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Right off the bat, let me go ahead and answer the question I get asked the most during my workday as a historical interpreter at The Farmers’ Museum of Cooperstown: the bathrooms are in the carousel and down in Bump Tavern.

The answer to the question I’m asked the second most: it depends, really, but weaving your own fabric takes longer than a trip to Walmart.

Me with our oxen-in-training Rye and Barley.

Call my retreat into the 1840s a mid-life crisis triggered by the pandemic. After years of laboring as an alumni magazine editor (who writes the occasional book), I realized that I was no longer merely unenthusiastic about going to work. I was burnt-out. One small side effect of 18 harrowing months was facing my own exhaustion.

I’d dreamed about working at The Farmers’ Museum since my almost-grown kids were toddlers. We’d take the 35-minute drive from our house to the museum to ride the New York State carousel or hang out with baby animals or wander around historic houses.

The goal of the place is to capture 19th-century rural life in upstate New York and to demonstrate the trades of the time. There’s a printer’s office with cases of loose type and a pharmacist’s counter with a jar of leeches. Hearth cooking is done all day in the farmhouse, where mornings are spent churning butter made with milk from the cow not 15 feet away. 

Interpreters give life to the jobs as they talk about the hows, whys, and wheres of any given craft while doing the work. For example, the blacksmith can tell you all about making metal tools, then hand you a nail he just made. (Or maybe not that exact one, because it’s still hot, but you get the idea.)

An interpreter, however, isn’t a re-enactor. We know we’re in 2022. While I do wear historic garb, I am very much aware that the internet exists. Sometimes, the best solution to a 19th century problem involves Google.

Because I’ve spent a decade or two knitting and have dabbled in spinning, I work with textiles. My main role is explaining everything from sheep shearing to flax scutching as well as the difference between a fancy weaver and a farmwife. We can talk about natural dyes, if you’d like, and I have plenty of sample hanks hanging on the wall.

One perk has been a crash course in weaving, taught by a man whose knowledge of the craft is both vast and deep. I’d say he’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know—but that would imply that he has forgotten anything, and I’ve never seen evidence that’s the case. I walked in the door last fall not knowing my twill from my overshot. Now, I work with relative confidence on a room-sized loom from 1790, which should be marketed as a hot new aerobic endurance event, especially in July.

If we make something that turns out well, like this overshot pillow cover, it goes into the shop.

If you are the right sort of nerd, this is the best job ever. And, oh my friends, I am that nerd.

This loom is from the 1790s, and I’m weaving a simple cotton towel.

My time in the 19th century has been (and continues to be) enlightening. 

My view from the loom.

Occasional visitors insist life was better/easier back then, and I do my best to inform them otherwise. Most people worked sun-up to sun-down. Only a slice of the population could do something as benign as own property. There were no antibiotics or showers or refrigeration. While the 21st century has its complications and frustrations, the increased odds of making it out of childhood make them worth enduring.

That nostalgia for an imagined past doesn’t surprise me, though. What does shock me is how many people don’t know much about cloth. When you spend so much time hanging out in fiber-y spaces, you assume just about everyone knows how wool becomes yarn. I’ve blown countless minds by taking a tuft of wool from fleeces from museum’s very own sheep, teasing it out a little bit, and spinning it with my fingers into a very strong thread. When I demonstrate how the spinning wheel does the work faster, I can almost see the moment they get it. 

I know it’s wrong to giggle when I talk about an oriface hook, but here we are.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it’s a huge ego boost. I feel like both a great teacher and a great spinner. Let me assure you that I am merely adequate at both.

Spinning is my default project when there is a steady stream of visitors coming through and I have to balance conversations with the work. When it is quiet, I devote my time to translating lace collar patterns from an 19th-century pattern book. Ultimately, one of these collars is destined for my very own dress. It’s slow going. Printers of the time were absolutely awful at proofing knitting patterns and my book has no pictures to guide the way. So far, I’ve found a dozen different ways to make an ugly clump of linen.

Which is fine. My main reason to exist is to explain as coherently as I can how we used to make cloth and clothes—not to churn out lace collars and sellable yarn—and to blow a few minds along the way. 

And, of course, to let visitors know where the bathrooms are.

About The Author

Adrienne Martini, the author of Somebody’s Gotta Do It, would love to talk with you about the importance of running for elected office or about all of the drama of holding a seat on the Board of Representatives in Otsego County, New York. Adrienne blogs when the spirit moves her at Martini Made.


  • The Farmers Museum is one of my most favorite places in the world. I’ve visited since I was a little girl.

  • What a nice write up! Life was not easy then! From Yorktown va

  • A loom with a view!
    This was a lovely piece of writing.Thank you.

