This is my backyard fiber festival, and it is, without a doubt, the festival that I enjoy the most. And that's because it's the one show where I get to be a civilian, with no responsibilities or duties. It was a thrill to be on the other side of the booth and to be the idle browser, but what do I do when I'm let loose at a fiber festival? I divide my time equally between the fleece tent and the sheep pens, of course!
In the fleece tent, I was the scribe for the judging. Other than the cold-sweat inducing moment of panic when the judge pointed to a fleece and asked me, "What's wrong with this fleece?"* it was a great experience. The American Romney Breeders Association held their annual meeting and show this year at the Festival, so it was primarily a Romney fleece show. I learned about the old-school lock formation (loose and fluffy crinkles), vs the new-school (tight crinkle crimps), and the impact a little luster can have on a fleece's overall presentation. I've never entered a fleece in a competition, but my takeaway was that any fleece I enter should be ruthlessly skirted, with locks that have great flow: crusty, mucky, felted tips need not apply.
This is Ron Andress, whose natural color Romney fleece won Grand Champion. It was the fleece that I'd secretly decided to buy after the judging was over, so I admit to a little tingle of smug satisfaction, knowing that I'd picked a winner. But that purple rosette was a beacon for prospective buyers, and someone else fell deeply in love with the fleece while I was tallying the scorecards. The buyer was new to spinning and to fiber processing, and I knew that she couldn't have chosen a better fleece to begin her education. Romney roving is what I like to use for teaching spinning, because of its very loose, open structure. It flows so effortlessly that it doesn't just spin itself; it even drafts itself. It's resistant to felting in the too-tight, often sweaty, clutch of a new spinner, and the crinkle crimp twists together easily. I only pouted a little at losing out on the fleece because. as I told the buyer, that sheep is out there eating grass, and growing more fleece right at this moment.
Working the fleece sale was a breezy delight this year, thanks to the hard work of the Festival committee organizers. Honestly. With enough carefully laid out Excel spreadsheets, I think I could rule the world. One of the best things about camping out in the fleece tent is that most of the fiber world moseys in, "just to look," haha. One bright moment was meeting Master Spinner Nelda Davis, the paragon of careful, deliberate handspinning. She bought a buttery, fine Mini Cheviot x Shetland fleece, and she must have seen me drooling a little, because she gave me a handful to play with. I had my Ladybug with the bulky flyer kit, but I had plenty of time working the sale, so I thought I'd see just how fine this fine fleece could go. Threadlike is how fine! I spun the handful of locks onto 2 bobbins, plied that together, and then plied the 2 2-plies. And since it was still only a fingering weight, I wound it around my hand and Andean-plied the 4-ply together into an 8-strand cable ply. I showed it to Nelda later that day, and her response? "Wow, I'm impressed." Well. That was a moment that I'd like to preserve in a bottle. Sadly, I was in such a flustered daze after that that I lost my mini skein.
When I wasn't in the fleece tent, I was nuzzling Shetlands. It was practically a family reunion, with Judi Lehrhaupt, the breeder who sold me my girls, and Jane and Greg Kornhaber, whose flock also came from her. For bio-security reasons, I don't take my sheep anywhere, so when Jane and Greg asked if I wanted to show their lambs, I jumped at the chance. I don't have any experience in showing animals, and I'm not even great about harness training my sheep, so I appreciated the opportunity to learn from experienced shepherds.
The first event was the Parade of Breeds, which is not judged, so it was the ideal time to make my debut as a handler. I walked Hermione, a ewe lamb, and her brother Loki, a ram lamb, who happen to be my Phoebe's niece and nephew. See? I told you it was a family reunion!
The judged events were the following day, and I think Hermione pretty much sums up both of our feelings about strutting our stuff to be judged.
I'm happy to leave the showing to the pros (i.e., those 8-year old 4-H wunderkinds who have the sang-froid of a cowboy and seem to have a psychic bond with their farm animals), and spend my days lolling in the fields with my sheep.
It's Sunday night, and my mind is still abuzz from the excitement of the weekend. Chatting with other shepherds is always so informative, and being with fiber friends invariably leads to ideas for the future. There's a road trip to Vermont in the works, to cruise for a stud (there's really no delicate way to describe this situation). And plans are under way to host a Fiber Farm Day and Fleece Swap. Sound interesting? Drop me a note, and I'll make sure to fill you in on the details.
*My answer: "Dirty, and...uh, short?" Correct answer: "Tips are too tight, and the staple length is uneven."