Garden Diary - September 2013

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Sunday, 8 September 2013
Activities and Happenings at the Sheep Festival

The focus of the Garden State Sheep Breeder's Festival (this is the 19th annual) is on sheep, two buildings filled with sheep and a show ring. There are two more buildings, and the great outdoors. Shame to let all that space go to waste, don't you think. So the other two buildings are filled with vendors. And someone showing sheep dogs at work outdoors. Have a look.

Unlike your cat, sheep don't shed. Well yes, there are hair sheep and they do shed but let's not get distracted. Hair sheep are the exception. For wool that's going to be knit, crocheted, or felted you need to get it off the sheep. That's shearing. At the festival, two or three times a day someone shears a sheep before the gaze of an attentive audience. Explaining what he does, why a sheep is shorn, and adding in other interesting details he quickly and neatly clips off the fleece with never a pause in the commentary. This sheep was not too thrilled with the process. But then, she's only 8 months old and this was her first time.

There's a class for fleece, and also fleece for sale. While fleece would not normally be kept in plastic the building is rather dusty and this keeps it free of grit and dirt.

I plunged my hand into this basket of fleece for sale. Like what I imagine feeling a cloud would be.

Fleece for sale is for those who want to explore the entire process from cleaning, carding, spinning, and then creating with the yarn. My sister, who is a weaver, once started to learn to spin. Then decided she had time to either spin or weave but not both. (She also at that time taught weaving classes.) So there's beautiful yarns for sale in the subtle hues of the sheep themselves

or dyed into a rainbow of colors.

Here and there throughout the buildings were people demonstrating spinning. You take roving, which is cleaned and carded fleece. By hand or with a spinning wheel draw it out into a thread, putting some spin on it. This woman is using a Russian drop spindle. The base sits in a shallow wooden bowl held between her legs. Spin, spin, and smoothly and evenly the roving becomes yarn. A drop spindle has the advantage of being portable, something to carry around, then use when a window of time opens up.

A spinning wheel is faster, but less portable. Somewhat hypnotic, feet paddling up and down, wheel goes round and round - many women were using their wheels barefoot or in stocking feet. I imagine that gives you a better sense of how it goes.


One classic event at sheep festivals seems to be sheep to shawl. Sheep sheared, fleece carded, yarn spun, and a shawl made, all in a single day. A tour de force, yes, but fascinating for the attendees to see the process from beginning to end.

Another popular event are the border collies demonstrating herding sheep.

Border collies are monomaniacs for herding. That's what they want to do. Take a look. Here's ZIva. She's - ready for this? - she's just 3 months old. Not really trained but she has the right instincts. Bunch the sheep up, keep them together, move them from here to there. Ooh, that's fun! Let's keep doing it. Not too good on recall, which is why she's trailing a lead. A foot firmly planted on it convinces her to stop. Off to the sidelines, and give the more experienced dogs a chance.

You can just catch a glimpse of Cap on the far side of the sheep.

And this is Sweet, who has nicely take the sheep through a pair of hurdles on the right, on the left, and into the pen working entirely off the shepherd's whistled commands. A delight to watch her delight in her work.

And this delightful event is the Shepherd's Lead competition. Wear something fashioned from wool. That's 30 points, with extra points if you made it yourself. Lead an animal around the show ring (unless it is an angora rabbit, which you're allowed to carry.) Again, 30 points for the animal and your handling of it, with extra points if A) it's your own animal and not one merely provided for the competion, B) if it is the actual animal from which your garment was made, and C) if the animal is wearing something that complements your garment. In this case the handler is wearing a magnificent green sweater / coat with horizontal ribbing and center cable down the back. Iris, her Baby Doll Southdown ewe is wearing a matching green scarf.

I had a wonderful day at the show. And if you want to see more, click here to see sheep at the show.

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