By Geraldine Freedman
The Adirondack Wool and Arts Festival, set for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 26 and 27 in Greenwich, will have a new look.
“It will be a different experience,” said Rebecca Breese, the Washington County Fair ‘s marketing manager. “It will be more a farmers’ market for people to get their holiday shopping early and to support local farmers. It’s a great opportunity.”
The reason, of course, is the coronavirus and the need for people to wear masks and keep a social distance. The site is outdoors but is very large, so the more than 60 vendors will have plenty of space for customers and onlookers to check out the products, which include everything from wool from sheep, bunnies, alpacas and llamas to paper crafts, body care products, wood, pottery, local foods and spinning wheels. People will proceed down directional arrows from in to out of a section.
There will be sheep shearing and sheep herding demonstrations, but people will be at a distance and there will be no seating, Breese said. No kids’ activities will be held but festival foods and craft beverages will be available. Lots of hand sanitizing stations will be stationed about. There will also be a silent auction for used spinning wheels, carders and looms.
But what about the need for knitters and crocheters to touch the yarns?
“Some can’t touch the yarns or will need gloves and many vendors are supplying samples that customers can take,” Breese said.
All this might be a precautionary tale, but it is a return to a kind of normalcy that many vendors are very much looking forward to especially since many fiber festivals have cancelled.
Colorful alpaca fur
“I’m bringing products from my eighteen alpacas,” said Faith Perkins, who owns Quarry Ridge Alpacas in Salem. “There are yarns and blends with sheep or bamboo, and some knitted, crochet or handwoven items.”
Alpacas have fur that come in up to 24 identified natural colors that range from browns, six different greys, up to beige and white. Perkins shears her animals, all of whom have names, one time a year in the spring, which keeps them cool through the summer. Each fleece can weigh up to five pounds. Generally, she saves her best fleeces and sends the others to a knitting mill.
Having been a “fiber addict” since she was about 5 years old, when she taught herself to knit under her desk at school “so the nuns wouldn’t see me,” she grew up on a small farm in Missouri where her family had a small flock of sheep. About 30 years ago after the family moved north, she was introduced to alpaca. In those days, there were few alpaca farms in the United States.
The animals are native to Peru, Chile and Bolivia and live on high desert plateau where they are rounded up once a year to be shorn.
“So they’re not as trainable as llamas, which are used as pack animals and have been domesticated for centuries in South America,” Perkins said.
But it took retiring from teaching 17 years ago before she bought two pregnant alpaca and brought them to her home in Averill Park.
“Then suburbia hit and we moved to Salem and have 42 acres. The alpacas roam on fifteen open acres. They’re still skittish,” she said.
Satin Angora rabbits
In contrast are Donna Lagoe’s Satin Angora rabbits at her Olde Saratoga Farmstead farm in Schuylerville. Her eight bunnies, all with names, are only about seven pounds and are known for their gentle, docile, curious nature and their silky wool that has a sheen. Lagoe will be bringing some of her fiber and seven of her bunnies, most born only in the last few months, to sell. These are not the kind of rabbits found at pet stores.
“They’re different breeds and can be a mix of anything,” Lagoe said. “Mine have pedigrees. I got three of mine initially from a Massachusetts breeder.”
She started raising rabbits only about seven years ago after she stopped working and was looking for something to do.
“I felt I could do something with their wool,” she said.
The rabbits come in a wide range of colors and she discovered that caring for them had a calming effect.
“They’re easy to manage. Each has its own cage. I breed in February into the fall but not in the winter. When they have a litter, the girls stay with their mom but the boys get their own cage because they can be territorial. I also gave them a twelve-foot run so they can run about.”
Lagoe brushes them every two weeks and puts each one’s fur with the same color in a Ziploc bag. She felts some of their fur into crafts, and some she spins up mixed with Romney sheep wool. Interestingly, rabbits in fairy tales are often named Thumper, because when there’s danger, that’s what they do — thump their feet.
“But they don’t thump for me,” Lagoe said.
More familiar to handcrafters is working with sheep’s wool. Mary Pratt will be bringing bags of washed wool and fleeces from some of her 70 ewes and 12 rams that live at her Elihu Farm in Valley Falls.
Her sheep, most of whom are purebred Romneys, come in a wide range of colors. She’ll bring finished fleeces that can weigh up to 10 pounds. A finished fleece, which still has its lanolin, will have all the twigs, burrs and other material cleaned off. Hand spinners who are particularly adept with the wheel often spin from locks or strips directly off the fleece, Pratt said. The bags of washed wool will be soft and easy to spin, she said.
Pratt has been raising sheep since 1986 on 150 acres with her lamb meat and mutton well known to area farmers’ markets. Over the years, her wool and fleeces have won many awards not only for their softness but the length of their fiber.
But shearing time, which happens once a year, is a big deal. Her rams can weigh up to 250 pounds, her ewes up to 200 pounds. Their fleece is taken from their backs, sides and chests. Lambs, however, get shorn only every four months, and she keeps only two male lambs a year compared to up to 14 female lambs.
In a side note: Foster Sheep Farm of Schuylerville will be at the festival, one of the few local yarn stores attending.
Adirondack Wool and Arts Festival
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 26, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 27, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
WHERE: Washington County Fairgrounds, Old Schuylerville Road, Greenwich
HOW MUCH: $5; free, 13 and under
MORE INFO: 518 692-2464; www.adkwoolandarts.com