Most of the attendees at the annual fiber festival looked the same: middle-aged ladies who have clearly never seen the inside of a CrossFit, some trailed by a patient husband like mine. Their outfits could often be described as “creative,” “unique,” and “artfully layered.” Choosing warmth and pride over commercial fashion wasn’t a bad choice for a mid-October festival in huge, warehouse-like buildings on a fairground, serenaded by the the Doplered approach and retreat of racecar engines circling the nearby track in the constant rain.
We arrived on the early side for the Saturday noon opening of the Used Equipment Sale. I envisioned a The Who concert-like stampede by knitters, swarming, grabbing, and elbowing for first dibs on Lazy Kates.
But, no. Quiet and polite milling around the swifts, looms, and spinning wheels disappointed me. A victorious gleam in the eyes of a woman clutching a spinning chair (a damned uncomfortable-looking piece of furniture for a craft that requires many hours of sitting) over her head as she made her way to the checkout table like an Oregon Trail migrant forging a river, was as close to Black Friday pandemonium as things got.
The Man I Married urged me to choose anything I wanted for my birthday; the sooner I chose, the sooner he was off the hook for a present and could relax. I almost fell for the upright loom bigger than our couch. One problem: I don’t know how to weave. That hasn’t stopped me before, but another impulse loomed larger than the tempting piece of furniture that would sub as a conversation-piece hat-and-coat rack in no time: I wanted a bunny. Craved, desired, lusted after, coveted, dreamed of a bunny. MIM said he came with me to keep me company on my birthday and buy me things, but I suspect he was there to crumble a Xanax into my mocha before I could acquire a Giant Angora Rabbit.
Oh, the rabbits! Bundles of a never-ending source of free, silky-soft fiber attached to twitching noses, the only body part visible under expensive coats. At the rabbit-shearing demonstration, I learned there are four types of Angora Rabbits: English (red eyes, no thanks), French (their accents make them difficult to understand), Satin, and Giant.
Although earlier a customer near the rabbit exhibit told me that rabbits are destructive and smelly and chewed through her extension cords (fried rabbit for dinner!) in her house, which she has half-fenced-off for the rabbits, the demonstrator keeps her rabbits in cages outside in all but the coldest weather. She helps run an angora rabbit rescue organization and is extremely picky about choosing new owners.
I raised my hand. “What’s your criteria for selecting homes?” I’ve been turned down by a greyhound-rescue organization, but the state gave me a child; how might I fare with zealous rabbit rescuers?
“We LOVE spinners,” she said.
I resisted doing a fist pump. For once in my life I’d be at the head of the line!
They know that spinners value and care for their rabbits. She debunked the horrible, widely circulated PETA video of an angora rabbit being torturously de-furred in China: “Those rabbits are those people’s livelihood,” she said, “and they’re not going to ruin their rabbits like that.” I hadn’t considered the racist implications of the video, and how the resulting boycott might ruin the lives of hardworking families.
She sheared a calm rabbit in the busy cold hall in front of an audience. The bunny ended up looking like it had been shaved by a Supercuts trainee on meth, but, as MIM says, the only difference between a bad haircut and a good haircut is two weeks. It was also clear that no torture is ever necessary to get the fur off a bunny.
Since I hadn’t known there were four types of angoras, she gave me a suggestion: before getting my own angora rabbit, try spinning with fur from each type to see if I preferred one over another. (I’m pretty sure I saw MIM slipping her a twenty later.)
Great idea! I’d been unable to choose what to buy amongst the approximately 200 booths of similar yarns, so why not buy a variety of the most expensive raw fiber there?
Cordoned off at the back of one warehouse were tables loaded with bags of whole fleeces that could not be purchased until the next morning. I’m not sure why, except that fiber artists are not the most savvy marketers. Give up an entire day of potential sales? I would gladly have purchased a fleece, though, ahem, I already have an entire lamb’s fleece, over a pound of alpaca fleece, and now four types of angora rabbit fur, not to mention the cat fur I’ve been saving from Lilla’s brush.
By late afternoon, we’d had enough and headed past the used equipment sales table toward the exit. The upright loom was gone.
Between the neener-neener-you-can’t-buy-this-now fleece at the back and the equipment at the front were tables of fleece that had been judged throughout the day during the fleece competition.
I discovered that these fleeces could be purchased NOW: all cream-of-the-crop fleeces considered worthy enough to enter into competitions. Many of the bags sported beautiful, prize-winning ribbons.
