California Wool and Fiber Festival 2009

I drove up to the Boonvilleish area on Thursday night and spent the night with Grandma and Grandpa. I proudly presented Grandpa with the hat I made – yarn I handspun from his own sheep’s wool, knitted into a hat, and dyed with coffee grounds. The response was: “A hat. For when it gets cold.” Now, you have to understand that Grandpa is an incredibly stolid, stoic, undemonstrative, ornery Italian. This is pretty much what I expected. And when I told Dan about it, he laughed and said, “Yep! That’s ‘Grandpa’ for ‘Thank you very much, I really appreciate it.'” Lol! But I am glad that I made a very simple K2P2 hat. :) And of course, I did not get a picture.

I drove down to Boonville on Friday morning, parked near Erica’s coffee shop, and hung out for a bit. Her friend Bob also stopped by, poor guy had to hear 2 jittery chicks yap about fleece, fleece, and more fleece. We headed to the fair, and got there right around 10AM when the fleece judging started. I was immediately enthralled. We parked our butts in a chair, I took out some knitting, and proceeded to absorb all I could about fleece during the next 6 hours.

The judge, Mark Eidman, was phenomenal. He would look at all the fleeces lined up in front of him for the particular category being judged. He wouldn’t talk at this time, but he’d go through each one, picking tufts of wool from a few different parts of each fleece, looking at it in the light, scrunching the fleeces, jiggling them, measuring them against the length of his thumb. Then he’d make his decisions, rearrange them in order (1st to last), and start talking about each one. He’d tell you why the 1st place one got first. He’d talk about the fineness of the fleece, the structure of it, the lock formation, the staple length, the weight, the luster of the wool. Then he’d go onto the next fleece and compare it with the first. Tell you what parts were good, what were lacking. This was probably a non-knitting Muggle’s nightmare, but it was simply dreamy to me. Then, after all the categories in a division were judged, all the first place winners were lined up. He’d go through them all a second time, and pick a champion and reserve champion (1st and 2nd in the division). After he made up his mind, but before he told us the results, he let us come up and squoosh the fleeces ourselves, and form our own opinions. We’d pick our favorites, sit back down, then he’d announce the winners and tell us why he chose them.

Mark Eidman, judging:
Mark Eidman, judging

The divisions were Juniors, Purebreds, Market, Handspinners, and Mohair. Juniors were 4H kids, Purebreds were fleeces categorized and judged by breed (only purebred sheep allowed), Market was categorized and judged by fiber fineness (crossbreeds and purebreds allowed), Handspinning was categorized same as Market, but with emphasis on the end use being handspinning, and Mohair was – duh, angora goat mohair. The Handspinning vs. Market was interesting – in handspinning fleeces things like VM were taken into higher account, and in Market things like overall size/weight of fleece had greater importance. Fleece pr0n:

During all of this, there was a few people wearing “Merry Meadows Farm” t-shirts sitting in front of me. Every time I’d gasp over a particularly white, vm-free, beautiful fleece (of which there were several), they’d smile. Then when one won a prize, they’d beam. They really had the most fabulous fleeces there, and won many ribbons in many categories. One of them is now mine. :)

The gals of Merry Meadows Farm with their Best of Show fleece:
Merry Meadows Best of Show Fleece

The interesting thing about the fleeces, is that they go on sale immediately after the judging is over. So if you’re interested in buying a wonderful fleece, that’s when you need to be there. The top few categories of handspinning fleeces were gone within minutes. The other interesting thing is that they’re all priced before they’re judged. You can get some good deals, but the people who are raising their sheep for the primary purpose of fiber are going to charge top-dollar for their fleeces, and with good reason. They’re so beautiful it makes you cry.

In the morning, I ran into Karen and Christina, two friends from SLO. They did a good job enabling me to buy a very nice kid mohair fleece, which I’m hoping to turn into yarn similar to Brookes Farm Primero. I took pix of the silliest fiber thing I’ve ever seen – an angora rabbit shearing demonstration.

