Beasts of Fiber: A Day at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and Bluegrass Classic Stock Dog Trials

On a rainy Saturday in Lexington, we ventured out to the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and the Bluegrass Classic Stock Dog Trials held in Masterston Station Park for a day of beasties, fleeces, fibers, and gizmos.

Traveling with an uniKNITiated muggle to a fiber fair is a very different experience from going to a fiber event with a fellow knitter. Long leisurely hours of petting fiber and oohing and ahhing over colors and textures was not an option. However, we did find lots of animals–just about everyone likes animals–including alpaca, goats, sheep, and rabbits and the camera wielding spouse had a good time with the beasts of fiber. There was not a lot of visitor interaction with the penned animals but they did have ongoing sheep sheering demonstrations and sometimes animals were outside their pens and available for holding or petting.

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For those more interested in seeing how things work than in admiring lovely skeins of yarn there were lots of gizmos: hand crafted or precision machined equipment developed for carding, spinning, weaving, skeining, hooking, and knitting. I found we could linger a bit in a gizmo rich booth to discuss form and function, adding an engineering slant to our visit. Looking at yarn was a brief pet and a quick mental note for me, never spending too long standing in one place and risk pushing my partner’s patience.

One booth had floor looms available for hands-on instruction. It was rather fun and, unlike spinning that would produce even more yarn for my stash, a loom would do the opposite. Weaving would consume fiber much faster than knitting it. Something to consider; the estimated years to work my way through my stash might exceed my lifetime. The question is, would my beneficiaries prefer legacy stash or woven placemats? The most basic two-pedal floor loom was over $1000 and, although I considered it and took their business card, that is a lot to spend for a one-day-I-imagemight-like-to-do-this whim. Still, I may keep my eye out for used looms or opportunities to borrow one. There were also beautiful hand carved yarn bowls in lovely smooth woods that tempted me. There were beautiful ceramic ones too, but being a bit of a klutz I think wood might be more practical than ceramic. For my wish list, I might consider that a yarn bowl would fit under a Christmas tree more easily than a loom and would certainly be a better fit for Santa’s budget.

The one thing that moved from wish list to shopping list was a Strauch swift. I had seen them on the Woolery site and they looked nice–and looked tempting–but trying it at the Strauch Fiber booth convinced me that it is a must have. I love my Strauch winder but it can be fussy, a bit like an Italian sports car. When it winds smoothly, there is nothing like it for zip-zoom creation of center pull cakes, particularly with large or heavy skeins. But when it is not winding smoothly, the yarn falls off track and imageit can quickly go from firm cake to free form mess if not caught and remedied right away. From my visit at the Strauch booth I learned that a jerky swift is the enemy, a precision crafted one with ball bearings and made in a choice of beautiful woods is the answer. When I tried winding with both the Strauch swift and winder, it ran as smoothly and swiftly as a freshly tuned Italian sports car. There will be one in my near future.

We did find many interesting crafts besides knitting, even one that we could both could find interesting that combined bicycles and fiber. The spouse might want to keep an eye on his bicycle wheels in case I got imageideas, or I may have to keep an eye on my fiber in case he does. A vendor from Sweden brought some traditional pelts that were sheep fleece on one side and painted skins on the other. Not only were they very unique and beautiful, they would be the perfect thing to hunker down with on a cold winter’s night. Or so I thought until I asked the price. Unfortunately, with a price tag over $1000 USD they were not throws I could leave about, not the practical relax, munch popcorn, and watch TV lap blankets of choice. Made from traditional Gotland sheep, these were heirlooms. We also saw rugs, artistic felting, a hand spun skein competition, and lots and lots of raw and hand-dyed fleece.

I headed towards the exit with a firm determination to get a precision made swift, an interest in a loom and wooden yarn bowl, and an appreciation of many of the fine imagecrafts but I was empty handed. Halting at the exit gate, I returned to one of the many friendly booths who’s yarn had stayed in my mind, A Yarn Well Spun, and selected a pair of socks, some assembly required.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and think the spouse did too, if not quite so much. Although I did not spend the time carefully perusing the yarn vendors–as I would have done had  I been on my own or with a like-minded partner in crime–I was impressed with what I saw. The fiber vendors seemed to be mostly small independent businesses, there were not many displays of large company’s name-brand yarns. It was a special treat to see so many unique hand-dyed and hand-spun fleece and fibers on display. There were also a lot of natural undyed fibers that were beautiful in their own way. Although I got more of  a big picture view of the festival than my usual putter and peruse visit to this sort of event, I saw many interesting and wonderful things in the moderately sized festival. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to attend.

