I love the Estes Park Wool Market. To be fair, I haven't been to any other wool festival except Taos, but one thing especially draws me back to Estes every year.
The fleece and fiber judging.*
Oh sure, I love the rest of it, but being able to learn from the fleece judge is such a treat. This year's judge was Amy Wolf. I suspect she hears a lot of jokes about her name being Wolf, but she definitely knows her sheep! She raises sheep in Oregon and is a shearer and a handspinner. So she can comment about the producer side of the fleeces as well as what is attractive to handspinners. Her advice about how to prepare and spin different kinds of fleece and deal with problem fleeces was so useful. And as you may be able to tell from the photo below, she has a great sense of humor as well as a huge desire to help people understand these animals and their fleece.
Today was the white fleece judging.
I was there for the start today so I heard ALL the stories. I had my field guide in my bag, my notebook for important notes, and a hope that I would learn a lot again this year. I was not disappointed! Four hours on a bench was totally worth it. Deb Robson's The Field Guide to Fleece which is the small companion to her Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook came in handy! There were a few breeds I couldn't place.
I am officially a total fiber nerd.
Amy answered all the questions. Like what is this line through the middle of the fleece and will it wash out?
Yes! Water washes the dirt down to where the lanolin stops it and creates a line like this. With some work, it should wash out.
I learned about sheep keds which are tick that get sheered off and end up in the fleece. Amy assured us repeatedly that (1) they were dead and (2) they are species specific so people can't get them.
She told us how some sheep like merinos are very wrinkly, so a fleece from a sheep with lots of loose skin is difficult to shear and second cuts happen easier--something to realize before you blame the shearer.
She recommended getting your hands on some really messed up fiber and seeing what you can do with it. Can you get it clean? Will hand combing and hand picking get rid of the VM and help you process it? I suspect a struggle like this would be a great education in which fleeces not to purchase! I'm not sure I'm going to tackle it though. There are so many excellent sheep farmers around here who are growing spinning fleeces.
Dust comes out, yolk doesn't. Medulated fibers happen in some breeds and they aren't the same thing as kemp.
The finer a fleece is (in terms of micron count), the slower it grows. So a fleece that is very fine with very long staple has probably been left to grow for more than a year. This can be very hard on the animal. Imagine wearing a full fleece through a hot summer!
As a tapestry weaver, I'm not as interested in the very fine fleeces. There were a couple stunning merino white fleeces, but they are much finer than I need for tapestry wool. Still, it was interesting to learn how easily fine fibers can get neps if the tip breaks or there is another break in the fiber. The strands just curl up on themselves and create those little balls you don't want in your spinning. Even putting a fine fleece through the drum carder especially if it has breaks can cause neps.
She also talked a lot about "belly wool" which she often sees along the top line of the animal. The fibers are stringy and shrunk together and this kind of wool also creates neps. She pointed out that something that might seem reasonable to try like mixing a whole fleece that had parts with this belly wool problem would create neps throughout your whole fleece.
Below, a creamy fleece which will not end up white but would be lovely with some other natural colors.
She talked about a couple fleeces that looked much like this.
She wasn't happy with these fleeces since the locks are so small and stringy and were quite full of lanolin. She is seeing more of this and fears that some producers are getting away from breed standards and going more toward these "art" fleeces. The fleece was thin and stringy and would likely not make a nice yarn. I suppose the locks would make great doll hair or perhaps could go into a felting project.
Amy told us a story about a company that markets urine stained yarn as "honey mohair." It sells like wildfire. Admittedly, this sample was a really beautiful color!
For cleaning your fleece? Dawn. As in the dish soap.
Maggie has been telling me that for years. Apparently you can get it in huge buckets at Costco.
And Robin Phillips gets the award for best spinning fleece again this year. Robin runs Sheep Feather's Farm where I get many of my fleeces... and I might have come home with one again today. (Shhhhhh...)
I took a stroll through some of the animal barns. The Jacob sheep are always fun to see. I had a nice conversation with a 3-year-old boy who was concerned about the curl of the horns but also that they had been cut off. He allowed that maybe it was a good thing they were cut so the sheep didn't get poked.
The Paco-Vacuñas get to hang out in the kid's barn with the bunnies. They are adorable. This year someone had the brilliant idea of having a photo booth for kids so you could get your photo with the animals. I wished I had a kid to take in there so I could get my photo with these guys!
I had a fun conversation about acid wool dyeing with Peggy Doney of The 100th Sheep. She is doing some fantastic work with dye and her yarns are marvelous. Perhaps sensing that I am a complete dye geek, she showed me her systematic experiments. Her color triangles are fantastic and you can see the results of them in her gradation yarns. I'll let Peggy tell you how and why she did this (she is @the100thsheep on Instagram), but it brought back fond memories of similar projects in my college acid wool dye class.
As you might imagine, this kind of consistent in-depth dye research leads to amazing products like these:
And of course I caught up with some friends from all sorts of fiber professions. The marvelous Donna Wynn had just finished a class with Sarah Natani and was on her way home, but we had a moment for a photo at the fleece judging (which I pretty much refused to leave, sorry Donna).
And some fun chats with other artists like Lynda Teller Pete, Maggie Casey, and Ginger and Cari from Loom Dancer Odysseys.**
And in the interest of full disclosure, here is what I bought.***
Hummingbird Moon is run by Michele Diprima. She has been in a few Spinzillas with me and her braids were featured in the last issue of Spin Off magazine. NOT that that was top of mind or anything when I walked by her booth which was right next to the fleece judging this morning. By the time the judging was over four hours later she had sold much of her stock, but I came away with these two braids. I'm going to ply them. Targhee. Check out the Spin Off article if you're interested and order from her Etsy store. I know it is weird to get all crazy about someone else's dyed braids in the same breath I'm fantastically inspired by the raw fleece, but there you have it. Different projects for different moments.
Also, two half-fleeces. A black CVM raised by DJ Lynch from Erie, CO. The sheep's name is Abigail. I think the practice of naming sheep for spinners is brilliant. Of course I want the fleece of a sheep named Abigail! I have an idea for a new tapestry project and I wanted black. But I wanted to experiment with black fleece instead of dyeing it black. The other was from Robin Phillips of Sheep Feather's Farm. Pila is a Wensleydale/CVM/Cotswold/Lincoln cross. Nice crimp, mix of colors, and so clean as all Robin's fleeces are. Aren't they pretty?
How much fleece do you need for a sweater again? A sweater that has arms? (One without arms is called a vest people.)
You need two pounds of washed fleece. So purchase at least three since you may lose 30% if there is a lot of lanolin in it.
I already have Estes Park Wool Market on next year's calendar. And I might even go back tomorrow.
Colored fleeces and heritage breeds! What could be more exciting?
And here is proof (photo from Mary Berry) that I plopped myself front and center for the entire morning. After the first ten minutes I even put my spindle away. Too much to absorb.
*I started going to the fleece and fiber judging at Estes at the recommendation of my spinning teacher, Maggie Casey. She was right. It is an amazing place to learn about fleece.
** Man would I love to go on a trip with them! One day I will. I think Oaxaca is my first choice right now but who could turn down Peru or Iceland or Scotland either? One day it will be time.
***I swear that is the sum total. Nothing else. Really!