|The Black Sheep Gathering|
Lane County Fairgrounds
June 24-26, 2005
by Theresa Chan
|For West Coast fiber enthusiasts, attending a premier sheep and wool show often seems out of reach. With high-profile shows such as the Maryland and New York State Sheep and Wool Shows taking place in the east coast, where is a Californian knitter and spinner to find the latest information, tools, and fibers in one convenient venue?|
Why, it's at the Black Sheep Gathering, held annually at the Lane County Fairgrounds in Eugene, Oregon. Now in its 31st year, the Black Sheep Gathering began as an informal gathering of west coast colored-wool sheep breeders.
At the time of its inception, national sheep breeding practices favored white wool genetics, driven by the demands of a textile industry that required white wool for dyeing. Handspinners, however, were determined to preserve the palette of naturally colored wools.
To further this goal the Black Sheep Newsletter—and, later, the Gathering—were launched.
|Sheep and Goat Shows|
What began as a potluck supper and chitchat among like-minded farmers has grown into a three-day event that fills two barns and four exhibition halls. Sheep and goats are judged in the show ring, with awards in 23 different categories.
Two Jacob rams await their turn in the ring
A pair of angora kids
|Angora rabbits were on display but not judged. And for alpaca fanciers, a separate show, The Alpaca Marketplace, was held on the fairgrounds on the same weekend as the Gathering.|
A handsome grey French/German angora bunny bides his time
|The Trade Show|
Next door to the sheep show rings, three exhibition halls hosted more than 80 vendors offering everything from wool processing to finished crafts. The naturally colored fiber theme was well-represented by a number of vendors.
|A glorious array of naturally colored yarns and rovings were available at Toots LeBlanc & Co. The rich palette of colors is the result of blending Jacob wool with colored alpaca and angora fiber.|
Toots LeBlanc & Co.
|Natural colors aren't solely a phenomenon of animal fibers. Vreseis had a full range of FoxFibre organic cotton products on display, showing the range of natural cotton colors, from spinach green to red sandstone.|
The Vreseis display
At Feral Fibre, dedication to naturally colored wool and rare-breed conservation go hand-in-hand. Sam and Debbie Bennett raise endangered Jacob and Navajo-Churro sheep, and their booth featured both rovings and conservation advocacy.|
Their Web site is not yet developed, but the Bennetts can be reached at (541) 459-7589.
The Feral Fibre display
|For those shoppers who crave a flash of color, there were plenty of goods on display. Hand Jive Knits featured naturally dyed knitting yarns and Cormo roving, as well as a line of original knitted designs—including this stunning lace shawl on display.|
The Hand Jive Knits display
|Crown Mountain Farms stole the show with this breathtaking display of jewel-toned handpainted rovings.|
The Crown Mountain Farms display
|At Nebo Rock Textiles, I was tempted to clean out the rich display of saturated colored yarns and rovings. Nebo Rock has no Web site, but you can contact them via email.|
The Nebo Rock Textiles display
|Surprisingly, there were few new tools featured at this year’s Trade Show. The exception was Fireside Fiberarts, producers of floor and tapestry looms made from Great Lakes oak, cherry, maple, and walnut.|
This beautiful cherry floor loom dominated the entrance to the Trade Show floor.
A floor loom from Fireside Fiberarts
|Finally, a few vendors showed exceptional finished handcrafts. Little House Rugs lured spinners to take on Nantucket rug-hooking as yet another hobby.|
The Little House Rugs display
|The Chocolate Sheep Gallery displayed stunning hand-felted scarves, including this one with wafer-thin strips of felt suspended in silk chiffon.|
Felt scarves from The Chocolate Sheep Gallery
|The Wool Show|
|Across the parking lot from the Trade Show, one of the largest wool shows in the country was taking place in the Wheeler Pavillion. Hundreds of prime fleeces were judged on breed-specific criteria, and ribbons were awarded by breed and fiber type.|
The Wool Show
|After the judging was complete, eager spinners lined up for the Wool Sale. Less than a minute after the doors were open, the once-orderly display disappeared in a scrum of fleece-grabbing fiberists.|
A fleece-grabbing frenzy!
|Events for Spinners|
|As if this weren't enough activity for one show, a Sheep to Shawl competition was also taking place on the Trade Show grounds.|
|Each team consisted of five spinners and a weaver, who worked on a pre-warped loom but wove with weft spun during the timed competition. My personal favorite was the University of Oregon Weavers, who worked on a simple rigid-heddle loom, in competition with the multi-shaft floor looms of the other teams.|
The Sheep to Shawl contest
|In the end, they came in fifth in the competition but first in the David vs. Goliath contest.|
|The Fiber Arts competition also took place on the Trade Show Floor. The venerable Judith MacKenzie McCuin judged finished products made from handspun yarns and fibers.|
The crafts ranged from felted horses to cobweb-lace shawls. The Champion Fiber Arts ribbon was awarded to a child's aran cardigan.
The winning cardigan
Ribbon winners, showing the versatility of felt.
The reserve champion indigo-dyed shawl.
|The past few years have seen an explosion in textile and fiber arts publishing, with a corresponding increase in retail and online availability of yarn and fibers for spinners, knitters, and weavers. Yet for true textile enthusiasts, there's still nothing quite like attending a sheep and wool show.
Seeing the fibers at their source, on the animals themselves—and the progression from raw fleece to prepared rovings, from yarn to finished fabric—brings the magazine and Internet photos to life.
After three full days at the Black Sheep Gathering, I left with a mind full of new ideas for my textile pursuits, and the hope of returning next year with my own creations in hand.
About the Author
Theresa Chan spends her days practicing medicine in Northern California, with every spare minute dedicated to dyeing, carding, blending, spinning, and knitting fibers from ribbon-winning fleeces. She shares her fiber exploits in her blog, At the Still Point of the Turning World.
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