Being asked the question, “How do you have time to do all these things?!” is not an uncommon occurrence on our farm. From livestock to gardens, farmer’s market to making gelato, balancing the many layers of endeavors at North Star Homestead can be an adventure in itself.
“But when do you have time for making art?” they ask, noticing the busy lunch hour, the coming and goings of summer interns, and the rigors of growing produce and fresh fish year-round. “Do you ever sleep?”
In the summer I would laugh and reply, “That’s what winter is for,” pick up the dishes and offer descriptions of the day’s desserts. For generations, winter on the farmstead has been the time for mending, planning, and all those projects that just don’t fit into the hectic summer schedule.
In the days of the one-room school houses, school sessions were originally in winter and summer, allowing students to help on the farm during the rigorous spring plantings and autumn harvest seasons. On our farm, the time to “catch a little breath” doesn’t start until November, when the ground freezes solid and there is no more to be done for the gardens until spring. The animals are snug in their winter quarters, and most of the area summer residents have headed to warmer climates.
But in true thrifty farm tradition, winter does not become a time to languish sleepily in front of the fire all day. Heavens, there are so many things to do! So many skills we love to use that we simply can’t make time for in the summer. Yes, there still is the mending and the planning and pouring over the seed catalogue, but the luxury of the slow season allows waiting creativity to curl out of hiding and find expression in a variety of projects, whether it is working on one of my tapestries, crocheting a hat, knitting a sweater, or finishing a quilt.
The work of women’s hands to create functional form (clothing) out of string (and, likewise, string out of fluff) is an ancient tradition stretching back roughly 20,000 years. Pick-it-up, put-it-down projects that did not endanger children naturally leant themselves to women’s occupations, including spinning, weaving, and sewing. Laura Ingalls Wilder tells of her mother working on patchwork quilts during long winter nights, while her father played beloved folk tunes on the violin. Not only were these quilts functional but they also held their own aesthetic appeal.
Working on fiber-related projects in the winter is also a great time for socializing in a season when ice, snow, and freezing temperatures can keep us cooped up in our homes. Quilting B’s were once an excellent way to bring women (and sometimes men) together for a meaningful project embroidered with friendly discussion. Today, knitting groups often serve a similar purpose, bringing friends together over clicking needles—attendants helping each other troubleshoot difficult patterns or learn a new stitch.
Sometimes the demands of winter, however, can push against the yearnings for time with a crochet hook or embroidery needle. The bag of yarn may nestle in the closet for years, piled high with “I’ll get to that later.” Making community time each week for folks to get together and dust off those projects is one way to reconnect with the ancient rhythms of our agrarian past. To facilitate this, at Farmstead Creamery & Café we’ll be staying open late on Thursdays, from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, for “Fiber Nights.” Feel free to bring your knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning, tatting, quilting, sewing, or any type of fiber-related handwork you enjoy. Come when it works for you, share stories with friends, and enjoy having time to do what you love.
“When you do what you love, you can do a lot of it,” is one of my mantras when faced with the ever-present question of how we do all that we do on the farm. But doing it all doesn’t necessarily mean doing it all at once. It reminds me of a conversation at Goddard College, in Vermont, where I did my graduate studies in interdisciplinary arts.
We were discussing the meaning of “rigor.” Some students and a few advisors were vehement that rigor was distinctly tied into daily practice. If one was not working on a tapestry loom every day, then hers was not a rigorous weaving practice. My argument was different, and I based it on the lived experience of farming. Yes, rigor does involve a concerted effort and a dedication of considerable time over a prolonged period, but it doesn’t need to be each and every day.
For instance, maple syruping is a rigorous pursuit. It takes concerted effort—trudging into the woods with taps and buckets, trudging out with pails of sap, boiling for hours, and finally bottling with care. It also takes considerable time over a prolonged period (if it’s a good season, especially). But I can’t make maple syrup in October, even if I wanted too. It has its season, just as one’s art practice can. Attempting to syrup out of season would be about as productive as hosting a quilting intensive in the middle of lambing time. To everything there is a season.
There is something rhythmic and relaxing to drawing weft through warp or looping a stitch one row at a time that is in harmony with the quiet of wintertime. It leaves the mind open to reflection or peaceful meditation. Working with fibers is part of the magic of creating something from almost nothing—a comfy sweater from a ball of yarn—which is not unlike the magic of agricultural life—a thriving tomato plant from a tiny seed or a lamb born from its attendant mother. Each is uniquely creative, and each is valued on the homestead.
Maybe it’s been a long time since you last made a scarf for a friend, or perhaps you are in the midst of finishing an afghan—either way, I hope this winter will bring you joy through relaxing, creative work. Maybe it’s time to pick up something new and learn a craft that has been close to the hearthside for many ages. It’s better than sitting with idle hands, waiting for the snow to melt (or fall). See you down on the farm sometime.
Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. northstarhomestead.com