Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh Shenandoah…

IMG_8950Sometime during the past year, some of us knitters decided we wanted to have a festival road trip experience similar to Rhinebeck 2012. Kris “found” the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, and we went!

When I saw that the featured teacher was Deb Robson, I signed up for a class without even having a class description. She’s the expert on rare breeds and I knew I was lucky to have her teaching so close by. This was an all-day class (6 hours), during which we spun and sampled 8 rare breeds of wool. Wanna see?IMG_8906 #1: Clun Forest. You can see that this fiber has been washed, but not carded or combed or prepared for spinning. I borrowed some Louet mini combs from Deb and learned to use them quickly. Pretty soon I was spinning top right off the comb:IMG_8904 Deb showed us how to use these big combs which clamp to a table, but I stuck with the minis.


#2 was North Ronaldsay, which comes from an island near the Orkneys. The sheep eat seaweed and are triple coated. There is some hair and kemp along with the soft undercoat here. My sample had so much hair that I didn’t try to dehair it. That meant that the yarn was rough and wiry, but so be it. Deb predicted that we’d have some trouble with this fiber, and she was kinda right.IMG_8913 #3 was Hog Island. This is the kind of sheep they have at Mount Vernon, though no one knows for sure if that is the breed George Washington owned. Deb thought we’d struggle a bit with it, but mine was fine. It went so well I forgot to take a picture of it.

#4 was Wensleydale, which is a long wool breed with these gorgeous curly locks:


I had trouble coming it because the staple is so long (7-12”) – I probably should have used a bigger comb than the mini. I must have goofed creating my plying bracelet (aka Andean plying), because my yarn just did not come out. But I spun it okay.

Then there was lunch, during which I wolfed down a bowl of soup and this pretty piece of pumpkin pie with little pumpkins on it. Yum!IMG_8920

After lunch, we worked with Border Leicester (#5). That was nice. Deb mentioned that it is a great alternative to Coopworth, which is not rare. If you like Coopworth and want to support rare breeds, look for Border Leicester. I forgot to photograph it.

#6 was Leicester Longwool, which is TOTALLY different from Border Leicester. It’s long and silky, kind of like Wensleydale. Again, so busy combing, spinning, and plying that I forgot to photograph it.

#7 was something familiar: Jacob. I have loved spinning Jacob before and was excited to get this. It comes in 3 colors (all from the same animal). You can separate it before spinning to keep the colors pure, or blend them together. (Deb discouraged us from just spinning it as it comes, as that will result in ugly blotchy yarn.) Here’s my Jacob fiber:


#8 and our final fiber of the day was Romeldale/CVM. I had such a hard time combing and spinning it that I ripped it off my wheel and borrowed my neighbor’s cards to try again. That didn’t go much better. I never did get a yarn sample from this fiber.

Combing fiber creates more waste than carding it, and since I wasn’t very proficient at combing, I probably created more waste than normal. I turned around at one point and noticed how big my waste pile was getting. The birds will love this!IMG_8926I left with a small amount of sample yarn and a lot of knowledge. Here are the 6 yarns I actually plied. I wet finished them after getting home:IMG_8971After spinning all day, I was on fire to get more spinning fiber. I was also prepared to invest in some mini combs so I could finish spinning the rest of the fiber in my sample baggies (I did not find any, so those may go on my wish list). I wasn’t quite ready to buy a fleece and really prepare everything from start to finish, so I gravitated toward dyed fibers. In the end, I bought enough fiber to spin yarn for two sweaters. Neither of these is a rare breed. I’m a tiny bit ashamed about this, but then again, Deb said that buying ANY wool supports an important market. The commercial market is almost totally focused on synthetics, so buying wool at all is an important act in the marketplace.IMG_8963 This roving is from Singleton Fiber Processing. It’s mostly green and they call the color “sea glass.” It’s “Romoca,” a blend of Romney, mohair, and alpaca. I got 1.5 pounds and I hope that’s enough for a sweater for me.


I also got 2 pounds of this Coopworth “swirl” roving:IMG_8965

The base fiber is “light blue” (which is really a shade of beige), and half of it has been overdyed in burgundy. We’ll see how that comes out. It is for a sweater for S1. IMG_8966 I saw a couple of really interesting spinning wheels. This is essentially an electric walking wheel:IMG_8933The next day, I saw the same woman trying the same type of wheel driven by bicycle pedals: 


I also succumbed to another set of raku buttons made by Dimensions (I got some at MDSW this year, too). Look!IMG_8968


These are like tiny pieces of artwork. I got them to go with the sweater I am knitting for S1 out of the Bartlettyarns I got at MDSW this year. Here is one button on the sweater swatch:IMG_8980Since I was in class most of Saturday, Kris and I stayed overnight in Winchester Saturday night. Then we went back to the festival on Sunday and met up with Julie and Alison, who drove in for the day. We were all really impressed with this event. It’s so much smaller and more relaxed than MDSW, with a great vibe. There were tons of interesting vendors. We appreciated the different food options (delicious coffee, wine tastings, soup, BBQ, pie, cobbler…). Parking was easy. Admission was $5 but so worth it. There weren’t even lines at the restrooms! It’s in Berryville, VA, which is only about a 90 minute drive from here. This is definitely a festival we’ll return to.


  1. How fun! It does sound like you had a great time, even if much of the spinning lingo goes over my head. I kind of like "Romoca" -- sounds like an ice-cream flavor. And I need to figure out how to make those little crust-pumpkins. So cute! Glad you all had a great time. Wish your dream had come true and had been there!

  2. The cobbler (sold by a boy scout troup) could give one diabetes! But I concur...this was a lovely festival and we should go back next year. I want Steven to come as well!