Yarn Judging 101: The Inside Scoop on Entering a Yarn Judging Competition

On the fence about entering the skein competition at your local fiber festival? Dive in and just do it! In the Spin Off Summer 2017 issue, Debbie Held encourages you to enter your own handspun yarn and offers tips for navigating the rules of a yarn judging competition to bring home your own blue ribbon.

Yarn Judging Competition

All handspun entries to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival Skein & Garment Competition must be at least 50% wool and include a completed entry form, a return address label, and a 3 x 5 card with all of the particulars. This skein of plied yarn spun from commercially prepared fibers has both ends tied together, and the card includes the spinning techniques and intended use. Photo by George Boe.

1. Read the Fine Print

No matter what propels you to take the plunge, the best piece of advice out there is to read the rules. Read the rules for the specific fair or fiber festival you plan on entering, and then read them a few more times. If you’ve entered this competition in the past, reread the rules every year you enter. A line may have changed in the meantime, and the specifics are too many to trust to memory. Although you may have no expectations of winning a ribbon and prize money, it is important to pay the same attention to detail to your spinning and entry documentation as if you were. Not only does it show pride in your handspinning, but your efforts also offer respect for the undertaking the judges and others go through in order to give your community the best and most informative festival possible.

2. Understand the Criteria

Individual benchmarks are as varied as are the fibers upon which the skeins are spun. Some mistakes or oversights will yield a disqualification, while some merely lead to points off one’s score. It is the job of the superintendent of each festival or fair to create this threshold, effectively setting an overall tone for that festival’s competitive atmosphere. . . . Depending on the contest’s standards, ties may be counted and checked for a figure eight, the skein’s circumference verified, skein ends examined to see that they are tied off (or left loose) as dictated by the entry rules, certification of wool grower’s authenticity checked when appropriate, and so on.

Yarn Judging Competition

The New York Sheep and Wool Festival Skein Competition requires a $3 entry fee, return postage for mailing your skein back to you, and two 3 x 5 cards carefully marked with the yarn’s details and entrant’s information. “Improperly marked entries will not be judged,” their guidelines say. For the Exotic Fibers category, a skein must be a minimum of 1 ounce and/or 40 yards, neatly wound with a circumference of 1½ to 2 yards, tied in at least four places with matching yarn, and washed to set the twist. Photo by George Boe.

3. Scoring

Although there is no national (or international) judges’ organization to oversee the scoring in these fairs and competitions, rest assured that these festivals’ higher-ups go out of their way to ensure that the competition is not only fair but judged by highly qualified individuals. . . . Thanks in great part to the efforts of the Northwest Regional Spinners Association (NwRSA) some thirty years ago, the rest of the country’s regional competitions today at least have a threshold from which to create their own objective judging and scoring standards (“On Being Judgmental: Judging and Standards from Northwest Regional Spinners,” Spin Off, Winter 2014). These fiber competitions generally score based on a point structure and scorecards, with room for handwritten comments.

4. See the Judged Skeins on Display

No matter what, don’t forget to come out to see the display of handspun in all of its communal glory. Depending on your fair and region, judges’ scoring and comment cards may also be on display, and ribbons will be pinned to the winning skeins. Whether or not your yarn wins a ribbon, congratulate yourself for being a participant and remember these words from Jill Graham, superintendent of the Estes Park Wool Market (and former superintendent of the Boulder County Fair for the five years prior): “We all enter for different reasons.”

—Debbie Held

Featured Image: Debbie’s prize-winning skein. Photo by Debbie Held.

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