The third weekend in October is the New York Sheep and Wool Festival and for as long as I can remember, I have spent most of the year anticipating the joys of those few brief hours and then, as soon as they are over, wishing they would come again faster and sooner! If they did, it would probably ruin the joy, but that doesn’t make “the day after” any easier.
Yesterday was gorgeous, Brave and patient Jim arose at 5 with me and we got layered up for the usual cold and windy, almost always sunny with a few clouds, patented Sheep and Wool weather. The drive up to Rhinebeck is an autumn delight. We take the windy, twisty Taconic Parkway and as the sky lightens, the colorful leaves punctuate the valleys shrouded in mist and the hills lit by the morning sun. We take turns exclaiming over one bit of scenery or another and repeating how beautiful it is.
We got to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds just past 8:30 and got in line with the other eager fiber-enthusiasts for a timely entry. Aware that part of the day is a fashion show, Jim wore a special hat for the occasion.
The last two years our behavior has shifted at NYSW. No longer do we roam the barns searching out new yarns and beloved vendors. Now the aim is to get there first thing, before the gates open at 9, and to be poised for a determined march to the long tables filled with bags of unprocessed wool that is the Fleece Sale.
This year there were 700 fleeces in the sale. Believe it or not, the best were gone in under 30 minutes. The air at the fleece sale smells wonderfully of lanolin and sheep. Spinners are a fairly orderly crowd. There is no pushing or jostling and there is much kibitzing and conversation, but, make no mistake, each bag of fleece chosen is carefully guarded and I will confess that I have looked most keenly at a beguiling bag as another spinner has considered it and pounced the second their hand moved away. I can be a lady, but I am no fool.
The fleece ration for Jenny for the day was three–last year’s tally. This is the really tough part. If you only can choose three, how can you revisit beloved fleece, like Romney, and still forge new ground? It requires a great deal of careful thought and patient selection. Luckily, I have my own bag man to watch over treasures while I continue to peruse.
Oddly, as I considered the bags of fleece gathered at Jim’s feet, there were four, not three. Jim, wise man, suggested that perhaps four was the correct number after all. This is why I love that man. He has such good sense.
Fleece #1: the must-have Romney.
They say you never forget your first fleece and my first was a Romney. I still have some of Logan and I will always remember him with great pleasure. This year’s Romney weighed in at 6 lbs. 4 ounces. The sheep was 2 years and 8 months old so this was not his first offering. This fleece was sheared on December 20th, 2014. It seems awfully late in the year for a shearing. He must have been very cold. If you look closely you can see it had almost straight fives with just a slight nick for handle. This is going to be a lot of fun. Romney is just a great all-purpose longwool.
Fleece #2: Coopworth
Coopworth is a cross between Romney and Border Leicester. They are good for both meat and fleece. The fleece looks a lot like a Romney but perhaps with a longer staple. You can see the crimp is a little less pronounced as well. This will be my first time spinning Coopworth. My fleece weighed n impressive 8 lbs 13 ounces and was sheared on April 6th. The sheep is 4 years and 4 months old. This fleece also had 5’s except for a lower grade for evenness of crimp.
Fleece #3: Cotswold
Cotswold is another longwool. The long locks on this fleece are gorgeous. Long and lustrous. I must confess I bought a fleece from this same farm last year and tried to process it myself. I got it all washed and fine, but didn’t have the equipment to deal with the long fleece. I am very curious to see how the roving turns out and maybe I’ll use the locks I have from last year’s fleece in the spinning. This fleece was much smaller weighing 2 lbs 3 ounces and the sheep was only 4 months old so this is his first fleece. He was shorn on June 8th.
Fleece #4: Corriedale
I saved the best for last. I have also never spun Corriedale but this fleece took Second Prize and is a hefty 7 lbs 8 ounces of future fun. The coolest thing was the shepherdess checked us out and I got to speak with her. I asked her the sheep’s name and she said she hadn’t named it, it was just #146 and she was up in the barns as she was going to the sales. (Hopefully for fleece and not meat). This fleece was sheared on April 29th and the sheep is 1-year-old.
As you can see, #146 got straight 5’s and the crimp is gorgeous. And, the best yet, we got to meet her and pet her. We looked all over the barns and, of course, she was the last sheep we looked at.
The next stop was the area where the fleece processors are set up back where the vendors park.
Long about January my fleece will be ready. Until then, I have bits of each fleece and I can dream my way through the cold weeks to come. We headed home in the afternoon’s darkening clouds. I fell asleep, exhausted from so much excitement. Brave and patient Jim retraced our morning steps and now we must wait another 364 days for NYSW.