EASTON — Fiber enthusiasts were lined up at the ticket booth on the Washington County Fairgrounds Saturday morning even before the gates opened for the 2019 Adirondack Wool & Arts Festival. Awaiting them were almost 120 vendors of all things fiber, from sheep to yarn to finished products.
The focus was on animal fibers: wool from sheep, llamas, and alpacas, mohair from angora rabbits, and cashmere from long-haired goats. Kim and Chuck Goodling had brought two of their Gotland sheep from their farm in Washington, Vt.
The sheeps’ ancestors live on the Swedish island of Gotland, Chuck Goodling explained. They’re valued for their gray wool, which has a wave instead of a crimp like most breeds. However, Gotland sheep couldn’t be imported into the U.S. Fanciers got around that by importing semen from Gotland rams and inseminating U.S. sheep with similar characteristics. “Our sheep are high 90 percent Gotland genetics,” Goodling said.
Laura Buerman, from Paradise Bay Farm in South Hero, Vt. was spinning with a drop spindle while she waited for customers. “We got the sheep when I was seven,” she said. “I started knitting at eight. I had to wait until I was 10, when I had more patience, to start spinning.”
Buerman learned spinning on a wheel but switched to drop spinning because “I like this better,” she said. “It’s a repetitive process that just becomes like Zen after a while. It’s a really calming influence.” The small spindle is also easy to carry around.
Drop spinning is an ancient craft, long since replaced by modern spinning mills, but “the fiber underground is alive and well,” Buerman said. “When the zombie apocalypse comes, I will be warm and clothed.”
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Susan Nagel, of Sandpiper Yarns, had a booth across the aisle from Joy Muller-McCoola of Joy Woolworks. They’ve been best friends since age seven. “I do yarn and she does felt,” Nagel said.
Nagel hand-paints roving (combed and straightened wool) with plant or organic acid dyes and turns it into yarn on a spinning wheel. “It’s a great diversion, very therapeutic,” Nagel said. “You meet great people.”
“I like felt’s tactile quality,” said Muller-McCoola, who took up the craft seven years ago. “It has a three-dimensional sculptured quality like clay, but it’s soft. You can color it like a painting.” She makes both felt sculptures and more practical items, like meditation cushions and fanciful hats. She was laying out roving that she would rub and roll for three hours to make a hat. In the process the wool would shrink by 50 percent, she said.
In contrast to the solid sculptures, Frank and Cathy Riotto of Holly Road Fiber Farm were displaying lace table cloths, scarves, and shawls.
“It was one new thing to try, and I stuck with it,” Cathy Riotto said. Unlike most knitting or weaving, “the patterns aren’t very repetitive. You’re doing something different all the time.” A big project like a tablecloth can take a year, she said. “A lot of people are afraid of it because of the fine yarn, but it’s really not too hard. If you can do a knit and purl stitch, you can do it.”
The Adirondack Wool & Arts Festival continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Washington County Fairgrounds. There will be demonstrations of crafts and sheep shearing and herding throughout the day. Food is available on the grounds. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children 12 and under. For more information, visit adkwoolandarts.com.