I went to a wool festival and all I got was a ton of photos and four pounds of raw fleece

So I have a couple new favorite things: my new 50mm lens, and wool festivals.

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A couple friends and I went to the Casari Ranch wool festival last weekend. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew it was on the ranch itself, so it’d have ranch-type stuff happening and not just fiber-type stuff. Not that I mind fiber stuff, it’s just much easier to find in craft-happy Oakland than things involving actual sheep. So a couple friends and I piled into the car and headed three hours north to Point Arena.

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Dancer the bummer, who was so tame she’d run to the fence so you could pet her.

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Like every sheep farm probably is, it was liberally decorated with sheep skulls.

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This is decor I can relate to.

We got to peer at the machinery for the wool mill, handle lots of raw fleece from different breeds and at different stages of prep, and get a feel for how to skirt and grade fleeces. I loved that part. Nothing helps you understand fiber terms like pulling on a lock of wool with a break in it and watching it dissipate into a cottony cloud, or holding a wad of lanolin-greasy wool still warm from the sheep, or watching second cuts fall like dandelion fluff through the skirting table. In the vendor area, I got to sift through whole raw fleeces and wool in every state from fleece to garments, getting a little more of the tactile knowledge you can’t get from googling. I even had a moment when I was handling a marked-down Corriedale-cross fleece and worrying that I might be missing a bargain if I didn’t buy it when it dawned on me that Oh, I can’t separate the locks at all over here, I think … I think the tips are pretty badly felted, and put it back.

Personally, what really drew me in was the shearing and its combination of force and finesse. As someone who’s always had office jobs I know it’s way too easy to romanticize hard physical work, but after years and years of pushing pixels for a living, it’s easy to get pulled in by tasks that have real, tangible results. (My favorite parts of learning to weld were testing seams by tossing a just-finished piece onto the cement for with a huge, resounding clang to see if the weld held, and bending pieces of metal by wailing on them with a hammer.) Some days it feels like my job could be easily replaced with spell check and a computer, something that’ll never happen with shearing.

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As for wool, well … I brought enough cash that I could buy a decent fleece, not that I’m that great yet at knowing what “decent” is. I’ve done some spinning with a drop spindle, but I’m still a raw novice. (That didn’t stop me from getting a spinning wheel recently, which is still in pieces as I slowly sand and refinish it.) I figured, if I’m gonna do something, why not do it in the over-the-top, sink-yourself-into-it-until-you-know-how-to-do-it way I inherited from my mom? Besides, it’s shearing season! That’s how I talked myself into my first fleece, a Jacob that’s been slouching in a chair at my kitchen table like a slightly smelly dinner guest until I have time to wash it.

All I knew before going to Casari was I wanted something that was different from a Jacob, and that it probably shouldn’t be merino, since it’ll probably be awhile before I can handle such a short staple length. I gingerly dug through bags, teased apart locks, listened for the ping of sound wool as I tugged on it, happily exclaimed over the texture of what turned out to be wool skirting that the vendor told me was really only fit for felting, worried, waited, and anxiously eyed shoppers who’d arrived earlier as they carted away fleeces of their own.

And then, of course, came home with four pounds of raw merino, which I parked in the kitchen, in the other fleece’s lap. Together in the chair, they make a pile that comes up to my shoulder when I sit at the table next to them.

I’d say I’m off to a good start.

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The lighthouse at Point Arena, which we visited after the wool festival.