Fleece Huffing

  This Shetland ram was a little shy at the 2012 Estes Park Wool Market. He belongs to Emma Hopkins of Indiana. Photo by Christa Tippmann

Sheep and wool festival—one of my favorite times of year—is in full swing! Next weekend marks the 26th annual Estes Park Sheep and Wool Market, which is both my “local” wool festival and a perfect size. It’s large enough to attract great national vendors, but small enough to be a manageable size and retain that wonderful mountain feel. (Read more about it in the Summer 2015 issue of Spin-Off.)

Setting foot inside the fairgrounds at a wool festival can be blissful and paralyzing. The wool fumes! The explosion of color in the vendor stalls! The cacophony of sheep and goat bleats, llama and alpaca hums, even (if you’re lucky) yak grunts! And most of all . . . the fleece tent.

The first time I went to the fleece show, I was intimidated by the clusters of people who came to see their fleeces judged and left with smiles or clenched jaws when the results were given, the baffling colors of the ribbons (OK, blue, but red? White? Purple?). Some fleeces had been snatched up, but how did those more experienced spinners know what to get?

I left with two fleeces, one of which I split with a friend. That fleece brought both of us tears. If only I had listened to some of Judith MacKenzie’s best advice: Snap a lock sharply and listen for a clear “ping” sound like a bell. A crackle sound indicates a tender fleece, which is what I went home with.

Learn what to pick up, what to leave behind, and what to do when you find the ideal fleece in Three Bags Full—which is 40% off until Sunday, June 7. You’ll hear behind-the-scenes commentary of wool judging, watch an expert sort and watch a fleece, and even get a PDF pocket fleece buying guide to take to your next festival.

And if it’s Estes, come say hello!

  I can almost smell the lanolin from here! This sheep belongs to Dana Ruehlman of Boulder, Colorado. Photo by Christa Tippmann.


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