In Search of Wool

Fall Fair, Harvest Festival, Oktoberfest … all names used to celebrate the fall harvest season – a special occasion to gather and celebrate our connection to the land and harvest season.  Fall Fairs have changed since the 1800’s when harvest ended and farmers came together to share their successes and failures in crop yields and livestock breeding. There have always been competitions for the largest bull or pumpkin, best cherry pie, rose, rabbit or chicken. Such fairs have long been a show place for 4H members to display their lovingly tended animals and hope to claim a ribbon for the “best” of the Fair.

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Today Fall Fairs still bring together the urban and rural farming and gardening communities to celebrate the harvest while offering activities for young and old – demonstrations, arts and crafts, musicians and food booths.

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The Sunshine Coast has several Harvest Festivals and on September 22 I travelled to Powell River to meet again with Valerie McKeen at the annual Fall Fair.  I had originally met her and a favourite ewe Poppy at the 2012 Fall Fair on a trip with two Guild members.  Valerie had quickly shared her dedication to breeding sheep to meet the needs of local spinners and dyers and hence my need to return in 2013.

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This year in the barn dedicated to livestock and fowl it was a welcoming treat to see Valerie in a stall filled with a display of all things fibre from her current flock of sheep.  Valerie was sitting at her Lendrum spinning wheel creating lovely yarn from the many types of fleece and carded wool she was able to offer.

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Valerie had to break away and give her demonstration of sheep herding with her Old English Sheepdog.  As a closely working team they herded and penned a flock of eight sheep. It was fascinating to watch how skillfully she controlled the sheep who blocked her every step while also managing to keep the dog working correctly.

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I met up with a former Guild member Helene N. and shared a Fall Fair lunch of wood fired pizza, bottled kombucha and homemade cheese cake and then viewed displays of crafts from the Middle Ages and the many local artisans before returning to the barn to continue our discussion with Valerie.

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Valerie, as a member of the B.C. Purebred Sheep Breeders Association, had attended the All Canada Ram and Ewe Show and Sale in Barriere, BC this June.  She is currently expanding her breeding program for more and varied sources of fine wool for fibre artisans.  At this time she is able to offer Shetland, Clun Forest/Border Cheviot Cross, Scottish Black Face (ram only), and Romney in their natural colours, all cleaned, washed and carded.  In 2014 she will be offering beautiful Bluefaced Border Leicester as part of her Canadian Classics breeding program. It is hoped that this fall her Ewesful fine wools will be available at Yvonne’s FibreWorks Studio and Gallery which already sells local fibres from the Thormanby Island Alpacas and Laughlin Creek Llamas.

Valerie introduced me to a lovely young woman, Samantha Sherman of Sugar Tree Farm, who is embarking on a wool breeding program and will also be offering fibres from goats and rabbits to meet the goals of the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed focus on “Local Fibres” in 2014.

Thank you Valerie for your time and for sharing your love of all things fibre.  Thank you also to the wonderful farmers of the Powell River Farmers’ Institute who have been “growing in the community since 1915”  and to your town for its dedication to the Transition Town movement.  It was a heartfelt treat to see our “old time” values of caring for ourselves and the land in a sustainable manner and to share in the celebrations that keep us connected.

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I shall return again in 2014 for my “three bags full.”

Deanna B. Pilling

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