I took the kids today out on one of our now traditional Spring jaunts – the Gore Place Sheep Shearing Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts. We’ve been there most years since we moved here in 1996, missing only a couple of the rainiest days.
This year I am of mixed feelings about the day. To be fair, there are far more activities and displays now than there ever were. The festival has grown quite a bit over the years. They’ve added a magic show, expanded the food offerings, added more animal exhibits (oxen, chickens, sheep, goats, vicunas); they’ve added an equestrian demonstration, and now feature a Revolutionary War era re-enactment bivouac. The day is full of things to see and do. Attendance is way up, especially among those with kids under the age of 10. But sadly what fiber arts focus there was in the past appears to be on the way out.
Sheep are still being shorn, both with mechanical clippers and hand-operated snips. The family that does the sheepdog demonstrations still does its fascinating display. The lacemakers are still there, working their exacting way through spectacular pillow lace patterns. There are some beautiful vicunas on display, and one fiber-related exhibit tent remains. Four out of six slots were filled in the fiber tent. One was local shop stalwart Minds Eye Yarns. It was an excellent booth, filled with lots of yarn, but most of it was commercial product that I can buy in the shop itself, or in my local yarn store. Minds Eye did have a display of their own hand-dyed – mostly sock and worsted weight. Bartlett Yarns also had stock of their rustic Maine style worsteds and heavy worsteds. There were two other yarn vendors there, too. One selling rovings and combed/dyed fleeces, and one selling spun hand-dyed worsted.
There were a couple of other yarn sellers scattered through the crafts fair and historical display areas. One was a vendor offering reclaimed cashmere yarn – she buys discarded sweaters, unravels them, washes the yardage, and plies it into sock and DK weight. Interesting but short yardage, and I would have preferred non-pastels, and something that was lace weight. The other two were hand spinners offering a variety of their own products. One was nice enough but in short quantity and plied to worsted weight. The other had mostly yarns whose unevenness, color combos, and overtwist plying were appealing to some, but left me cold.
I miss the booths of some of the other smaller producers – Moorehouse Merinos, Nicks Meadow Farm, and several other concerns that have offered beautiful hand-spun or dyed sport weight and finer yarns. I also missed the fiber/textile facts tent sponsored in previous years by the Boston Area Spinners and Dyers Guild. That one had hands-on activities for the kids, and was something they looked forward to, too.
Maybe the early date of the event posed problems for the Guild and the other fiber tent regulars. It’s usually around mid-May. Maybe for the small suppliers the cost of attending wasn’t covered by income earned at previous events, or travel expense is prohibitive given current gas prices. Who knows… But I can say that this is the first year I tried hard to find something interesting, preferably unique but well made, in a color that sang to me, and came up with nothing.
Yes, it’s true. I came home from fiber festival without a single bit of yarn.