Phase 1, blow rabbit:

Phase 2, cut hair:

Phase 3, spin hair, like the guy on the right is doing:

Then there were sheep shearing demonstrations. Since I didn’t take pix at shearing day at the Ranch, I thought I’d take pix of the demo. The sheep are Navajo Churros, and the last pic, for those of you that didn’t believe me, is of the sheep-shearing-shoes.

I spent a good part of the afternoon walking around the rest of the fair with Grandma. She worked in the garden/flower building and then we tasted the gold-medal wine winners. It’s fun going wine-tasting with Grandma because she worked in the tasting room at Greenwood Ridge for many years and knows many people. :)

The last day! Grandma and I managed to convince Grandpa to leave the Ranch and come to the sheep dog trials. It’s a very serious affair, where the contestants line up at the beginning, and everyone stands while the bagpipes are played.

It’s with a very heavy heart that I write this section. Grandpa’s brother Guido is dying of cancer. He’s been an instrumental force behind the fair for something like 50 years, and has always announced at the sheepdog trials. He’s been bed-ridden for the past 10 days, and even though he really wanted to make it to the trials at the fair, none of us expected him to be able to be there. But Italian orneriness is not to be underestimated, and his voice boomed across the stadium, announcing the beginning of the trials and introducing the contestants. He’s on the far right of this pic (zoomed in all I could, the stands are across the field).

When the handlers and dogs were leaving the field, he said, “I’d like to say that all things must come to an end.” Halfway through the sentence he was overcome with emotion and his voice broke. “This will be my last sheepdog trial.” You could tell that he just wasn’t ready for it to be his last. I’m crying right now writing this, and I cried all during the 2-hour drive to Colusa later that day. He’s 83, his mind is still sharp as a tack, and it’s just not fair. He left the announcer’s booth while the crowd gave him a standing ovation, and waved his white cowboy hat goodbye.

The sheepdog trials went on, announced by a woman who was also crying. The course has a pen the sheep have to go around, then they have to go through the middle of 2 sets of gates, then through a chute, then into the pen. It was fun to watch, there was really a huge difference between all the dogs. Here are pix of the gates and the chute.

I ate lunch with Grandma and Grandpa, then hung around for the spinning contest. First there was a warm-up. For which they blindfolded us. I thought about Marsha telling us about the blind spinning contest she had taken part in, and was starting to think I should have gotten a Majacraft. :) But it was just for the warm-up, so it was OK. Very interesting spinning blindfolded, I was more consistent than I thought I would be. The next part was the Quality contest – you had a half hour to spin the best quality yarn you could. You were allowed to ply, and I really wished I had learned Navajo plying, but since I didn’t, I didn’t ply. Then there was a yardage contest – just spin as fast as you can for 15 minutes. That’s actually exhausting! :) Since I’ve only been spinning for 2 months, I entered in the beginning category, and am pleased to tell you that I am now also an award-winning spinner. :) Although I’m not sure anyone else was in my category…..

Then I headed off to Colusa and brought Dan home.

The End!

About alpenglowyarn

Engineer, maker of tools for yarn dyers and maker of other interesting things. I still do some natural dyeing, but not as a business. View all posts by alpenglowyarn

5 responses to “California Wool and Fiber Festival 2009

  • Bjo Trimble

    Showed the blow-dry rabbit photo to my daughter, who owns her own hair salon. She laughed and said she had customers who wanted ‘dos like that! it’s a great photo.

    Nice blog. I’m sorry about Guido. We’re about to lose my husband’s sister to cancer. It’s never easy. — Bjo

    • alpenglowyarn

      Hi, Bjo, it’s great to hear from you! I was just thinking about you, and how I’d like to catch up. I hope the fiber retreat this weekend goes well for you – I’m sorry that I’m missing it while I’m here in Australia! But hopefully I can catch up on one of your fiber frolic days.

      Thanks for your thoughts. :) Yep, that bunny was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen!

  • preita

    you totally need to come up to the ranch this year for alpaca shearing! Patrick does NOT wear those shoes lol :)

  • Puttermeister

    How did I not know you had a blog???

    My absolute favorite picture is “Phase 1: Blow Rabbit.” It’s fabulously absurd and surreal and practical, all at the same time.

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