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Felted Rug Class with Becky Walker in the Wet Room

Felted Rug Class with Becky Walker in the Wet Room

Felt is the oldest known fabric used by man. That stands to figure… felt is so easy to make, it was probably first discovered by accident. The recipe for felt, after all, is wool, moisture and agitation. Picture lining a sandal or shoe with raw wool to act as a cushion. Now picture walking around on that wool, smooshing it with every step, maybe sweating on it a bit to add the needed moisture. By the end of a long walk, you’re not taking out bits of raw wool, but essentially a felted sock that fits your feet perfectly. While felting techniques have come a long way, that essential concept of felt making is still the same.

 I sat down to talk with Becky Walker about her adventures with felt making. You’ve seen Becky around the Folk School campus wearing a knit hat, sweater or socks, or maybe on the dance floor wearing her felted name tag. Wherever you may meet Becky, her enthusiasm for her passions – music, dance, good food, good friends, animals and fiber – becomes clear right away. Let’s meet her.

Becky and her felted name badge

Becky and her felted name badge

CC: How did you first become interested in becoming a fiber artist?

BW: Well, my mother taught me to knit when I was a real little kid, I was about seven. I’ve always loved animals, or anything with fur, anyway, and one thing lead to another. I’ve pretty much continued knitting through out my life so far. So I haven’t knitted all my life yet (she laughs).

CC: How did you discover the Folk School?

BW: After I met Steve, my husband. He was a Folk School person and this was one of the first places we came. His son, Able lived over here, and he wanted me to meet Able and his mom. Of course we had to come dance because we were right here. Actually, I had encountered the Folk School in my early 20s in the book Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands. There was a chapter on the Folk School and I thought, “Wow, that seems like such a great place. I’d love to go there!” but didn’t really think I ever would. So the fact that we came here right away was pretty neat, and I’ve been loving it ever since. It was a while before I got to take a class, so anyway, we’d come here to dance and see family.

CC: What kind of fiber arts do you do?

Felted Rug with Woman

Felted Rug with Woman

BW: Well, felt making is what I’ve become known for and I dabble a little bit with spinning. I’m not very good, but I just need to sit down at my wheel and do it more.

CC: Martha Owen, the Folk School Resident Artist in Knitting and Spinning, told me a story about teaching you to spin and you told her you might be more interested in felt making, right?

BW: I told her that I loved her, that I was interested in spinning, but I wasn’t really ready to sit still yet. And so when I said that, she said “Well, you know, there’s this thing called felt making and it’s really active and I think you would like it. Carla is teaching a class here at the Folk School sometime coming up pretty soon and I think you should try that.” So I did.

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Tim Tyndall teaches Soap Making in the Wet Room

Tim Tyndall teaches Soap Making in the Wet Room

When I was a Work/Study in 2011, one of the classes I chose for my work/trade was Dr. T’s Soap Making class. For a total beginner, the class was an amazing introduction to the chemistry and art behind creating your own customized cold process soap batches. Dr. T (aka Tim Tyndall) teaches Soap Making regularly at the Folk School. I’m a huge fan of Tim and his soap… Enjoy our interview.

Checking the temperature of the milk and lye.

Checking the temperature of the milk and lye.

CP: How did you become involved with the Folk School?

Dr. T: About 10-12 years ago, Charlotte Latin School bused their 8th grade “graduates to be” to the Folk School for a celebration where students could choose 2-4 classes over a 2-day period. A parent who had been a customer and attended one of my demonstrations here at the Soap Shed, suggested to someone at the Folk School that they contact me to do Soap Making segments for the Latin students.

The Folk School contacted me and I came down to initiate a soap class experiment. Things went well; the students were pleased; I had fun; and I was asked to propose what regular soap classes might look like for the curriculum. Soap Making classes have been a part of the “curriculum” since then. I guess I have kinda been the “lead dog,” so to speak.

CP: Why do you like teaching at the Folk School?

First and foremost, I have always loved teaching. I have been an educator and administrator at all levels from private high school, community college, and university, focusing in science. I live in Spruce Pine, NC where we have the Penland School of Crafts and taught in Rome, Georgia, home of the Berry School. These schools, like JCCFS and Berea, focus on the goal of helping mountain or rural people marshall their skills and talents from generations of practice towards economic gain and enrichment for themselves, their families, and their communities.

I expected this would be the “Spirit of the Folk School” which I so richly enjoyed my first visit. To be a part of that AND to share some of my self taught skills as a contemporary soap maker is a most satisfying endeavor. I have learned much “Lore” and have a cadre of stories about the history of soap making as a foundation craft in an earlier time and an artisan craft today. I teach because it is FUN and I love seeing my students accomplish things they came to the school thinking they could not do or understand. They surprise themselves and give a thrill at the same time. That’s why I like teaching at the Folk School.

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Discovering Author Valerie Nieman

by Cory Marie Podielski on March 3, 2015

in Featured Classes, Featured Teacher, Writing

Valerie dips her feet in the sand at Pacifica, CA - always close to water.

