Saturday, July 07, 2012

Awards Season

     Every year, from early May through late October, states, counties, and agricultural districts hold their annual fairs. The County Fair has been a time-honored summer tradition in America for more than 200 years: in 1811, Elkanah Watson of Pittsfield, Massachusetts organized the Berkshire County Fair, "...featuring a procession of 'three or four thousand animals,' a band, displays of local industries, and artisans. Watson also took careful steps to attract women by offering premiums on domestic products and by holding an annual ball." (from the Iowa State University Center for Agricultural History and Rural Studies American Agricultural History Primer) Two hundred years later, millions of Americans flock to their county and state fairs to look at the livestock, examine the quilts, check out jars of jams and pickles, bet on horse races, eat foods they never would consider consuming at home (deep-fried Oreos? Really?), and see performing acts from racing piglets and demolition derbies to major rock and country-western stars. It's summer, it's hot, and it's time for the Fair.
     Fair time is "Awards Season" for those of us who compete at local, county, and state levels. I've always been mildly obsessed by the competitions in the Domestic Arts arena (Preserved Foods; Baked Goods; Clothing & Textiles). There are people who will give me ribbons, rosettes, and cash for what I enjoy doing anyway? Sign me up! I've competed in a number of Fairs in the past 25 years, and I have a lot of awards to show for my efforts. In the kitchen is a big wrought-iron hook for hanging bills--there are more than a hundred ribbons (mostly blue) hanging off that hook. Ribbons from Los Angeles, Ventura, Solano, and Yolo county fairs; ribbons from the Dixon May Fair, a local ag district fair; and ribbons from the California State Fair. Along with the ribbons are shadow boxes full of the coveted Best of Show and Sweepstakes awards, given for the best jam, or the best jelly, or winning the most Blue Ribbons in a single fair.
     I stopped entering in the Preserved Foods and Baked Goods competitions about seven years ago, primarily because I wanted to spend my summers doing something other than making fifteen kinds of jams and jellies, or baking six different kinds of bread in one day. I decided to start focusing on the Clothing and Textiles competitions, specifically those for handspun yarns, needlework (especially crocheting and knitting), and handweaving. I had entered a little bit in the 1990s, and done "OK," but now it was time to get serious. I began entering skeins, afghans, socks, scarves, shawls, and some of my handwovens, and slowly the ribbons hook in the studio began to fill up with ribbons (mostly blue).
Ribbons from the Dixon May Fair
     This year has been a turning point. It began in May, at the Dixon May Fair, when a simple scarf woven from handpainted sock yarn took a blue ribbon for Handwoven Items and Best of Division (the May Fair does not award "Best of Show") for the Handspun/Handwoven items. I did well, but Dixon is a small ag district fair.
A mess of winners from the Marin County Fair
     Then came the Marin County Fair. I dropped off my entries in early June--some of the same items I had entered at Dixon, along with some others--missed attending the Fair completely, and didn't find out how I did until Thursday. When the woman in charge of releasing exhibits took my claim checks said, "Oh, that's your stuff," I started hyperventilating. I had good reason: along with my pile of entries (there were eight), was a pile of blue ribbons, two Special Award rosettes, and two big Best of Show rosettes. I had won nearly everything! The comments, written on the back of the entry cards, were full of compliments on my color design, my spinning, and my workmanship. I was shocked. I'm still shocked. The handpainted silk sliver I had spun and plied and despaired of winning anything won Best of Show--Handdyed Skein. The wet-spun flax singles I spun one afternoon garnered the Best of Show--Single Fiber and a Special Award from Marin Golden Threads. My lace shawl knit early this year from BFL I had spun and handpainted last year won the Bluebird Yarns Special Award (and a $50 gift certificate!). I did very, very well.
     Now I'm getting ready for the next competition: the Solano County Fair. It's a smaller fair than Marin, but is my local county fair, and the fairgrounds are minutes from home. I enter the Solano County Fair because I will go to this fair to look at the livestock, examine the quilts, check out jars of jams and pickles, eat foods I never would consider consuming at home (Corndogs! Funnel cakes!), and see how my entries fared.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Spin Journal #16:
My Little Puni

     While I was at Black Sheep, Heidi (my fiber friend and frequent partner in crime) showed me a cool trick to create the raw material for unsual variegated yarns. She had attended something called "Spindle Camp" the previous week and, while there, had seen someone take bits of different colored tops, place them in thin layers, then use a puni stick--usually used in preparing cotton for spinning--to turn them into "wool punis"--basically, rolags without the hassle of dealing with handcards. Pretty cool, and a great way to sample, I thought.
     I purchased a couple of Fantasy Fiber's "Mystery Batts" so I could have something to spin (the stuff I had brought up from the stash turned out to be that nastiest of all breeds, Crappydale). Fantasy Fiber produces these weird and wonderful batts from a mixture of fibers: mostly merino, with alpaca, mohair, angora, ramie, silk (both tussah and bombyx), silk noils, rayon, llama, and firestar/flash. Different colors are layered onto one of their big drum carders, and they sell the batts dirt-cheap (less than $1.40 an ounce), so they're a great bargain if one can find something that's a blend of desirable colors. I dug in their Bargain Bins until I found two pretty similar batts and carted them away. I don't like spinning from a long strip torn from a batt, so I pulled each strip into smaller bits, then used Heidi's trick to turn them into punis to spin. I liked what I got--a rapid change in color/texture that had the capability of becoming a tweedy yarn when plied. I managed to get one bobbin filled before I came home from Black Sheep.
     Fast forward to the Tour de Fleece. I finished spinning and plying the Llanwenog on Saturday morning, and wanted to spin long-draw as a break from the "precise" spinning of short-draw, so I pulled out the rest of the Mystery Batts and got back to work on them. I weighed everything out so I would have a pretty even distribution between bobbins, then started turning the rest of the batts into punis. Lots of punis. That done, I put on my headphones, started listening to a trashy romance novel, and began spinning.
     Sunday morning dawned and I went back to work on spinning up all those punis. My long-draw spinning isn't quite as fast as it once was, primarily because I've learned better control over the fibers. In the past two years, I've gone from spinning a heavy woolen single that plies up to a bulky 2-ply to spinning a fairly fine single that plies up to a nice sport-weight 2-ply. I'm getting a lot more yarn to the ounce, but it takes longer to spin that ounce. I finished the trashy novel, downloaded another, and kept spinning. When finished, I had four bobbins--2 full, 2 nearly full--to start plying.
     I got the first bobbin full of plying finished and wound it off in time for Sunday's midnight deadline to post pictures of my new yarn. I think it's decent--a yarn that looks like a heathery blue-gray from a distance, but reveals its rainbow of colors on closer inspection. At this point, it still needs wet-finishing (which may change/lighten the color slightly), but first I need to finish plying all those singles.