mid-may brought to a close my nine-week tenure at the john c. campbell folk school in the north carolina mountains. i already discussed how living in nature became an integral part of this experience. the main reason i went to the folk school though was to learn and practice craft – the topic of today’s post!


the work study program that the folk school was set up like this – i worked on the school garden-mini-farm for six weeks, in exchange for three week long classes of my choosing, plus room and board for all nine weeks. i love work exchange programs because they operate in an alternative economy – you pay for your services in manual labor, with no exchange of money involved. it was pretty interesting to live essentially without money for a couple months – i only used money off campus buying extras like beer.

i went into the program thinking i wanted to study fiber arts, because i love sewing and am interested in turning this hobby into an income-generating craft. but wood kept coming up. my first week at school i was assigned to a carpentry project, building raised beds. i really enjoyed it and learned how to use some new power tools too. i grew up with woodworkers – my mother and grandpa – and took shop im high school, so carpentry comes naturally. then i met a local chairmaker, who generously offered to take me in as a student outside of my school duties/ in my free time. we made a chair together using “greenwood” techniques, literally making a chair from a giant oak tree start with splitting the wood and ending with whittling pegs to hold the back slats on. i was so in love with wood after my first couple sessions with my mentor, that i decided to switch my focus at the school to woodworking.


i kept one fiber class though – quilting – and i’m so glad i did. my instructor was amazing, and has become a friend. she taught me simple string patchwork and it just clicked. i had the sublime experience of making my first quilt – i transformed pile of scrap fabric first into squares, which i then arranged and arranged until i was satisfied. i sewed my squares together to form the top, cut my batting and backing to fit, quilted it all together, and finished it with binding. entitled “first quilt, with laurel” – a scrappy string patchwork quilt. i did most of the work on my little second hand singer, which was awesome! i really enjoyed quilting and have already started work on my second quilt.


on thursday nights throughout my session, our group met with a local woodcarver for informal lessons. the lessons were social and enjoyable, but carving figurines isn’t something i’ll stick with. i did make this owl, and a little chicken as a gift for my boss at school.


my second class was “rustic twig chairs” and was the exact opposite of the chair work i had been doing outside of school. making rustic furniture is purposefully imprecise, but still takes power tool and building know how. i had a great instructor for this class, and made this beautiful rocking chair.


i loved picking through logs and piecing together sticks and planks to give my chair a unique aesthetic. i hope to make more of these rockers as gifts in the future.


the last class i took was a shaker furniture class where we made these little side tables. they look simple because they design is streamlined, but thus class was extremely challenging and qualifies as fine woodworking. we made measurements to the 1/16th inch with razors instead of pencils! the table is cherry and features a drawer with dovetails joints that i cut my hand with a chisel. I love the elegance and focus on the beauty of the wood itself. my long term goal is to make a second and eventually a bed frame to match, so we can have a whole bedroom set – that would be a family heirloom! but cherry is expensive so this will definitely be a long term project.


all the classes i took at the folk school were high quality and i learned applicable skills i can take home and practice. i didn’t expect to fall so in love with craft during this experience, and am now thinking i would like to incorporate woodworking as a possible stream of income in the future. i’m not quite done with my greenwood chair yet, but will post photos of it with a write up when complete.

in closing i wish i had learned of work exchange programs when i was younger, especially during my formative years. it’s a great way to gain experience and real world skills without having to pay money for a silly piece of paper.

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