Valerie dips her feet in the sand at Pacifica, CA – always close to water.

Acclaimed North Carolina writer Valerie Nieman will be teaching The Breath of Life: Discovering and Depicting Characters at the Folk School, July 5-10, 2015. This month brings the release of her second poetry collection, “Hotel Worthy.”

CP: How long have you taught at the Folk School?

VN: Hard question! I don’t have a great memory for dates. Several years ago, anyway. I began by teaching weekend character development classes and then graduated to a week-long fiction session in 2013. In 2014, I taught a weekend workshop and then spent a week taking a woodworking class – my first taste of being a student at John C. Campbell. What fun! I produced two lovely occasional tables, though I had never before worked with any power tools beyond a drill. The Folk School method definitely works.

CP: What is your favorite Folk School memory?

VN: Can I offer a quilt?

The magnificent elm tree in front of the Orchard House. Cracking thunderstorms. The Whipstitch Sisters rocking the house. The coal-smoke smell from the Blacksmith Shop.  “Simple Gifts” sung by a chorus of hungry workers. Purple martins. River cane whispering near the stream. Morning Song. Smiles – always smiles!  Enticing smells of Indian cooking emanating from the Cooking Studio. Cohosh berries – “doll’s eyes” – beside the path. Learning to contra dance. Bees working the gardens.  Creaking floors at the Keith House. The dinner bell. Mist on the fields. The sound of hammered dulcimers. Wild blackberries!

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Leah & Corinna Rose. Image is a video still from a project byl Grace Glowicki.

Leah & Corinna Rose. Image is a video still from a project by Grace Glowicki.

Please join us Monday March 2nd at 7 p.m. in the Keith House Community Room for a free Monday night concert that welcomes Montreal acoustic folk duo Corinna Rose and Leah Dolgoy for their first appearance together at the Folk School.

While this will be Corinna’s first Folk School experience, we are delighted to welcome back two-time student host, Leah Dolgoy and to see how her Folk School mountain musical education weaves its way into her Montreal-based indy-folk project. I caught up with Leah to ask her a little bit about this:

Cory Marie: Leah! We are so excited that you are coming to see us. We’ve missed you! Tell me about your band and what you’ve been up to.

Leah: Corinna and I have been playing together for five years and have been touring together for nearly as long. We’ve recorded two studio albums with a larger ensemble and one acoustic EP that we put together live of just the two of us. We are heading back into studio to record our second acoustic EP at the end of March. I love the direction of Corinna’s songwriting and it’s been inspiring for me to push the boundaries of my main instrument (autoharp) as well as to incorporate my Folk School musical knowledge and training on folk harp into her new material. I think the sweet little Campbellin I made in John Huron’s class last year might even make an appearance on the new record. The Folk School has had such a profound influence on my life and way of seeing the world. I know that this is reflected in the music we play in all sorts of ways. Next Monday, we’ll probably even play a few tunes that I learned in Brasstown and taught to Corinna.

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A variety of meats in the smoker

A variety of meats in the smoker

Charcuterie, a French word stemming from the words chair ‘flesh’ and cuit ‘cooked’, is the branch of cooking devoted to the preparation and preservation of meat products, including sausage, bacon, ham, confit, and pâtés. Originally developed as a means of preservation, prior to the advent of refrigeration, charcuterie has made a resurgence in the local food movement as increasingly more craft eateries are offering local meat products on their carte du jour.

Charcuterie-Trio

Instructor Brian Knickrehm

Instructor Brian Knickrehm

This course is instructed by Brian Knickrehm, Executive Sous chef for the Red Stag Grill at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina. Over the course of the week students learned the basic principles and techniques necessary to cure and smoke a variety of whole muscle meats and sausages, such as bacon cured in molasses and brown sugar, tasso ham, kielbasa, bratwurst, chaurice, bodin, Vienna, and blood sausage.

In addition to pork, the class also worked with local trout to make gravlax as well as duck in the production of cured and smoked duck breast bacon and duck leg confit. A variety of pâtés and liver mousses were also on the menu including a duck foie gras terrine.

The week’s study in the kitchen culminated in a dinner on Thursday night. Those in attendance  were treated with a veritable smorgasbord of smoked, cured, and confit meats composed in a mouth watering arrangement.

Dinner spread

Dinner spread

Luke and Julie in front of the Cooking Studio hearth

Luke and Julie in front of the Cooking Studio hearth

One week is a good introduction to the vast collection of meat curing techniques and applications. Students the class departed with a great sense of possibility. Brian shared many sources for individual study in the production of dry cured meat products and fermented sausages, which take months to prepare.

The next Charcuterie class at the Folk School is scheduled for November 15-20, 2015. If you are interested in learning the art of artisan meat curing then this meat enthusiast suggests you consider this class for your next visit. Visit the Folk School website for more information.

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