When London, Ky., native Sam Adams fulfilled a dream by moving his family onto his grandfather’s farm near Pleasureville in 1979, he had no idea of the life it would take on in the coming 30 years.
The transformation had its beginnings when his wife, JoAnn, acquired a small flock of sheep and started spinning and knitting the wool into garments for her family – Sam and their son Samuel, now 30 – and eventually, for sale.
Desiring to share her passion for working with wool, the Henry County Middle School teacher opened her home in the late 1990s to offer lessons in the traditional crafts of knitting, spinning, felting, and carding and dying wool. As fleece, yarn, sweaters and spinning wheels began to fill the 1890s farmhouse to its rafters, Sam promised JoAnn her own studio one day.
In 2004 that vow began to materialize when the family acquired the original timbers of the Low Dutch “Six Mile” Meetinghouse that had been built in 1824 by Dutch settlers in the area, disassembled and rebuilt into a stock barn on a nearby farm. With technical help from the Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation and restoration help from preservation specialist Bryant Burke of Burke’s Woodworks in Versailles, the couple mapped, moved and reconstructed the timber frame structure on their farm, within eyesight of its original location near the headwaters of Six Mile Creek.
These days, the Low Dutch Meetinghouse has morphed back into a community gathering spot, a knitting and spinning studio where history buffs can page through the church’s original Sessions Book and folks can research Dutch ancestral information. Each month, JoAnn welcomes knitters and spinners to Second Sunday Sessions in the meetinghouse, where all spend the afternoon plying their craft, sharing and chatting.
Paula Nieto, executive director of the Luci Center, a therapeutic horseback-riding center in Shelbyville, is a regular Sunday participant.
“When you walk into the meetinghouse, there’s an instant sense of peace,” she said. “You can’t remain tense or upset. I had no idea how to knit, spin or work with dyed wool when I first started going to Sweet Home Spun. After a year, I can do all of those things on my own. But I still go to Second Sunday Sessions religiously. It’s how women used to gather to quilt or can; it’s an opportunity to socialize.”
And to shop for hand-knit treasures, spinning wheels and yarn spun from the Adams’ “woolies” grazing nearby. From springtime lambing to fall shearing, Samuel and Sam – the fourth and fifth generation of Kentuckians to live on the family farm – care for their gentle flock of natural-colored, long-wool sheep.
Come March, lambs arrive by the droves on this working farm. Visitors can peek at the newborns in the barn and pet the wooly fleece of its favorite sheep, Luna.
Embracing its connection with history, Sweet Home Spun steps back in time for yearly special events. During Early American Harvest (this year on Oct. 18), re-enactors and crafters set up a camp on the grounds, frontiersmen fire muskets and throw tomahawks, blacksmiths and flintknappers demonstrate traditional crafts, and ladies in pioneer dress cook over a campfire.
On Nov. 22, an early-American Thanksgiving moves inside the cozy meetinghouse for live music, more hearty pioneer victuals and demos of wool being carded, spun into yarn and dyed in a big ol’ kettle.
To celebrate 2009 as the International Year of Natural Fibres (so designated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), the knitters at Sweet Home Spun are clicking away to produce a chunk of what will become the world’s longest scarf, a fundraiser for Heifer International, a nonprofit that donates livestock to individuals in need to start flocks and herds worldwide.
In addition to her free Second Sunday Sessions, JoAnn has just begun teaching fee-based ongoing knitting workshops for groups and individuals on the first and third Tuesday evenings of each month. The meetinghouse is open most evenings and weekends, but be sure to call ahead before you drop in. No matter when you arrive, hostess extraordinaire Luna will no doubt greet you to carry on Low Country Dutch hospitality begun all those years ago.