefferson Education Leadership model of education. It was WAY too “unschool” for my husband, and really for me too. I had a hard time implementing all the “parts” and it really was a failure for us. Charlotte Mason didn’t speak to me AT ALL (as much as I love books, reading, copywork, and memorization for everything isn’t my style). The Waldorf method just confused me. Montessori school method was too messy and involved for our living situation (1200 sq ft apartment with 5 kids by the time I discovered that one). I discovered I always have been and probably always will be an eclectic homeschooler. And that’s just fine!

I view eclectic homeschooling much the same as weaving. You choose the warp, the foundation of your homeschool cloth. What’s most important? What are your priorities in homeschooling? What does THAT part look like? For me, I finally realized that what I wanted was a one room schoolhouse approach to education, where everyone could learn together. I also really wanted to have character development an integral part of our school. Yes, the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic are also part of that foundation, but HOW those are achieved is more in the design of what threads go up and down than in the threads themselves.

After you choose the warp, then you need to decide your draft/threading order. That determines what threads move up and down together. And the nice thing is that it doesn’t have to stay the same the whole time. You can change it up mid-warp without ANY issues! I feel like this is the curriculum choices in homeschool. For me, that means the one room schoolhouse approach for conducive subjects (science, literature with family read-alouds for the books, social studies, and character development), with math and reading/spelling on individual levels.

Then there’s the weft. I think, especially having a big family, that is the individuals involved. Changing up the color of the weft (which child I’m working with, or if I’m working with them all at the same time) changes how the cloth looks and interacts. If they are having a tired, off day, it reminds me of the threads breaking (which does happen). And that’s part of life too!

And the last detail is the weaver. In this analogy, that’s me, the homeschool teacher. I have the foundation set up, I’ve chosen the curriculum (draft/pattern), and I’ve got the weft to work with. What order everything fits together, how quickly the cloth is formed, and how it all goes is VERY much dependent on me. If I do nothing, no matter how beautiful the warp, weft, and draft work together, I’ll never get any cloth. And if I try to push too hard and do too much I make stupid mistakes, requiring “unteaching” and redoing things that were done poorly in my push to get results.

So now the large family introduction. My husband and I have been married for 11 years (as of August 2018). We have 6 kids. Our oldest is 10. Then came the twins, who are now 7. Remember the “nothing going as planned”? Who actually EVER plans on spontaneous twins? After them, we got a surprise baby girl who was born before the twins turned 2. She’s now 5. Then two more boys, now ages 3 and 6 months. We also have a 2 year old lab/collie/shepherd mix puppy who is as hyper as that mix sounds. My husband is the director of our local library system (homeschoolers, YES, it’s almost as amazing as it sounds to have a librarian spouse). I stay home with the kids, doing school, household management, and medical management. I’ll leave the medical management for another post. Lets just say NOTHING here is as simple as it seems it should be. And I’m a jack of all trades when it comes to crafting, but I absolutely LOVE weaving! It’s complicated and simple, monotonous and exciting all at once. And isn’t that the way life should be?