04 November 2015

SAFF 2015

This year was the year of the big change for Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair. For as many years as I have attended — I think my first was in 2008  SAFF has shared the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center with a tractor show. SAFF attendees entered the fairgrounds on the Fanning Bridge Road (north) side of the grounds; and SAFF used the McGough Arena as the main vendor area and the Sales Arena as the overflow, with animals in the various barns. This year the main entrance was Gate 7 on Airport Road, which is at the southern-most end of the fairgrounds, just as Airport Road turns west and becomes Boylston Highway. Animals were in McGough Arena and the Sales Arena with some overflow to the barns, while vendors were in Davis Arena with overflow directly next door in Barn F. The fleece sale had its own space in the Boone Building -- a large log cabin. About the only area that didn't change was the Expo Center still hosted workshops.

I taught my usual hectic schedule. I am deeply grateful that I still get to teach at a show that now has teachers like Abby Franquemont, Franklin Habit, Judith MacKenzie, John Mullarkey, Esther Rodgers, and Nancy Shroyer. The range of classes is fantastic — spinning, knitting, weaving, dyeing, felting. On Thursday I saw a class outdoors in the parking lot dyeing fabric and yarn with an indigo dye pot. My Friday afternoon class did not make, so I had a few hours to walk around and shop. I did not get farther than the vendors and the fleece show, which meant I missed seeing all the adorable animals. Ack!

What got me stuck was I walked into the fleece show while Judith MacKenzie was judging the wool.
(Apologies for the awful photo, at left.) If you are either a spinner or a shepherd and you ever have a chance to watch Judith judge, drop everything, sit yourself down, and listen. Each fleece she checked for breaks and consistency. She talked about what made a fleece good or bad for hand spinners. She also talked about the categories for fleece — fine, medium, long, and primitive/double coated. Sometimes Judith would state that a particular fleece had been entered in the wrong category. Several times she mentioned that a fleece was a lamb's fleece and wasn't dense and full across the back, but stated that the fleece showed good characteristics and should be shown next year. The grand champion was a black Gotland that won not only because it was a beautiful colored fleece, but because there are fewer Gotland genetics, making the combination of color and good fleece qualities especially difficult to achieve. The reserve grand champion was a black medium fleece with perfect block-shaped staples and tight crimp. I gasped audibly when it was brought out, even before Judith began judging it. Fortunately or unfortunately, I was too busy teaching on Saturday to run over and bid on it. I was also very well-behaved in the market because my Majacraft order had arrived at the shop and I knew I needed to pick it up on Tuesday. I don't see the results of the fleece show listened on the SAFF website, which is a shame as I am already hoping to stalk the reserve grand champion shepherd next year. By the way, I bumped into Esther on Sunday. She was leading a group of newly-trained tail spinners in choosing fleeces. Esther purchased the gorgeous black teeswater that won Judge's Special Choice. I walked away knowing the beautiful fleece went home with a first-rate spinner who will show off its winning qualities.

The Skein and Garment show was in the Davis Arena, just across the hall from the vendors. There was very little weaving entered this year. Weavers, where are you? I did not write down the names of anybody; and unfortunately they are not listed on the SAFF website as far as I can tell. I show these possibly blurry photographs to give you an idea why when you attend SAFF you should be sure to duck into the Skein and Garment show!

 Felted art. Starry Night got a blue ribbon, and the landscape on the left got red.

Skeins of handspun, after judging. The overall winner is the bulky, multi-colored art yarn piled with black. Core spinners, take notice! The yellow-pink-violet-turquoise gradient lace weight in the foreground was impressive, too. Perhaps it will show up next year as a finished shawl?

Best in Show was this felted coat. Again, apologies for the picture quality. There was no shortage of impressive felting, including a 3-D felted swan and a 3-D felted carousel horse with beaded embellishments. There were also some knitted items, especially circular lace shawls. In general, I thought the felters ruled the Skein and Garment show, followed by the handspinners.

Now that SAFF is over, I have a break in my schedule over the holidays. I didn't get into any of the spring shows, other than South Carolina Knit Inn. But that doesn't mean that I don't have decisions to make. Most of the spring events open registration in November. Decisions, decisions.

South Carolina Knit Inn, Greenville SC, 5-7 February 2016. Class listings on 16 November. Registration opens 30 November. This one fills up more or less immediately.
STITCHES South in Nashville TN, 31 March through 3 April 2016. Registration opened 2 November. Early bird registration (better prices) ends on 29 January 2016.
Interweave Yarn Fest, Loveland CO, 31 March through 3 April 2016. Registration is already open.
PLY Away, Kansas City MO, 21 - 24 April 2016. Registration opens on 11 November.
Unwind, Blowing Rock NC, 29 April through 2 May 2016. Registration opens on 8 November.
Maryland Sheep and Wool, West Friendship MD, 7 & 8 May 2016. I'm not yet sure when registration opens, as it looks to me as if the class listing is still from last year.

Speaking of Unwind, they held a reunion party on Saturday night at SAFF. It was great to see Nancy, Sue, Marie, and many other familiar faces. With a little luck this might become yet another annual reason to drive up to North Carolina to enjoy the turning of the season and the gathering of the fiber lovers.

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