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Tue., Sep. 1
Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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CANTON - Saturday mornings, for many children, are reserved for cartoon watching and emptying the Lucky Charms cereal box.

For a dozen or so youngsters at the Silas Wright House, 3 E. Main St., on Saturday, however, it was a horse - or better yet, a sheep - of a different color.

“It’s something other than T.V., computers, and video games,” said Sandy V. Von Allmen, a shepherd from Norfolk, who, along with Holly R. Scott, Norwood, were teaching youngsters how to card and spin sheep’s wool.

The event was the third in a series of free, monthly educational programs for kids age 4-10, according to J. Susanne Longshore, collections manager for the St. Lawrence County Historical Association.

“Our theme for the spring is From Sheep to Shawl,” Mrs. Longshore said. “Though more commonly known for dairy farming, St. Lawrence County’s first agriculture, historically, was in wool. For the first sixty years of this county, through the Civil War, this is what people did.”

For the past several months, children have participated in the process of turning freshly-cut wool into a practical item, Mrs. Longshore said.

“In January, Betsy Hodge, from Cornell Cooperative Extension, brought in sheep and talked fleece. In February, kids learned how to wash and clean fleece with Holly Scott and Kathy Montan, and we did a little felting. Now in March, we’re carding and spinning,” she said.

Next month, participants will be dying the wool with Kool-Aid, before turning it into a small, wool shoulder bag in May.

“The idea is,” Mrs. Longshore said, “that they’ll eventually weave something small out of it, so we’ll have a finished product.”

Mrs. Scott, a self-proclaimed “fiber fanatic,” is a high school English teacher at St. Regis Falls who began knitting when she was five.

“With kids today, it’s all about instant satisfaction. I think this teaches them patience and improves their attention span. I feel we’re sort of losing that. I’m worried about losing those worthwhile skills,” she said.

“It’s also nice for them to be able to go down the road and know a little bit about the farm,” said Mrs. Von Allmen, who works daily with 50 ewes and 61 lambs at her Norfolk farm.

Enjoying the program Saturday were Andrea Newell, Canton, and her sons, Noah A., 9, and Julian M. Newell Dodds, 7.

“It’s important for the kids to be well-rounded and to have a wide variety of life experiences. This is a practical skill that they may never use, but they’re comfortable with it,” she said.

“It’s also one of the few things, other than television, to get up and do on a Saturday morning. We’ve been coming to this program for a couple of years now, and they’re always ready to hop up and go. It’s encouraging,” Mrs. Newell added.

Another parent, David J. Monahan, Potsdam, said he had moved to the north country in July from southern California.

“I’m blown away by the amount of opportunities here for children. This brings you back to how your sweater was made. We try to get her involved with as much as possible,” Mr. Monahan said, watching his five-year-old daughter, Serenity R. Stanavage-Monahan, card wool.

“This is just like combing my hair. Snarly,” Serenity said.

Carding is the process of cleaning and smoothing clumps and debris out of wool using two metal-pronged brushes.

After taking turns carding the wool, children used homemade drop spindles they had created out of old CDs and dowel rods last month to begin spinning the wool into strands.

“I never thought it would be possible to do it in this easy of a fashion,” said Noah Newell Dodds, who said he had carded before and could knit. “I’ve never spun before, but I thought the spindle would have to be bigger and more complex.”

He said lessons at school go more quickly and there are not many hands-on crafts.

“We usually do this kind of thing on field trips,” he said.

To learn more about the Second Saturday Children’s Program, or to sign up for the next installment of From Sheep to Shawl on April 14, contact the St. Lawrence County Historical Association at 386-8133 or email

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