Arts and crafts

'Sheep thrills' this weekend in Taos

Fiber enthusiasts ‘flock’ to annual Taos Wool Festival in Kit Carson Park

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The 34th annual Taos Wool Festival is not a “b-a-a-a-d” way to spend the day. “Ewe” will be impressed by the outstanding “herd” of vendors offering exquisite fibers and finished products. Children and adults alike squeal with delight in the company of the live sheep, alpacas, goats and Angora rabbits.

Attention, dog owners: Pets are welcome, but please don’t bring them up to the livestock.

All of this woolly fun takes place Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 7-8). This two-day spectacle occurs on the great lawn in Kit Carson Park, 211 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Admission is free and all are invited, so don’t be “sheepish.” Plan on bringing the whole family.

Hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday.

As of press time, 63 vendors are shown to participate in this year’s event, which is organized by the Mountain and Valley Wool Association (MAVWA). The varied and extensive membership in MAVWA is a testament to its role as an outstanding regional association. Membership is organized well with bylaws and policies.

Festival volunteers are always needed. Also, if you missed the participation deadline for this year, join MAVWA’s mailing list so you can plan to participate in next year’s competitions, contests, auctions and live music performances.

Perhaps no other aspect of Taos Wool Festival is more thrilling than the live sheep shearing.

Tom Barr – of Sanford, Colorado (just north of Antonito) – has been doing the shearing practically every year of the festival’s lifespan. He said, “I enjoy going to Taos this time of the year. It is peaceful and calm and the weather is beautiful. Shearing the sheep is part of how I make a living. I also raise sheep. I only shear about eight sheep a day at the festival. The people are delighted and the children’s eyes get so big. I think everyone finds it pretty amazing to see a sheep sheared in just three or four minutes. Some people come up to me and say: ‘It took us an hour.’”

The “critter corner” holding the pen of live alpacas is also a popular draw. Frana Biederman is the individual who is responsible for the critter corner. She is the ranch owner of Phi Beta Paca Alpacas & Yarns out in the Hondo Mesa area. She said, “The Wool Festival changed my life.”

And apparently, that statement is without exaggeration. In 2002, the Taos Wool Festival was then doing live auctions of animals. Biederman said, “Here’s how I got into alpacas: They were auctioning off a baby Angora goat. I knew less than zero about livestock. Cupid shot an arrow and it went astray – I fell for the goat and not the guy. That’s how I got involved in livestock.”

As Tempo spoke with Biederman by phone, she was hand bottle-feeding a baby alpaca. “I’ve probably been coming to the festival for six years. I’ve been selling yarn from my alpacas. I also say to people: ‘Come meet the alpaca who grows your yarn.’”

She explained that when customers buy yarn from her, they can make a plan to visit her and the alpacas on the ranch. “I love having my customers come and see the animals. These are all natural colors. With the alpacas who are true black, you cannot dye or color a true black. I have four or five true black alpacas. I have almost every natural color there is: maroon, true black, dark fawn, light fawn, cream, beige and white.”

One of Biederman’s clients from Pennsylvania had told her: “I just love the feel of this yarn going through my hands.” Biederman agrees with that assessment. “I breed for fineness and uniformity,” she said.

When asked if people love the alpacas, she replied, “Oh, they do.”

In fact, beyond Taos Wool Festival, Biederman makes a point to share the alpacas with the Taos community. She brings them periodically to the Taos Living Center and to childhood education classes. Both the senior adults and the children get a wild kick out of the alpacas.

But, don’t let yourself or your children get too wild around the alpacas. Yes, they do spit, but only if they feel threatened or irritated. Biederman explains that alpaca eyes are like a Halloween mirror. “You are six times larger. Any movement around them should be slow. They always need a few seconds to process.”

If people treat the alpacas with respect, Biederman said you’ll find that alpacas are just like humans: They have a full range of personalities from grouchy to mellow. “They’re more like cats than dogs,” Biederman said.

Jean Anderson of Sundance Sheepskin and Leather in Guffey, Colorado, has been attending the Taos Wool Festival for about 30 years. Her family’s booth offers fleece-lined slippers, moccasins, hats, mittens and earmuffs.

“It’s one of our favorite shows of the year. We’re professional sheepskin and leather workers. The Taos Wool Festival is just a really nice gathering of everybody in the industry. We get to meet people who are raising and breeding the sheep. We are the end products; we take the hides of the animal when they are not used for wool production anymore. We just like the camaraderie of the wool people there,” said Anderson.

The prestigious Española Valley Fiber Arts Center will also be at the festival. This nonprofit organization has the venerable mission of cultivating and supporting our Northern New Mexican heritage in fiber arts. Check out the center’s website (evfac.org) to view its full range of year-round educational programs.

Olimpia Newman is director of development at the Española Valley Fiber Arts Center. She said, “We are all about local fiber. So we’re a supporter of the whole [Taos Wool Festival] organization and we want to grow that.”

Throughout the day, there will be food vendors, demonstrations and hands-on activities for the kids. Stop by the main booth to get a schedule of events for all the festival happenings.

Visit taoswoolfestival.org for the complete listing of vendors and workshops, as well as instructions on how to become a member of MAVWA.

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