Monday, July 02, 2007

Black Sheep or Bust, Part III--Shopping!

The highlight of the Black Sheep Gathering is, of course, the incomparable shopping! Nearly 100 vendors from all over the West Coast gather in three of the barns at the fairgrounds to set up one of the best fiber marketplaces around. Add to this Oregon's lack of sales tax (the price you see is what you pay), and nearly every Californian at BSG went a little crazy, buying nearly everything in sight.

After all, how can you resist sights like entire display walls filled with nothing but hanks of Chasing Rainbows silk roving? I didn't even try. While I didn't take home everything on the wall, I did manage one skein dyed beautiful shades of purple (the colorway is named "Purple Haze"). Classes are conveniently scheduled with 2-hour lunch breaks and wrap up before the "Trade Show" closes, so a lot of shopping can be accomplished, if one is determined and can manage not to suffer from fiber overload. It's possible, but it's tough. After all, you walk in with a shopping list, and find all that other stuff that isn't on the list, but is stuff you really need (a convenient euphemism for "want"). And how are you supposed to pick just one drop spindle (it was on the list, I swear), when you can choose from Jonathon Bosworth's lovely spindles, or Steve Paulson's beautiful and unusual Spindlewood square drop spindles? In the end, I didn't even try. I "settled" for a birch and purpleheart Bosworth, and a cocobolo and ebony Spindlewood.

In the midst of all this shopping, the Wool Show and Sale is going on. The judging takes place all day on Friday and in the morning on Saturday, and is well worth attending. The judge(s) wear microphones, and the good judges explain what they're looking for, and the good points and bad points of each fleece, so it's a great free lesson on selecting good fleece. Once all the judging is finished, all the fleeces to be sold are set out on tables and everybody has about an hour to closely examine them and decide which fleeces they're going to try to purchase. Then the doors close, everybody lines up, and makes a mad dash for the fleece(s) they want to buy. This year's fleeces were beautiful, and as BSG is the colored sheep show and sale, this is where one buys colored fleeces. I ran through the sale room during my lunch break on Saturday, found a magnificent black Corriedale, and made arrangements with the daughter of one of my guild members to stand in line and grab the fleece for me when the sale began, as I would be back in class. I wasn't sure I was going to get it, so I cruised through the "non-show" fleeces, just to see if there might be something nice. I stumbled across a big (7 pounds), gorgeous, silver variegated Border Leicester that just cried out to be combed and spun, so I bought it as a "consolation" fleece in case I didn't get the Corriedale. Much to my delight, I did get the Corriedale, so I sent both fleeces directly to the wool mill to be scoured.

Since I didn't have classes on Sunday, I was able to finish looking at everything in the Trade Show, and finish my shopping. Rule #5 (right after "always bring a list," and "leave the credit cards at home"): Don't send purchases back to the tent so you don't have to carry them around. Having to lug around purchases slows down how much you spend, because you're conscious of how much you've already spent. Having an obliging husband carry bundles back to the tent for you frees up your hands to touch, consider, and buy, including helping a friend pick out dyes for her next project, a large silk flag (we're looking for Scarlet Red among all the boxes of Cushing's Perfection Dyes).
So, all in all, it was a great show. After BSG closed at 4:00 p.m., we helped people get their stuff packed up, and then hit the road ourselves, pointing out and chuckling over the cars heading down the road toward California, bags of fleece strapped to the top or filling up the back. We traveled as far as Grant's Pass, then finished the drive back to the Bay Area the following day. Next year's trip is already in the planning stages, and I'm frantically combing, carding, spinning, and weaving to clear out space for all my new tools and fibers.
Black Sheep or Bust, Part II--The Classes

One of the features of the Black Sheep Gathering are the teachers pulled together for several tracks of really great classes. There are two types of classes--1/2-day, lasting 3 hours, and full-day, lasting 8 hours with a 2-hour lunch in the middle--and tracks include fiber processing, spinning techniques, needlework techniques, and animal husbandry. You can mix and match the tracks to take the classes you want, but you have to sign up early--I barely got into the Woolcombing Basics class, and the silk spinning class filled up before I could get in. In place of that I took Blending for Effect, which turned out to be just the class I needed. This year, classes ran from $40 (half-day) to $75 (full-day), plus nominal fees for materials. I was delighted when I found out that Paula Shull, the Woolcombing Basics teacher, "bent" the rules a little bit and allowed me in her class. I saw her give a demo of woolcombing about 10 years ago, and on the basis of that demo, bought a pair of Indigo Hound 5-pitch English wool combs. I tried over the years to use them properly, but couldn't seem to get the hang of it; now I had a chance to learn from the person who got me started!

Friday morning saw me hoisting my Wendy wheel on my back, packing up my wool combs, and trekking over to the Catholic school BSG uses for the classes each year. When I got there, I found a large room with a multitude of different types of combs, all being clamped securely to tables, and big bags of freshly washed fleece, waiting to be combed. Promptly at 8:30, Paula began the class, and we dove into the incatricies of woolcombing. Paula is a great teacher: she's very down-to-earth and practical, and has a way about her that gives you the feeling that she won't coddle you, but she also will give you a hand if you're making a complete hash of something. Paula originally learned woolcombing from Peter Teal, and was careful to explain the differences between Peter's technique (in which you add olive oil and water back to the fleece and comb with warm combs) and her technique (in which you start with clean fleece and cold combs, and just add a little water to control the static electricity). I liked her technique (the finished yarns don't become rancid from the olive oil), and found that there are some combs I don't like (such as the Majacraft mini-combs), and some combs I absolutely love (like my 5-pitch English combs). We combed lots of fleece, found that combing can get rid of scurf, learned a cool trick for separating down from hair in double-coated fleeces with a set of Viking combs, and saw a quick demonstration of how to spin worsted to take advantage of the combed wool. I've gone from being a little frightened of my combs to loving them, and even bought a set of Indigo Hound Viking combs and a Forsythe blending hackle to do some other things with wool to be combed.

After Friday's woolcombing breakthrough, Saturday's Blending for Effect class was a nice counterbalance. Taught by Jill Laski of Ashland Bay Trading, the class was a "back to the basics" of color blending using about 40 different colors of Merino top and a drum carder. I haven't worked so hard in a class since my days in college. After a short lecture on the care and maintenance of drum carders in general (for example, you should always take the poly belts off belt-drive drum carders, or the belts wear out faster from being under tension all the time, and they're a pain to replace), she launched into a discussion of color that took me back to my days in Basic 2D Design. Then we had to card batts of Merino top to meet certain color requirements, and manipulate some of of the batts to make lighter, darker, cooler, and warmer yarns. I ended up with about 14 batts, enough to make 28 large sample skeins that illustrate each effect. And that was just in the morning! After lunch, we got to play with texture, when Jill pulled out the exotics and different fibers, and let us play with blending them to make new and interesting yarns. I created some truly bizarre combinations (such as black alpaca with shocking pink silk), but also some really nifty stuff (red/brown shades of Merino, sky blue silk, black mohair). Needless to say, there was no way I could spin up everything as I was making it, even though Jill recommended that we spin a sample before carding large batts to make sure the yarn was what we wanted. Again, another terrific class, with lots of great information and the confidence to create my own yarns. Never again will I have to spend a bunch of money for mill-spun yarn--I can make it all myself!