Monday, May 31, 2010

Sheep and Wool and Yarn - Oh My!

This is Hope, a really lovely shetland sheep that, along with her very polite and poised young 4-H owner, I had the pleasure of meeting this weekend at the Massachusetts Sheep and Wool Festival. And, let me just say, if you had told me ten years ago I would ever attend such an event, let alone find myself fawning over a SHEEP, I would have been appalled at the very idea. I would have thought it was a terribly old-lady sort of thing to do.

As I've discovered though, middle age has this way of sneaking up on you, so on Saturday I donned my hot pink Keds and piled into my friend Heather's car for a trek across the state to see some sheep and buy some yarn. And a grand time was had, although let me just say: those venturing to the western part of the state should really visit your local ATM first, because they are few and far between out there. I learned a little about sheep, including the fact that there are many different breeds, and that some of them can be the size of a pony. I also learned that trying to not step in sheep poo at a sheep festival is just a lost cause; I was glad I left the flip-flops at home. And I was beyond impressed with the 4-H kids, all of whom seemed to be so smart and responsible and took such wonderful care of their animals. Mostly, though, I was overwhelmed with all that these animals give us. I don't mean to get maudlin, but really: between their milk and their hair, not to mention their general cuteness, these animals give us so much that it's hard to believe there isn't some grand plan in place.

But you are here for the yarn, and let me just say: there was a lot of it! My favorite thing about this festival was the number of small yarn producers, many of whom use locally-produced wool and natural dyes and turn out impossibly wonderful products. Here's what came home with me:

1. Sock yarn from Sliver Moon Farm. Normally I'm not a big fan of green yarn, but for some strange reason this colorway grabbed my attention right off the bat. It's called "It's For Me", and as I was paying the lady exclaimed, "That's Lori's yarn! She dyed that!" I laughed and said, "My name is Lori", and she replied, "Well, I guess that yarn really is for you then!" Like I said, there's some grand plan afoot.

2. Sylvan Spirit yarn from Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont. What's not to love about this company!? They are a worker-owned cooperative, use locally sourced materials, and they were also incredibly nice. This particular yarn is a blend of wool and Tencel, which is a cellulose fiber made from wool pulp. It's similar to bamboo, but gives the yarn a silk-like pearly sheen, plus as the guy at the booth pointed out, in Vermont wood pulp is a more sustainable commodity than bamboo. I was glad I grabbed these when I did; as I was paying several women swooped in and started oooh'ing and ahh'ing over it:

3. Finally, a merino/silk blend from the Biltmore Wool Barn in Brewster, MA (I'm not finding a website for them). I had a really hard time choosing a colorway - there were so many fabulous ones! This photo doesn't do the deep teals and blues much justice - but trust me, it's really, really beautiful.

Besides the sheep and yarn, there were so many beautiful artisans selling things like felted wool scarves, sweaters, rugs, and soaps (Sleepy Moon soaps were my favorite of the day). An impressive 12-year old showed me how she spins, and another older woman gave us a tutorial on making wool rugs. The most startling thing for me though was that, as someone who tends to the solitary and, when pressed, tends to spend time with people who don't understand why anyone would spend good money on string, it was beyond weird (in a good way!) to be surrounded by so many other people who "got it". I had just said to Heather, "God, I just want to go home and MAKE stuff now!" when a few minutes later a stranger turned to us and said exactly the same thing. Ah, kindred spirits.

Ice cream and a brief walk around the fabulous Northampton downtown at dusk was a great ending to the day. Plans for Rhinebeck in the fall are afoot...

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