Pasto Ag Museum to focus on natural fibers at Oct. 26 open house

October 22, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The fourth in a series of fall open houses at Penn State's Pasto Agricultural Museum will feature natural fibers and historical textile making from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 26.

Special guests from local craft guilds will share their expertise and demonstrate spinning and weaving techniques, according to curator Rita Graef. Members of the State College Weavers Guild will exhibit traditional methods, and Centre Spinners will bring spinning wheels and hand cards to show the old-fashioned way of preparing wool to spin.

Families visiting the open house are encouraged to try their hand at spinning with a drop spindle, weaving with a heddle loom or designing a quilt square design. "We also will be using our 'rope walker' to turn sisal fiber into heavier rope," Graef said. "The pieces will be just the right length to take home as jump ropes."

The history of harvesting natural fibers and using them in clothing and other items of daily use, such as ropes and fishing nets, goes back thousands of years, Graef noted. All cultures of the world have used natural fibers that were locally available to them.

Flax, generally considered to be the oldest natural textile fiber, was found at sites dating back to 5000 B.C. Earliest use of cotton and wool are estimated to be between 3000 B.C. and 5000 B.C. Hemp was cultivated in China in 2800 B.C. Silk is believed to have been discovered by a Chinese princess in 2600 B.C.

"Colonial households planted about half an acre per person of flax for rough linen cloth each year," Graef said. "And girls, starting as young as 4 or 5, typically were taught to spin the flaxen fiber and wool from sheep. The cloth was used locally because the British Empire forbade export of Colonial cloth."

Over time, as ties with Britain were cut and imported cloth became more expensive, furniture makers made spinning wheels and looms for wider use, Graef explained, and town weavers established workshops that specialized in weaving patterned coverlets and larger items.

The Pasto Museum features hundreds of rare farm and home implements from the "muscle-power era," before the advent of electricity and gasoline-powered engines. "By seeing and touching tools and equipment used in early agriculture and rural life, people will better understand and appreciate how early technological developments led to modern-day technologies," Graef said.

The museum is welcoming visitors this fall from 1 to 4 p.m. every Sunday during Penn State home football weekends as part of an initiative to increase public awareness of the museum's collection.

Future open houses will feature the following themes:

--Nov. 2: Forest and Trees (wood and timber).

--Nov. 16 WILD! (with a special exhibit from the Ecosystem Science and Management Department's bird and mammal collection).

--Nov. 30: Annual Celebration and Ice Cream Social.

More information on the museum and its open houses is available at To receive information and event reminders via email, send a message to Graef can be reached at 814-863-1383 or by email at

Operated by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, the Pasto Agricultural Museum is located on the Ag Progress Days site at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, 9 miles southwest of State College on Route 45.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 22, 2014