On our first day of Rhinebeck we found the volume and variety of yarn so over-whelming the only thing Clarabel and I felt we could do was to take notes of all the stands we wanted to come back to.
In fact, our first two purchases of the weekend weren’t even yarn related! In Building E we were introduced to the concept of being “Smakert” for breakfast by the proprietress of “From Our Father’s Kitchen”; and we got the ball (and the dollars) rolling by buying alcoholic jams, chili-laced marmalade and some delicious, locally-produced spicy sauces and mustard.
As we pressed on into Building E, we learned about “The Big Wheel” from Susan and had the nursery rhyme “Pop Goes The Weasel” explained to us by one of the duo behind The Holy Trinity Weavers. (both to make future a blog post, I think)
Shortly afterwards, we met with a spinner who chatted to us gaily and was suitably impressed by the distance we had travelled, all for the sake of ogling some yarn and sheep. He told us about the Fleece to Shawl Competition he was taking part in the following day in Building E. I may have noticed this on the programme, but there really isn’t anything like someone – a contestant especially – telling you about an event for you wanting to engage and know more.
For the uninitiated (a.k.a. my readers in Ireland, I’m guessing) The Fleece to Shawl competition involves the challenge of spinning enough yarn to weave a shawl minimum 18″ wide and 72″ long within three hours. Each shawl starts with raw fiber which may be washed; but it must be in obvious lock formation. Generally the teams are made up of 1 weaver, 3 spinners and 1 person plying. Within that structure they must have one announcer.
“The announcer will be assigned two 15min. time slots to speak to the public about their team history, what the teams are doing and answer questions. When not announcing they may help their fellow team members and be available for individual public questions.”
Each team supplies its own spinning wheels, shuttles, bobbin winder, hand cards or flickers but “No drum carders, pickers or electric equipment”. The loom can be “pre-warped” i.e. the threads that go up and down on a loom can be set-up prior to the start of the three hours. There are very strict parameters involved, however:
“Pre-warp loom (may be handspun, or commercial; dyed or natural) at no fewer than eight ends per inch.”
“Warp yarn and spinning fiber must be 100% wool. Handspun weft will not exceed 3 times diameter of warp.”
The teams are judged on a 100 point basis:
1. Team Display:
a. Team Sign 5 points
b. Team Attire 5 points
a. Knowledge of presentation 10 points
b. Oral presentation 5points
a. Certified featured breed, Oxford 10 points
b. Natural Color or Natural Dyed 5points
a. Uniform preparation 5 points
b. Overall uniformity of yarn 5 points
a. Design 10 points
b. Straightness of edges 5 points
c. Evenness of edges 5points
d. Evenness of beating 5 points
e. Handspun Warp 10 points
a. First finished 10 points
b. Second finished 5 points
7. Point Deductions:
a. Less than 72 inches long -25 points
b. Less than 18 inches Wide -25 points
8. Point Bonus:
a. Team spirit and effort; 5 BONUS points
b. Fringe 5 BONUS points
c. Announcer knowledge of the Feature Breed 5 BONUS points
While the above may suggest only the loss of 10 or five points seem to be in the offing for not getting the shawl done in time, most importantly:
“Any shawl not off loom and completed by 1pm will not be eligible for ribbons or prize money. …Points will be deducted for being shorter”
The prize money is not insubstantial:
- $500 – First Place
- $300 – Second Place
- $200 – Third Place
- $100 – Fourth Place up to Seventh Place
An additional prize of $100 goes to the highest placed shawl that 100% used this year’s featured breed, Oxford; However,
“Teams competing for the additional $100 featured breed premium, must provide written proof from featured breed owner, to include, date, breeder address and phone, and total weight purchased. Fleece from current year.”
A further $50 was awarded for the best use of colour and another $50 for the best use of pattern.
We went along on Sunday morning and saw four teams in action. One team, I have to admit, I don’t recall at all, other than I met the plyer afterwards. Another team were dressed in fancy dress – so who could forget? They also had cup-holders on their spinning wheels, keeping their sodas handy – only in America, eh?
Unique amongst the teams, they had a very chatty weaver (just to the left of the picture above). We realised quickly that the role of the weaver is critical for the success of the team and their focus is paramount. “Our guy”, the spinner we met the day before, was weaver for his team and was business-like in his way of letting us know that now was not a good time for chatting.
When we arrived, one hour into the competition, the weaver for one team had just made the traumatic decision to start from scratch; cutting out the 3 inches or so that she had woven already. They had set up a very colourful warp set up on their loom, (dyed by the weaver, I think) but it was being drowned out in a weft of natural dark BFL that the team’s spinners were producing. That was a tough and brave decision to make. Unfortunately, the weaver didn’t have such an efficient way as “our guy” in excluding the chatter and distraction of onlookers. Explaining ad=nauseum that you can’t talk to people because you’re counting out a pattern in your head kinda defeats the purpose.
So we watched, we ooh-ed and aah-ed and we acquired weaving knowledge almost by osmosis. (Hey, I now know my weft from my warp!) But we did not last the three hours as spectators. Yes, we wandered off… we made more purchases, bought some yarn, a few spindles, a wheel… and didn’t manage to make it back towards Building E until we were leaving the Fairgrounds at 5 o’clock. On our way, we swung by on the off-chance we could ask someone who might know who won.
We did better than that! We met the winner – “our guy”! Yes, the spinner we had met the day before, who told us about the Fleece to Shawl Competition in the first place, whom we came especially to cheer on; was the weaver for the winner team. Having read his display board (above) and appreciated the effort he had put into the warp: growing and harvesting plants especially to naturally-dye the wool for the warp; and – more importantly – having seen his shawl in progress (above right) his team was our firm favourite to win. I was thrilled that the judges agreed.
Now that he wasn’t focussing on his rather complicated weaving pattern, he was back in chatty form again and we learned his name was Don. He explained a bit more about the pattern for the shawl and why he needed to be so focussed earlier. A diamond pattern is not the easiest thing to do in weaving, I learned.
From my knitter’s perspective, the pattern was like a slipped-stitch / mosaic pattern; with each foot-pedal position (forgotten the technical term here) sequencing a pair of “slipped-stitches” towards each other. Forming a diamond, versus a series of arrows all pointing in the one direction, means repeating the sequence in the opposite direction. Very easy to lose track, therefore of whether you’re going from left to right, or vice versa.
Don couldn’t help laughing at me as I was “toting” my freshly purchased wheel. I think he was a bit bowled over by our enthusiasm for crafting in general that made us travel so far. In reply, I couldn’t help deciding that my new spinning wheel should be called Don. That this given name has a resonance with my Family name is purely serendipitous – I only thought of that days later.