Wool Festival Season

It’s wool festival season! (Yes, that is a thing.) Before I head off to Rhinebeck, N.Y., early Sunday morning for the motherlode of American fiber fests, I want to write up a note about a cozier celebration I went to last weekend: the North Jersey Fiber Arts Festival.

The event was in Ridgewood, a picturesque bedroom community of New York City whose tree-lined streets and rows of Tudor-style shops seems too good to be true, and are — median household income is $143,000. Still, it was nice to see the trees just beginning to turn copper around their edges and to smell air that smelled like … well, like just air, and not garbage, city bus fumes, or urine.

I wanted to spend more time wandering — suburbia, I miss you? — but I had a mission, and its name was drop spindle. By that, I mean I was taking a class in how to spin yarn using wool and a weighted wooden stick, kind of like a free-floating top. Because when you’re addicted to a craft to the point that you spend every spare minute practicing it — knitting on the subway, knitting at work, knitting while reading books with their pages weighted open with your cellphone — the answer, clearly, is to pick up another craft. Preferably one that uses your hands and wrists in at least approximately the same way. (I’m sorry, carpal tunnel. Hang in there, please.)

Let it be said that spinning is addictive. Which I realized before the class had ended, when it occurred to me I was no longer really listening to the instructor, I was so fixed on the length of camel-colored wool winding into yarn between my index finger and thumb. Coarse, lumpy yarn, yes, but yarn. And that friends, is why I walked out of that church with a bottom-whorl, maple-and-padauk supported spindle and an armful of fiber, including some Bombyx silk in a pale, shimmery sand-and-stone gradient that it’ll probably be months before I have the confidence to test out.

BUT, I did test out the braid of handpainted merino roving I came home with — in fact, I’ve already spun it, washed it, and knit it up into a pair of variegated pink-and-white mitts. By the time the spinning was done, I’d watched the entire first season of Orange Is the New Black, and my hands looked like I’d just murdered a gang of ill-intentioned beets. The dye rubbed off something fierce.

Now I can’t wait to get home from Rhinebeck with some new wool to try out. I’m thinking I’ll go with an undyed wool this time, and maybe try plying the yarn. (That means twisting two strands together to produce a stronger, more evenly twisted yarn.)


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