The festival provided continuous shuttles between the fiber fair and the dog trials. It is difficult to describe just how huge the competition area was for the trials, suffice to say that when each dog was released on one end, the sheep on the other looked like little dots. Everything we know about dog trials we learned from others sitting in the bleachers with us. In other words, this is what we understood to be the rules.

Briefly, when it is their turn, the handler and the competing dog stand by a pole until they are given the signal to start. Meanwhile, very far away a horse and rider and an imageofficial dog who works for the organizers bring three sheep out to a spot in the pasture. The competing dog is released while the rider on the horse and official dog withdraw. The dog races from handler to cluster of sheep, skirting the perimeter of the pasture so s/he can sneak up on the sheep from behind. The dog must herd the sheep to a set of gates and bring them through the gates, bring them to another set of gates and herd them through those, return to the handler, separate one sheep out from the other two for a set amount of time, and herd all three of them into a little pen. The handler, meanwhile, issues all commands using a whistle. Once in the pen, the competition is over but the dog can then proudly herd them toward a little pasture outside the field of competition where they are greeted by a second “official” dog. The official dog brings the befuddled sheep into the final enclosure. The dog has eleven minutes, and if s/he does not finish, the official dog is sent out to end the run and bring the sheep to the outer pasture. This is humiliating for the competing dog. Each dog starts with 100 points and points are deducted during the course of the run. It is both a judged and a timed trial.

The first dog we saw completed the course in less than 11 minutes and had around 60 points. The second dog took off running at great speed and got the sheep to the first set of fences fairly quickly but did not complete the run before time was up. The third dog we saw really struggled, perhaps s/he was a young and less experienced dog, and had not successfully brought the sheep through the second set of fences when the official dog came out to gather the sheep. The competing dog upped the energy level, as if saying, “I can do it, I can do it, I CAN DO IT!” An increase in energy failed to convince the official dog that the little guy was a mighty sheep herding beast, the look the official dog gave him said, “Out of the way puppy, watch how this is done.” As the official competently and quickly herded the sheep to their new pasture, all the while ignoring the other dog, the little guy continued to run around them as if s/he was the sheep master. The next dog we saw did much better, doing all the elements and almost completing the run but was about a minute too slow. The last dog we watched completed the elements and beat the clock.

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We just watched a few dogs, and would have stayed to watch more were it not for our rumbling bellies wanting lunch and our travel plans for the day. We were fascinated by the use of the whistle. The sheep were so far away that we could not imagine how the dog could hear the whistle when s/he was at the furthest point from the trainer. The different tones signaled the dog to stop, crouch, move the sheep right, move the sheep left, and so on. It was only afterwards that I thought, wait a minute. How does a dog know left from right? People struggle with that concept, think of how many times we have all heard, “No, the other left hand.”

We were also impressed by how well imagebehaved the dogs were as the hung around the area waiting to participate. Most of all, we were impressed by dogs knowing what to do in such a huge open space. We wondered where they were able to train for such a thing. Unlike the Sheep and Fiber Fair where the spouse good naturedly wandered about for my sake, I think we both enjoyed the dog trials equally.

It was an interesting day with beasts of fiber.

Next up, our travels in Kentucky.

Frankenskeins: The Skein Experiments 

In an earlier post, Looks Like a Shower Scene from Psycho, I discussed color bleed, which is when a color from one yarn bleeds into and changes the color of another, turning a beautiful creation into a bleeding monstrosity. After reading differing opinions and approaches on Ravelry threads, I decided to do some experiments and form my own opinions.

Disclaimer. Experiments were not controlled using the same yarn; I used multiple skeins, not a single yarn in the same colorway, on the same base, and from the same dyelot. What I did use were two different sets of mini-skeins that I had purchased for projects. If someone wants to fund my yarn purchases–um, I mean my research–I would be willing to run my experiments with identical yarn. It would also be possible to cut a single skein into many pieces, but I would have to insist on a lab assistant to weave in all my ends.

Materials used: Yarn skeins, lace weight scrap yarn for tying skeins, Amish yarn swift, scissors, glass bowl, Kookabura Wool Wash, vinegar, Dawn dishwashing detergent, warm (not hot) water, and bath towels.

Yarn: One set of hand-dyed mini-skeins from Leading Men Fiber Arts and one set of mini-skeins from Miss Babs. Both sets contained skeins with reddish and purple tones, colors said to be the most problematic for color bleed.