“What do you want? Can I buy you one? Do you want one of these? I want to buy you something.” MIM had been repeating this for four hours, but somehow I’d wound up passing over my own charge card for the angora rabbit fur.
How to choose? Each table had a sign with type of fur. I don’t know Corriedale from Columbia sheep. I could easily get Merino wool at any yarn shop. I should buy something not easily found otherwise.
Then I saw the sign over one table:
“Isn’t that the itchy stuff that was on bench seats in pickup trucks in the 70s?” MIM asked.
“It’s what they call the fleece from angora goat,” I informed him. This I knew: knitters come up with names to make non-knitters not know what the hell they are talking about. So, the fleece from an angora rabbit is “angora,” but the fleece from an angora goat is “mohair,” a name that makes me think of self-flagellating monks in itchy robes.
I had rabbit, sheep, and alpaca fleece and cat fur. And camel yarn. But my life would not be complete until I owned an entire goat fleece.
But foiling my newfound need for something I hadn’t known I needed until thirty seconds ago were the three women surrounding and blocking the Mohair table. I suspect they had something to do with perpetrating mohair’s bad rap, because they wanted it all for themselves.
One woman was the clear leader of the evil clique. I pointed at the twenty bags of unwashed mohair piled up around her feet. “Are those for sale?”
“Those are mine.”
I turned sideways and said, “excuse me, pardon me, excuse me” to get past them and the mountain of goat fleece in order to get to the fleeces left on the table. Mohair Hoarder sucked in her belly and arched her back forward as a wan gesture of letting me through behind her.
Though she’d Bogarted more than half the available goat fleece, there were still bags for me to choose from. I didn’t know how to choose, though.
A worker from the judging area arrived to drop off another bag of mohair, and Mohair Hoarder grabbed it before it hit the table, thunking it down at her feet without looking at it. She didn’t miss a beat in her conversation or release the cell phone in her other hand. She turned away from me. She shrugged to her friends. “It’s mohair. I can’t help it.”
I found a bag of brown fleece with two prizewinning ribbons. A reject by Mohair Hoarder, but surely good enough for me? Was $60 a good price? I had no idea. The huge bags of unjudged sheep fleece at the back seemed to be in the range of $20 to $40.
Though knitters and spinners are always friendly, helpful, informative, and eager to share their expertise, and I said that I didn’t know how to choose, Mohair Hoarder ignored me. I was not a mohair neophyte in need of guidance: I was a competitor who had breached the barricade.
The bag runner arrived with a small bag with several ribbons and held it up as a supreme catch: “Only $13,” she said. This would be perfect for me: a small amount of excellent quality fiber to try for a reasonable investment. The runner couldn’t get past the clique to the table, so she dropped it off on the next table over. I was on the wrong side of the mohair table to reach it.
“Grab that,” Mohair Hoarder said calmly to her friend. The friend passed it over, and she dropped it to her pile, again without looking at it.
“Do you want that?” MIM asked anxiously about the bag in my hand. 1) He was still desperate to buy me something. 2) He knew what was about to go down between me and Mohair Hoarder if he didn’t intervene and get me the hell out of there.
Then the runner arrived with another bag, bedecked with two glorious ribbons. I grabbed it.
From the other side of the table, without pause MIM took both bags of fleece from me and headed toward the cash register. I squeezed my way past Mohair Hoarder to follow him. If she had wanted that bag I’d snatched, she wasn’t about to show it.
MIM carried $140 of goat fiber out to the car.
MIM knows the true way to a girl’s heart: seven pounds of unwashed goat hair for her birthday. He’d sat through a demo with me on “how to get the barnyard” out of a fleece and doesn’t mind the goat hair now soaking on the kitchen counter. Mohair Hoarder might have 200 pounds of goat fleece, but she can’t match what I’ve got.
I’m in love with the variegated browns of the first bag of mohair. It’s silky, soft, and makes obvious why mohair is considered “the diamond fiber.” From Goat #114, its color is listed as “Aged Doe.” I adore it and would go to the mat for it if I had to.
The more expensive bag of white fiber, from a goat named Parsley, bought out of spite, I don’t love quite so much.
MIM also knows that next year I’ll be at the Mohair table as soon as it opens, elbows ready.
Unless I’m home, too busy shearing my bunny.
Or maybe, just maybe, this Aged Doe will have learned something in the meanwhile and will leave first pick to ungracious greedy goats.
But I doubt it.