Tag Archives: 4-H

Better, not great…

I still can’t hear the term “president-elect tr…” without my bowels loosening and my chest tightening.

All of the past hostile and toxic environments I’ve been in, stalkings I’ve gone through, rictus grins through mansplaing and talkingovers, and yes, even getting my pussy grabbed in broad daylight on the way to work and when filing a police report about it being told that I could be charged since I punched the man and thus likely left a mark and he didn’t….

is all coming up GERD-like and simmering at the back of my tongue.

So fiber really isn’t on my mind.

And the wind is howling like January.

And my computer is possibly in its death throes, so I’m busy backing it all up.


Here’s a less stressful time – I’m sewing 4-B flags for our sister 4-H group in Botswana – complete with tomato pin holder, yarn bows on pigtails, and my mom’s early-mid 1960s Singer sewing machine in the background, and of course, a perfect example of the absolute worst decade for eyeglasses (not to mention the mole I had surgically removed after I was sick of being called “moleface” but then became “scarface” but that was more badass and not as bad, but I regret removing it now unless it ended up taking over the whole side of my face like the kids said it was doing…). Our 4-H club was called “A Better America” and I think of it every time I hear “Make America Great Again.” And both bother me because most “Americans” aren’t actually including the whole of the Americas north and south, continent-wise, when they say it, but tr… means us, just us, just our jaggedy wide midsection of North America and only those citizens who worship him, but our 4-H club included the whole shebang and beyond, and meant that we as Americans needed to do our part to make it a little bit better for everyone. We welcomed new immigrants and citizens, helped out our poor townspeople, mentored youth, played entirely too many games of Uno with our elderly and mentally handicapped (somewhat warehoused in hindsight) neighbors in group homes, and connected with others in the world (along with the typical 4-H litany of farm animals, bake-offs, forestry projects, and camp).

 I (think, hope) I still have the letters that my 4-B penpal from Botswana, Bertha, wrote over 30 years ago, but I’ll never forget her first which she opened with: “My country is not as beautiful as you may think.”

I’m feeling that about mine too.



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Jersey [wool] baby…


Folks are always in a tizzy about Rhinebeck and the Maryland Sheep and Wool festivals, but smack in the middle is the small and very manageable Garden State [aka New Jersey] Sheep Breeders festival.

I went several years ago and bought a large amount of  raw alpaca fiber.  I think it was before I owned a spinning wheel, and had just learned to spin on a Turkish spindle…?  And I also thought I got a really good deal, but I didn’t – though it’s in beautiful natural fawn, grey, and black colors, the fibers were shorn at a very short length, so I’m not able to spin it (at least not without experiencing anger).  I need to felt it, blend it into something else, send it out for commercial processing, or just sell/trade/gift the mess.

I thought that this year’s festival would be bigger, and I think there were a few more vendors, but as a whole it’s small and I love it – no crowds, no pushing in booths, and plenty of time and space to enjoy the animals.


And it really is about the animals – I know those other large festivals are too in theory, but the wooly nirvana shopping frenzy is the annoying take away.  I like watching the judging, even if it’s for the meat breeds – brings me back to my 4-H youth, and I can still spot the nicest hindquarters most of the time.

There may have been fewer breeds on display this year too, but I’m not sure.

N’s favorites are the angora goats.


And I’m a fan of the Jacob sheep.



This little one – not sure if she’s Shetland or one of the small Cheviots – was bleating her cute little head off louder than anyone in the barn.


It seemed she just wanted attention, or she was nervous about an approaching late summer thunderstorm, or her buddies were in the ring and she was lonely, or she knew she was in the wrong state and the others were going Jersey on her ass…


But she calmed down once she got to pose for snaps.

[And for those who think they have an idea of what NJ might be like, they’re most likely wrong – this part of the state might as well be the Midwest, complete with more reasonable drivers and farm smells rather than malodorous chemical plants.  Actually the farms are really well-managed around here and rarely give off odors unlike the factory farms of PA].