I may have mentioned before that I want to just sit down and start knitting, all this pre-knitting stuff just delays take-off. Winding skeins of yarn into cakes is another one of those pre-knitting things that cannot be avoided. If everything goes well, the yarn is skeined without snags and tangles, the winder runs smoothly, and the ball comes off the winder cleanly, then I usually do not mind it very much, but it is not my favorite thing. It was certainly not something I wanted to un-do as I had to for one set of these skeins that I had already wound last week. But for the sake of science; if pre-washing is going to save my finished project from looking like Tammy Faye’s streaking mascara after a good cry then one must do what one must do.

The first experiment was with the brightest, fuschia color mini-skein from Leading Men Fiber Arts. I re-skeined it from the ball onto the swift and, using some scrap yarn, tied it in 4 places using a figure eight type method. I used lace weight, but string or any contrasting yarn should work. My little YouTube video shows how I tied the skeins.

How to Tie a Skein

I used a glass bowl to observe the amount of color-bleed. One of the things I read was that wool wash made things worse. It may be so because it bled the most and I did not repeat this method. When I first put it into the warm water, the water remained clear but when I checked it 20 minutes later there was a lot of color in the water. I rinsed it several times, not letting the running water touch the yarn so as to be as gentle as possible, and rinse after rinse color kept coming out. I soaked for another 20 minutes in plain water and did more rinses, still color was coming out. I changed the water to a warm water and vinegar solution and set the timer for 10 minutes, which turned into 40 minutes because my daughter called and I found I was more interested in what she had to say than playing Dr. Frankenstein. Call ended and water drained, I rinsed several more times and still some color drained out and leeched onto the towel. Speaking of towels, I threw it in and hoped I had done enough to not ruin my finished product. Looks like I will be relying on crossed fingers and the color capture sheets for this skein.

 

 

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The next four skeins were increasing shades of purple. I  did them, two-at-a time,  in a vinegar and water solution. No bleed, even after sitting 20 minutes. The final mini-skein in the set is black, and as I am mixing it with gray I am going to let myself believe that a little smudge of black on gray will not show, remembering that my color capture sheet will be there for the bright bleeding fuschia skein.

The Miss Babs set had a range of a reddish color to muted purples, the final two colors were close enough to the warm grayish background color so as not to worry about it. Because my fuschia in the other set was the most problematic, I did the reddish yarn by itself in vinegar and water. No bleeding. I did the next two in vinegar and water with the same result. I then changed the solution, putting a few drops of Dawn liquid in the bowl and adding some warm water. There were so many suds that I poured some out and diluted it a bit. I soaked the final two skeins in the Dawn and, once again, did not observe any color bleeding.

I ordered some organic, minimal ingredient hand soap and will try a squirt of that next time I wash skeins. I looked online for organic shampoo for color treated hair but, other than the one I found at $35 for 8 ounces, I was not conformatable with the ingredients lists. One for $17 looked promising, but it just said “safe for color treated hair” and I am not sure it is the same thing.

Conclusions. I think I am sold on the vinegar and water for a pre-soak. I am definitely sold on the concept of pre-soaking when it comes to a multi-color project. At this point, I am not trying to clean the yarn so I do not need a sudsing agent. If the water serves to release loose dye and the vinegar helps set the color, that seems like a reasonable first step.

However, I do like to wash a project after it has been dragged around to knitting groups, dropped on the floor, and pushed aside or shoved into knitting bags. For a project that is all one yarn or a knit with similar hues, my Kookabura is probably just fine. When it comes to a multi-colored project I am going to avoid using wool wash and look to other options. I am interested in trying the minimal ingredient organic hand wash I just ordered, and the Dawn certainly is another option. I think I am okay with missing the bus on the shampoo for color treated hair but if I come across a formula that looks mild enough I might give it a shot. The color capture sheets are definitely going into the bath, no matter what I use as a washing agent.

The yarn still looks saturated in color, I did not observe any noticeable fading. After the yarn dries it will be interesting to see if the yarn feels different after being soaked in wool wash, vinegar, or Dawn.

With my pre-washed yarn and a plan for washing at the end, I am ready to start my project and, as always, hope it is a beautiful creation, not a bleeding monstrosity.

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Looks Like the Shower Scene from Psycho

After the many hours of planning, knitting, and finishing, the last thing I wanted to have pop in my mind when washing my project was, “OMG, it looks like the shower scene from Psycho!”

