5 hobbies to try this winter

The Governor Aiken Bucktail is the official fishing fly of the state of Vermont. This fly was tied by Rhey Plumley. Photo courtesy of the American Museum of Fly Fishing.

By Francesca Olsen

Fly Tying

If you like detail and fine work, this is the one for you. Tying flies is almost like building a ship in a bottle, except the flies can be put to use to attract fish come spring.

To get supplies and lessons all at once, stop by the Orvis Store in Manchester, Vt., for a fly-tying starter kit, which at $189, includes DVD instructions and enough supplies to tie 160 flies. Orvis also sells smaller fly-tying kits for specific kinds of fishing environments for around $100, as well as plenty of precision-oriented supplies specifically made for this hobby.

While you’re in town, stop by the American Museum of Fly Fishing, which celebrates the sport’s heritage and has plenty of eye candy/fly candy on view. The museum’s collection includes more than 22,000 flies, including the oldest ones in existence, which originate in Scotland and England.

Put your handiwork to the test and plan a trip through Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing, which books fly fishing trips and lessons any time of the year. Headquartered in Lee, Mass., you’ll be able to sign up for everything from casting lessons to fishing boat trips.

Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing
Lee, Mass.
(413) 446-5147

American Museum of Fly Fishing
4070 Main St.,
Manchester, Vt.
(802) 362-3300

Orvis Store
4180 Main St., Historic Route 7A
(802) 362-3750
Orvis’ Fly Fishing blog

Learn to Paint

Sure, you could just stay inside watching Bob Ross videos all winter, but don’t you want to learn some new techniques from a local professional?

For those ready to delve deep, IS183 in Stockbridge, Mass. has 22 different painting classes, from finger painting open studios to “I Wish I Could Draw” multi-day intensives, and classes range from $150 to $360. Classes also meet across the Berkshires; from March 4 to March 25, “Painting: A Sampler” will meet at Design Lab on Main Street in North Adams, and covers pastels, watercolor, acrylic, and oil.

If you’re just looking to get your hands dirty and explore your visual side—or have a fun, artistic evening — paint and sip classes abound in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont. The Progressive Pallette in Williamstown offers regular themed painting events and private classes. Berkshire Paint and Sip in Pittsfield does the same, as well as focused art classes in acrylics and open studio hours. Manchester Arts Studio and Gallery in Manchester Center, Vt., also offers occasional classes and paint and sip parties.

Berkshire Paint and Sip
305 North St, Pittsfield, Mass.
(413) 205-8346

IS183 Art School of the Berkshires
13 Willard Hill Road, Stockbridge, Mass.
(413) 298-5252

Manchester Arts Studio and Gallery
4479 Main St., Manchester Center, Vt.
(802) 236-0684

The Progressive Palette
71 Spring St., Williamstown, Mass.

Home Brewing

Home brewing is a good way to spend one winter Saturday or Sunday, but it involves some equipment investment. Plenty of companies and stores offer home brewing kits with everything included (a beer recipe and all the equipment a beginner would need). If you have the infrastructure already, you can buy a beer recipe kit with hops, malt, and instructions. Some stores have their own personalized kits they’ll assemble for you if you call ahead, like Beer and Winemaking Supplies in Northampton, Mass.

To brew beer, you’ll need some specialized equipment and lots of time to boil down the mixture and monitor the fermentation process. You’ll also need to have patience, once it’s bottled, it’ll be several weeks before you can drink it (or know if you succeeded).

If beer isn’t your thing but fermenting fizzes your imagination, kombucha, the gut-healthy, fermentation-carbonated beverage, is the ticket. Kombucha kits are available in your average food co-op (Wild Oats in Williamstown sells them) as well as online. Ask a local hippie friend if they know anyone who’ll give you a SCOBY—that’s “Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria,” which is integral to the process. Kombucha making does not involve cooking, and takes up less space than brewing beer.

Beer & Winemaking Supplies
154 King St., Northampton, Mass.
(413) 586-0150

Homebrew Emporium
470 N. Greenbush Road, Rennselaer, N.Y.
(518) 283-7094

Wild Oats Market
320 Main St., Williamstown, Mass.


Got tools for the holidays and want to learn how to use them? Your best bet is to head to the local hardware store and get some advice. If you’re buying wood, ask about what the type of wood is usually used for. If you want to start out small, many hardware stores have basic bird house (or other simple project) kits. Large hardware stores like Home Depot also offer DIY classes, with new offerings every month or so. Make sure you pick up safety goggles!

If you are looking to get handy, the Heartwood School in Washington, Mass., is dedicated to teaching people skills for building energy-efficient houses. The school offers building basics courses, as well as specified courses in timber framing and roof framing.

If you’re really committed to being a hermit this winter, though, there is a YouTube tutorial for almost any woodworking project you can think of, as well as every technique and plenty of machine demos. For project inspiration, take a look at the members on the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild site — local woodworker members range from fine art to bespoke furniture to ukuleles to boat-building.

Heartwood School
Johnson Hill Road, Washington, Mass.
(413) 623-6677

Berkshire Woodworkers
President Jim Law, undermountainjointers@gmail.com


Handmade quilt. Photo: Joe Aidonidis.

“Measure twice, cut once” applies to more than one hobby on this list. If sewing and quilting are completely new to you, start small, with a quilt kit from a local fabric shop like Karen’s Quilting Corner in Williamstown, Mass. or Brookside Quiltworks in Egremont, Mass. JoAnn Fabrics in Pittsfield also has some good beginner options. Karen’s also holds classes, from simple bags to basics to finishing techniques. If you want to go big, you need a sewing machine.

If you can sew a straight line already, try a simple nine-patch quilt block—cut nine squares of equal size, sew into three horizontal lines, then sew the lines together to make a square.

Even if you don’t own a sewing machine, you can while away the hours with paper piecing — download a pattern, cut it out, pin to fabric and cut, then zone out while puzzling together a detailed quilt block by hand. Generations Quilt Patterns offers lots of free templates. Remember that this isn’t a race — quilting is about color, measurement, precision, and craftsmanship.

Karen’s Quilt Corner
723 Cold Spring Road, Williamstown, Mass.
(413) 884-6200

The Scarlett Creation
626 Main Street. Bennington, Vt.
(802) 447-3794

Brookside Quiltworks
2 Sheffield Road, Egremont, Mass.
(413) 528-0445
Free paper piecing patterns

Francesca Olsen is a writer and musician living in North Adams, Mass. She writes for The Eagle, Banner, Journal and Reformer, and other publications.

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