  • The Farmers Museum is a real gem in this upstate NY town!

  • That museum is a wonderful place to spend a leisurely afternoon, all the interpreters are very gracious with the visitors and it’s very restful and informative. An unusual combination.

  • I’d been up to Cooperstown multiple times throughout my teens through my 30s/early 40s, and never heard of this place. How not???

    • Our more famous cousin (the Baseball Hall of Fame) tends to get all of the attention.

  • Thanks for sharing your passion!

  • I am a re-enacter and the question I get asked the most is “is that a real fire”

    • The folks down in the Lippitt Farmhouse (where there is a real fire) get asked that question all the time. All. The. Time.

  • After reading your piece I’ve put this museum on my bucket list! Love your writing style.

  • This brought tears of happy remembrance from my days interpreting at Claude Moore Colonial Farm, in McLean, Virginia. Spinning, singing, and playing music with the Callethumpian Band. Thanks so much!

  • A wonderful tale, beautifully written.

  • Wonderful article. Visited the museum years ago. Loved it then and I know I’d love it now especially since I’ve taken up spinning and do some weaving on a rigid heddle loom.

  • A storm wiped out our electricity for 4 days in sweltering heat. I have never been so happy to live in the 21st century then when the lights and( mostly )air conditioning came back on!

  • You are living my dream life.

  • Fun article! I live in Upstate NY, and am re-invigorated to visit the Famers Museum with my 9 year old niece! Thank you. Love your writing. ‘m not a great knitter (or weaver), but enjoy MDK’s newsletters!)

  • LOVED this post! I grew up in upstate New York and remember childhood trips to the museum. It is a magical place!

  • Terrific post – full of fun! I have always loved Williamsburg VA and often thought how wonderful working there might be (except for the tidewater summer climate). Your pillow is gorgeous. I would buy it. Not buying a loom.

    • Ha! That’s what everyone says, right before they say “Well, if we threw out the sofa we could fit a loom in the living room….”. Next thing you know you have four of the things.

  • What are great article. Thanks. We ARE fortunate to live in this time.

  • Love it! Thanks for writing this.

  • Very fun to read this, adding the museum to my list of places to visit. Accounts like this always make me think of a book I own “The good old days- they were terrible!” I recommend it to all of you.

    I recognize Adrienne’s name from her book Sweater Quest, but her new book sounds very compelling indeed, given the times we live in.

    • Live the Farmer’s Museum. I want to get there this year (after HOF induction!!) Many women in our family who lived the “good old days” said there wasn’t anything good about them. But I enjoy knowing what progress we’ve made! I loved all the articles Adrienne.

  • I’m so happy to hear you are living your dream. Sounds delightful.

  • So glad for you that Loom Wrangler was hiring and not Jar of Leeches!

  • What a cool job. I need to see this place.

  • Wow, thank you so very much for including this article within MDK’s newsletter! I love the past and know a lot about it, but many people do not have a slightest clue – yet they should be aware of “where we all came from”. A visit in this museum with this guide should be a required piece of curriculum of high school education…
    This place just made it into my bucket list!
    …thanks again…

  • Thank you for your vivid depiction of a day in the life of. My husband took his 93 year old uncle for a drive last week. Not their usual way to spend a day together. They went from Schenectady to Cooperstown and drove around the lake. I heard about the trip, mostly my husband’s surprise about the unchanged nature of Route 20 and how little it’s changed since his days taking the bus to and from college in Oneonta and how rarely he’s been out that way since. Hearing about his visit made me want to head to the Farmer’s and the Fenimore Museum. My burning question would be about what kind of a loom to get to weave rag rugs on? Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to take a trip out your way before the summer ends. Best wishes on those mistake strewn patterns.

  • If you’re in the South, the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (not far from Lexington, KY) is a wonderful place to see many of the same activities. Spinning, weaving, blacksmithing, printing, probably more since I last visited. A beautiful place to spend a day out.

  • Congratulations! You’re inspiring! That moment when everything clicks and a person suddenly understands how they can make something is magic!

  • Loved reading about this. Thank you.

  • When I was in high school, back in 19-tickety 5, I dressed in period costume and gave tours at Dey Mansion in NJ, where George Washington stayed and planned strategy during the Revolutionary War. A fiber artist came and taught us how to card and spin wool, and some other fibers, on one of their original spinning wheels.It helped plant a seed in me, and fueled my desire to become a knitter. As an artist, I put it off for some years, thinking I already spent so much time and money on art supplies, but the urge to feel those fibers running through my hands couldn’t be denied.

  • a reluctant teenager accompanied grand parents to Farmer Museum on an early spring day when oxen in training ducked out of their yoke and ran off bucking and farting. The flax scutching set off a life long entrancement with bast fibers. Your job and participation are important.