For those who are too young to remember the 1960 Hitchcock movie, there was a gruesome scene in the Bates Motel involving a woman traveling on her own, a shower, a knife, and a psychopath wielding it. The scene pretty much went from setting the scene with all those components, a shot of the woman screaming, and a cut to a great deal of blood running down the drain. Hitchcock was a master, he did not need to

explicitly show everything to scare the holy heck out of people. It worked, I saw it as a child and that final image from the scene is imprinted in my brain. I would not get into a shower shawl for weeks, opting for a bathtub and a securely locked door. When I finally did brave a shower stall, I had just sudsed up my hair when one of my brothers flipped off the light switch, let out a long howl, and ran into the bathroom with a big Halloweeny blood-coated rubber knife. It was to my mother’s horror when, moments later, I ran screaming through the living room–where she was sitting primly with guests–barely covered in a towel, streaming water and suds in my wake.

I knit a cross-over shawl, by that I mean something between a shawl, a cowl, and a poncho: looks like a shawl in knitting style but drops over your head as something larger than a cowl but smaller than a poncho. The yarn was a gradient in reds, the month December, and the project still too short when the skein was nearly gone. I happened to have some white yarn in the same base and, well why not add a little white border with some sparkly beads?  It was adorable, putting it on made me want to get in touch with my inner Marilyn Monroe and dance about lip syncing Santa Baby. Then I washed it. Evoking images of the shower scene was the last thing I wanted when soaking my project for blocking. But there it was, the basin filled with red, rinse after rinse after rinse. The border went from snowy white to peppermint pink. I really, really tried to like my pink peppermint trim, but I think I have worn that thing once or twice and, rather than Santa Baby, all I could think of was Sugar, Sugar. I hate that song.

Yes, a certain amount of preparation and planning is necessary before starting a project, but I just want to knit not prepare to knit. I know it is important to read the pattern carefully, a quick scanning before picking up the needles will seldom do. Do not ask how many times it took for me to learn that lesson. It takes all my strength of character to stop and swatch, and only then when I think gauge is going to matter in the finished product. Sometimes even then I fudge it by dropping down 2 needle sizes and hoping for the best. Like with a hat; I figure if I am charity knitting that–no matter what size the hat comes out–someone will have a head big or small enough to fit it. Getting gauge for a test knit is painful. Clearly I am just a loose woman because I have to keep going down, down, down in needle sizes to get anywhere near the designer’s stated gauge, knitting many a swatch along the way. For a shawl, what is the worst thing that can happen, other than knitting something too big or too small or running out of yarn? OK, I admit, the answer could be a peppermint pink border. This is all to say, I really do not want to add even more extra steps to my pre-knitting.

My imagination was captured by Melanie Berg’s On the Spice Market shawl and I started following the KAL thread on Ravelry. Someone brought up, horrors, color-bleed. There was some discussion on the thread, but the most useful comment was a link to the Miss Babs thread where color bleed was discussed in great gory detail. In particular, Miss Bab’s post number 19 provides a detailed explanation for why some yarns bleed and what her recommendations are for preventing it.

Miss Babs Color Bleed Thread

There were many  warnings, hints, and recommendations in the thread and, as usual, there were things that one person swears by that another would never do. But the basic takeaway was this: if you are going to mix colors, pre-wash your yarn. Especially yarns that are red or purple, and especially if those reds and purples are going to be mixed with lighter colors. Some people swore by Dawn liquid. I think I will take a pass on that one, when we had to quickly make up a DIY skunk wash for the dog at 6:30 one morning, the recipe we found called for hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and Dawn. Not generic dishwashing liquid, Dawn. Anything that is strong enough seek and destroy skunk stench might be a bit much for my fluffy little knits. Others swore by shampoo for color treated hair. Some people warned against using wool wash. Still others recommended soaking in vinegar and water. Miss Babs said she used a mild hand soap and that she recommends pre washing her yarns, particularly if colors are mixed in a project.

So this is all interesting to me because three of my projects–one about to start, one in its infancy, and one nearly done–all involve light backgrounds with darker contrast colors. It is too late for the one that is nearly finished, the one with deep dark magenta highlights on a white/multi background. All I can do is hope the verigated pattern disguises magenta escaping its borders into the white. But for the others, sigh, looks like there will be a knitting delay to pre wash the contrast colors.

From reading and sorting through the thread, here is my game plan. First, make sure the yarn is made ready for a bath by using a contrasting yarn and tying the skein in at least 4 places. I am inclined to stick with my tried and true Kookabura wash in spite of what some people said, but I am going to use color capture sheets to be on the safe side. I will soak it for about 20 minutes, rinse, and repeat until the water runs clear (no Psycho shower scenes), wrap it in a towel, spin it inside the towel in my top loading washing machine, and hang it on a wooden dowel rack to dry.

I can read my patterns carefully while my yarn dries, but I will not be taking more time to swatch when it finally does. Besides–if I miscalculate and run short–I know how to make sicky sweet peppermint pink yarn. That goes with everything, right?