Last Bluebell session at Baulcombes. Marshmallows & felt!

By Flourish project manager Emma Chaplin

It was a sunny, muggy day for the last Bluebell House session at Baulcombes Barn of this project year (which for Flourish, runs September-August).

Sitting outside under the shade of a tree, we began by 'checking in', each person saying how they feel about being there.

We then shared some lovely refreshments. Rhiannan had very kindly brought her delicious fluffy homemade marshmallows to share, including banoffi flavour, coconut ice flavour and pretty pink and yellow marshmallow, rhubarb and custard flavour. We wondered where the word 'marshmallow' came, because it's the name of a plant. Rhiannan thought it related to throat lozenges - and indeed it does. The sugary marshmallow we know derives from the medicinal confection originally made from the marshmallow plant.

There was apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard, and tea for those who wanted that.

Owena explained that one activity for the morning, for those who were interested, was felting. Felt is made out of wool. And felt-making, she told us, is an ancient art. In Mongolia, for example, they make yurts with it, using horses to tread the felt. It's both waterproof and warm.

Owena had a basket of wool from her sheep. She demonstrated 'carding' the wool, then teasing it out into squares (or any shape you want) in order to make a flat, fine shape. You end up with a pile of about 8 pieces, and you alternate the direction of 'threads'. 

She said the method is to place these on a large piece of tarpaulin in a place it's ok to get messy, Then you pour washing liquid over your pile (it's soap that makes the wool stick together), followed by boiling water. You pull the tarpaulin over the top, put wellies on and stamp! Felt is formed when there's been friction, Owena explained. You can also use a rolling pin to do this.

The felt ends up very wet, so you can then put it in spin dryer or whack it on the ground, if you're outdoors, to get the water out.

Also, Owena said, you can make felt pots, by wrapping the wool around a boulder or pebble, soap using a bar, add boiling water as before, then cut it open to make your pot.

Sue, Rhiannan and Di helped make a felt rug, teasing out the carded wool so that the fibres would bond together to form felt. It quickly turned to felt with the boiling hot water and soap and friction from them walking on the mat! It was too wet to take back to Bluebell, so Owena took it home to spin dry and will deliver it to the centre next week. The group would also like some wool to do their own felting at Bluebell.

And for those interested in seeing to the animals, their job was to get the ponies in. They had been moved to the field near the cabin. Owena explained that too much sugar in the grass had been causing laminitis (painful hoof inflammation) in the ponies, so she'd moved them to a field with less rich grass. They'd been struggling a bit with the flies and the heat. Frankie needed a fly sheet to protect his skin.

Some of the group caught them all up to come in the stables for a bit of shade. Frankie's fly sheet was removed, and they were given a drink and some hay.

So the ponies were attended to, the hens fed, including the chicks. Plus we had a look at the two unexpected new lambs that had been born after the ram escaped.

We finished the morning with feedback from each group member. There were comments about having learnt a lot about the animals during the year; feeling more confident handling the ponies and enjoying being outdoors. We all felt sad to end the sessions for this project year, and spoke about next autumn.