Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Feast for the Senses

A bright, warm autumn day. The sunlight filters through the clouds, the air is clear, the grass dry underfoot. It's picture-perfect weather for the Fall Fiber Festival.

From across the field, a dog whistle chirps and shrills. Obeying his handler, a border collie shoots across the rolling pasture, and a trio of sheep bustle toward the target pen. The air smells of popcorn, doughnuts, and sheep.

Crowds of people, many with shopping bags over their arms, meander along an avenue of tents displaying wares and animals. No one seems to be in a hurry. There are people here of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Some wear cargo shorts and t-shirts, others granny skirts and tunic tops, dusty baseball caps or jaunty hats adorned with felt flowers. A few young Mennonite women in plain blue dresses and white caps pause to examine a yarn display. A woman with long, beautiful silver hair strolls through one of the booths carrying a young black angora rabbit.

Every vague notion I've ever had that a life of shepherding, spinning, and weaving is good for the soul is reinforced as I look around. Every face I see seems open, guileless, and content. Although being in a crowd often feels harsh and nerve-jangling to me, walking among these people is as comfortable as basking in gentle sunlight.

The thing I love about this festival is that it is an absolute feast for the senses. The booths are full of yarns, pelts, socks, sweaters, shawls, and hats of every color imaginable, plus every tool, pattern, book, and raw material you could possibly need to make your own socks, sweaters, shawls, hats and crafts.

While your eyes are feasting on yarns the color of sandstone cliffs at sunset, tropical lagoons at dawn, and peacocks at midnight, your fingers are feasting on the cornucopia of textures. If you are not a shepherd or a fiber artist, you may not know this, but every breed of sheep produces a different type of wool. And here at the fiber festival, you can touch them all.

Here is a bag full of coarse, black Karakul wool, strong for making durable rugs. Here is a pen full of Scottish Blackface sheep whose wool is used to make the famous Scottish tweeds. The Merino and Rambouillet fleeces look odd and lumpy in their raw form, until you touch them and discover how delicate and filmy-soft they are.

Then there are the other types of fiber animals: Tall llamas with their dramatic supermodel eyelashes. Their smaller cousins, the alpacas, whose fleece flows like water through your fingers when you spin it. Curly angora goats, mischievous-looking cashmere goats. Fluffy Angora rabbits with down as light as air.

We strolled through all the booths, touching every thing, oohing and ahhing at how soft this yarn was, how dramatic that color of roving, how skillfully done that piece of craft work.

We stopped to chat with a couple of fellow Icelandic sheep breeders who had a few lambs on display, and also our fellow Buckingham residents, Felicity and John, who raise Shetland sheep not very far from where we live.

All in all, a wonderful afternoon. We came home tired and happy, with our minds full of colors and our fingers smelling faintly of lanolin from all the fleeces we'd touched.


Meggie said...

Nancy: What a great post! You are truly passionate about your sheep and their wool. As I read your post I could not only feel your passion but see the colors and learn a thing or always when I visit your blog. Thanks!

pussman said...

waw I love the colors!
do you sell wool too??

I did not read all your blog, too busy and sick for the moment, Only comforting me by looking at pretty pictures (especially horses and sheep)


Nancy Chase said...

If you want lots more pretty sheep and horse pictures to look at, be sure to visit my websites:

There are tons of pretty photos there.

I hope you feel better soon!

Nancy Chase said...

Whoops, I forgot to answer your other question: Yes, I do sell wool too. You can find what I currently have available listed on my website.

We should be doing our fall shearing very soon, so I'll have a whole new batch of fleeces available as soon as we get that done.