  • Would love to visit the Farmers Museum some day. Thank you for sharing.

  • I’ve never visited (I’m in Ohio), but now I want to go and I hope you’ll be on duty!

  • This takes me WAY back when our extended family owned a home in Cherry Valley. We would escape the Texas heat and marvel at how life was in the 1800’s. Rosebooms and Swinnertons were generations gone from the area. My sister was chased by the geese at the Farmer’s Museum and I remember the “Stone Baby”-such an oddity! Thank you for this article!

  • I was a volunteer interpreter at a similar museum in Wisconsin. It was so much fun. Sadly I wasn’t able to do any craftwork beyond showing kids how to hand-sew quilt pieces.I really wanted to do some knitting but I was assigned less desirable tasks since I was only part time.
    I did learn to bake a mean rhubarb pie in a cook stove, and it took every ounce of control I had to not sneak a piglet home in my pocket!

    • Was that Old World Wisconsin? It sounds spectacular, much like this Farmers Museum.

  • That is a great woven pillow and it amuses me because the picture make me feel like I need new glasses or that it’s one of those magic pictures that you have to unfocus your eyes to see.

    • Some of the 19th century overshot patterns get super-duper psychedelic

  • What fun! I had completed my Masters in education when I learned of the “dream” degree a double Masters in history and library science. One of the selling features was to be able to work/manage a historical museum. If it had not been 60 hours I would have jumped at the chance. Thank you for a delightful article.

  • I really can relate to this article. I am an interpreter at Upper Canada Village in Canada and work in the McDiarmid House, showcasing wool, sheep, spinning, dyeing and weaving in the 1860’s. I also work on a 250 year old loom that could be a room (in fact, I often interpret it that way – just hang bed curtains and voila – privacy. I usually have my visitors hand-spin yarn with their own hands. Such fun and magic happening

  • Lovely writing, and what a great job! Thank you for sharing this.

  • This article was utterly engaging! Thank you so much for the work you do to teach us about our past and make us appreciate our present, even if just a little bit.

  • Love the beautiful pictures of the sheep and dazzling woven cloth. When I first fell in love with knitting I tried to convert everyone to it, but the weavers were staunch and resistant. One woman I met in the bathroom line at MS&W (where you had time to hear someone’s complete life story) laughingly told me about her loom addiction, which I found a bit alarming, especially since she already had ten of them and was that very day in the market for a room-sized loom. Now I get it.

  • I love this! As a child, I learned to knit/spin/weave at the Hancock Shaker Village. As an adult I was a fiber skills renactor (Spanish period) in St. Augustine, FL. May you spark a life long passion in a child near you

  • I love that you’re doing this, that visitors are learning some things that are fundamental. I’m grateful for modern conveniences, but more people need to know about how things are actually made and how they work!

  • Wonderful article. I loved reading about a positive reaction to our past couple years of angst. I’ve been an interpretive volunteer in the redwoods and know how rewarding that aha moment can be. It’s great that you can share your passion and learn from a master weaver at the same time. Win-win!

  • Probably around 10 years ago I spent an afternoon there and spent about an hour with an elder woman who was prepping and spinning flax thread on a standing wheel. No one else was interested and I sat with her for an hour as she talked about processing and spinning flax. It was fascinating and she was lovely and so knowledgeable. So much labor went into making cloth. Even as someone who works with fiber I really didn’t have the knowledge to appreciate the process. Instill think about that afternoon.

  • I have to add to all the other comments of praise. I LOVED THIS ARTICLE! 🙂 What great pictures too. Reading this was a great way to start out the day. I’m still smiling. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • I’ve been to that museum, many years back. It’s simply fascinating, and I loved it! Love hearing about how much you’ve learned while teaching others as well.

    I went to a local historical site a few years back and one of the women was using a lucet to make cord. At the next MD Sheep and Wool festival, I was ecstatic when I came across Stephen Willette deomonstrating his lovely modern-day versions. Guess who has one now?? Old crafts are indeed addictive.

  • That sounds like a dream job! My family visited the Farmer’s Museum a few years ago and had a splendid time. Hancock Shaker Village, just across the border in Massachusetts, is closer so that’s where we usually go to get our baby animal/historical reenactment fix. I hope to volunteer there one day, when the kids are grown and I have a bit more time.

  • Great article!

  • OHHH you just suggested my dream retirement job! Thank you for the lovely article.

  • Thank you for sharing your dream job with pictures! If I ever find myself in New York I would love to visit.

  • I’ve listened to and followed you in the Another Mother Runner world for years–how nice to see you here! I didn’t know you were a knitter and textile artist!

  • I really enjoyed this article!

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