On our last vacation, I managed just walk on by two decent-looking LYSs, and we drove right past WEBS since I knew that wool festivals were coming up. I’ve also been good about passing up sales at my favorite indie dyers and deeply discounted full lots of yarns over the last year, so I could spend a little on some fiber directly from the source.  I love so much of the beautifully dyed yarns out there at festivals though, and always kick myself for not picking up a skein or two of something gorgeous, but at nearly $30 a pop for most, I can get more [and more unique] fiber instead.  This would have been the time and place to pick up a few of those skeins though – some of the same booths at Rhinebeck are virtually impenetrable.

The fiber-bearing-animal-keeper folks around here seem to prefer Romneys and Alpacas, and I’m done with both of those for a bit – I’ve spun plenty of Romney, and though I love a “rustic” yarn, I’ve already got enough, and I don’t love knitting with it.  And the Alpaca is lovely, but the good stuff is pricey and I still have some waiting to be spun, so I’m mostly looking for different breeds to try, especially if they have a name and a face.


So a few ounces of Gustav the Gotland came home with me.


He lives at Cloudberry Sheep and Wool farm in central NJ and is a lovely pale to medium grey.  I’m not sure how I’ll spin him yet, or if I’ll combine some of the various breeds I’ve collected into some sort of sampler project, or make small accessories of each…

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Rhinebeck blues

The color blue, not a sad state or form of American music.  I went to Rhinebeck, also known as The Duchess County Sheep and Wool Festival, also known as New York State Sheep and Wool Festival last year.  I did not knit my fingers bloody trying to finish a “Rhinebeck sweater,” I did not have a checklist of kniterati to meet or booths to visit, and I did not have butterflies in my stomach as we drove up.  I grew up in a rural place and I love farm animals, but every summer involved 4-H fairs with long lines, hot humid smelly fly infested stalls, and greasy carnival foods served by even greasier characters.  In the autumn, my small town hosted a gianormous craft festival where I had to spend countless hours in booths selling various odoriferous foods in scorching or freezing weather for charities, or man my mother’s own craft booth.  So I could take or leave most fairs and festivals.  I went to the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival a few years ago, and it was hot and humid, the food was mediocre at best, and it was way too crowded.  I bought a whole fleece there that I’m still carding by hand (and it was before I learned about skirting) and I doubt I’ll ever finish it.  So with a bit of a chip on my shoulder, we headed north.  First promising sign was there was a decent variety of local foods, including fresh hot cider:

blue not in food

And of course there were lots of sheep, goats, camelids, and other furries, though not as many or as many varieties as in Maryland, but that was ok.  I really want some of these one day.

blue white sheepblue black sheep

And N was happy to schlep some of my stuff while wearing one of my early handspun hats.  And do you notice that the weather is beautiful and mild, not too warm, and there’s nary a person in sight?  Oh but there were hordes, and by mid-day it was too crowded to shop, but the layout of the fairgrounds was good – lots of breathing room and benches and grassy fields to get away from everyone.

blue n

And see all of the blue?  Blue is yet another color for which I’ve got  a complicated relationship.  I like it in theory – I like blue and white porcelain, blue glass, and all of the instances of blue in nature, but it is a color I don’t normally wear, and don’t usually like on my walls.  So, in hindsight, I think the blue sky and sheep pens influenced my purchase of this smoky blue roving tinged with a tomatoey red.

blue roving

It’s Romney from Shepherd’s Mill Wool Processing in Elmer New Jersey.  And I love the smoky murky colors, but good god, it’s a dirty batch of wool.

blue dirt

My spinning finger turns brown with gunk after a few minutes, and let’s not speak of the vegetable matter that I’m ignoring while spinning but will later regret as it pokes and scratches me in a garment.  But I will finish it up shortly and I hope I have enough for a sweater of some sort – I know I should have two pounds of the stuff (the lanolin and dirt is contributing to the weight) for a comfortably large sweater, but it might just be enough.  I’m spinning an aran-ish weight.

blue detail

I can’t wait to see how this will knit up – I’m going to wait to swatch after I’ve finished spinning… I also have a holey Shetland sweater ready to be frogged that compliments it, so I could add in a stripe or two or collar if need be (this might not be the right sweater, I think I have another that is more pinkish, but this one will do too).

blue with cuff

And I think we’ll go back to Rhinebeck again this fall… though don’t expect me to wearing something made from this, unless I come down with the seemingly contagious Rhinebeck fever (or fervor).

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