Spent Sunday doing a hand spinning demo in the "Fiber Optic" tent at the Great Frederick Fair. It's "FIBER" as in spinnable fiber and NOT edible or optical fiber for telecommunications. Let's get that straight because I'm tired of being asked that question all these years by every 3rd or 4th guy who enters the tent. For some reason women GET that this is a play on words but a lot of men feel it needs clarification. Or maybe they feel tricked into accidentally entering an entire tent about spinning, knitting, fluffy non-edible animals and other girly-girly stuff when they thought it would be computer stuff.
One of the big perks of hanging out in this tent is that so many of my sheep friends come by to hang out with me while I spin, including the three friends pictured above. Kids LOVE spinning wheels and other machines and I love kids and sheep so this works out for everyone.
And, speaking of cool machines, there was another lady demo-ing in the tent and she was working an antique sock knitting machine. To tell the truth, I felt a little shown up by this gal. The spinning wheel's kind of boring in comparison to this thing!
I decided to step out of my box today and spin something other than alpaca for once. As much as I love alpaca, I do like to experience other fun fibers now and then, so I brought some of my "stash" with me including Yak, bamboo and silk caps. Here is what I learned: Yak is pretty hard if not impossible to spin with people crowding around, looking at you and talking to you. It's too short. So I looked dumb trying to spin that perfectly in front of an audience.
Bamboo, on the other hand, is even worse! I hated it. I bought this bamboo at the MD Sheep & Wool Festival because I had heard and read that this is the up-and-coming thing. Even Google now sells bamboo/cotton blend T-shirts. I found it terribly hard to draft and really harsh to handle for any length of time. It made my fingers chapped. It wasn't cheap to buy either! The final nail in the coffin came when my sister came over to watch and remarked that the bamboo roving was the exact same color as Cheetos!!! Up until then I kind of liked the color.
So I moved on to spinning up the silk caps and Eureka! I loved it! Can't say they came out perfectly but I loved the way the silk felt in my hands and I loved the way the colors didn't get all blended together in a big mud color once they were spun. This happens to dyed sheep wool a lot. It's better to "paint" the dye onto the already spun skein in my humble opinion. But the silk skeins kept their unique colors:
Sorry silk worms! but I think I'll be buying a lot more silk at next year's MD Sheep & Wool Festival.
At exactly 12:15, Susan's perky voice came over the loudspeaker, announcing another impending birth in the birthing tent. I'm like Pavlov's dog after spending so much time at the fair for the last few years. As soon as I hear Susan's voice, I jump up and run to the birthing tent. I got there in time to see the vet and a few of her helpers "pull" a female calf from her tired Momma. Don't let the chains fool you - they are actually not painful for the calf and much better than leaving the poor creature struggling inside of an exhausted mother. These guys did a great job and pulled the calf out very quickly but carefully.
The calf curled up in the straw and Momma cow got right up to lick her new baby and start nagging her to nurse. The owner named the calf "Pretty." That she was, and pretty big as well. No wonder Mom was worn out.
Meanwhile, yesterday's new born calf is now an old hand at charming the kids as well as their parents and is getting non-stop petting. He's like a little Rock Star there at the birthing tent. In the pen behind him is a big-as-a-house sheep Momma to be. I can't wait to see the lambs! We have not had a sheep in the birthing tent before, just pigs and cows. Not that piglets and calves aren't thrilling too.
Along with the birthing tent, I also check in at the Country Roads - City Streets exhibit each day to see my animal friends there. They have the huge Brown Swiss oxen named Cain and Abel, a pretty baby llama, a miniature horse and donkey, alpacas and, this year, they have added 2 emus. That cracked me up because, back when we became alpaca breeders in 1999, half of the people who saw our truck sign or business card would ask us, "are they large birds?" meaning the alpacas! For some reason there was a crossed wire in the brains of a lot of people that confused alpacas with emus maybe because they both happened to enter the public consciousness at the same time.
Even now, reporters for business magazines and newspapers love to predict the impending crash of the alpaca market using crashes in the U.S. market for emus and ostriches as a basis for comparison. The trouble is that they have been making this same prediction every year for at least 20 years. So crazy! You wonder how these people get hired. As my friend Ingrid Wood from Stormwind Alpacas said in her rebuttal to one such article in the Wall Street Journal,
"Would you warn a sheep breeder to get out of business because the chicken farmer in the next town lost his customers?" and she also said,
"Can you say species?" good one Ingrid! Birds and mammals have as much in common as, say, reptiles and mammals. You might just as well talk about the market for Iguanas in relation to the market for alpacas.
So, I do kind of like the Emus but I really don't get the idea of raising very large, fast-running birds with scary claws so I can eat them. I'll stick with the fuzzy calm alpacas and the warm sweaters and socks that don't require slaughtering. Emus are pretty though:
My favorite inhabitant of the Country Road - City Streets this year is this amazingly cute Babydoll Southdown sheep!
How cute is that little thing!!!???, and it wouldn't really be any trouble to put this guy under your arm, walk to the parking lot and stuff it inside of your car. Not that I'm advocating livestock stealing but a person can have her fantasies.
Don't assume that this is some designer breed of sheep; It's actually a heritage breed. To find out more about the long history of this breed, go here:
Baby Doll Southdown Sheep Breed Association
On my way out of the fair grounds, I always stop behind the sheep barns to watch the children "fitting" their sheep for show. These kids work so hard and take such wonderful care of their animals. How beautiful that their parents gave them the gift of this life experience! I wish every child could be doing something like this instead of sitting in front of their television set 4 hours (average) a day! Oops - I'm lecturing again - sorry.
So, tomorrow is the judging for the alpaca fleece show. I got 20 fleeces and 6 skeins, which is not as many as I wanted but enough for a pretty good show.
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