Art, commerce woven into Taos Wool Festival

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By Tris DeRoma

Some people can tell fall is coming when the leaves begin to turn and the temperature drops. But if they’re into fiber arts, fall is when the Taos Wool Festival comes to town.
The 34th annual festival, which celebrates all things wool, from shearing sheep to making yarn and clothing, happened in Taos Oct. 7 and 8 at Kit Carson Park. Sponsored and organized by the Mountain and Valley Wool Association, over 63 vendors came from New Mexico, Colorado and Texas to show people what they got and to demonstrate their skills.
Besides vendors, the festival also featured contests and demonstrations throughout the weekend. Saturday morning featured a yarn show competition, a garment and home accessories and fleece competition.
The festival also featured a wool and fleece sale. Sunday featured a spinning, knitting and crochet contest, a hand-dye competition and a silent auction. The silent auction was a fundraiser for the Mountain Valley Wool Association that will help cover the costs of this year’s festival.
The first festival was held in 1984 at the park, and featured just 15 vendors. It’s become much bigger since then.
MVWA staffers recommend first time visitors to the festival head straight to the MCWA tent, where there were a variety of brochures, guides, souvenir tote bags and t-shirts visitors could buy and pick up. The association puts out a guidebook every year that has a map, a list of vendors, and other useful information.
“They also need to walk around and look at all of the vendors and get a feeling for what they sell,” said one staff member. “We sell not only fiber, but finished product, as well as sheepskin slippers… there’s just a big huge variety. Everything is made by either Colorado, Texas or New Mexico vendors.”
Ruth Baldwin, whose store, The Natural Twist, has had a booth at the festival since 1989, recommends the Taos Wool Festival for those interested in selling wool.
“It all depends,” Baldwin said. “Are they into fiber stuff already or do they want to experience the process of it all? You can experience all aspects of how it works, to the animals, to the shearing, the finished stuff, and the contests.
Jessica Threlkeld, of Midnight Designs, recommends people looking to get into the fiber and wool business to come a few days earlier to take in some workshops. Up to and during the festival, vendors and artists of all kinds often hold workshops in town or in Kit Carson Park so people can learn their techniques.
“There’s an assortment of things for everybody,” she said. “There’s classes we did a few days before in Taos. There’s a wide variety of things to see and do here. You can see people weaving, spinning and knitting, all kinds of things.”
The products the vendors carried were as varied as the ways they got into the wool business.
Frana Biederman of Phi Beta Paca Yarn was a lawyer from Chicago who became tired of her job. She bought an old RV and decided to wander for a bit. Two and a half years later, she arrived in Taos in 2001 and decided to stay.
“I saw a double rainbow, each with about 12 colors. I’ve never seen a double rainbow, and I’ve decided that was a sign,” she said.
She has a ranch in Taos with 43 alpacas on it. She brought two of them with her to the wool festival, Pilot and Sparkle.
Biederman was one of the few vendors there that sold alpaca wool, and she was happy to show off her wares from some of her animals, encouraging people to take in the many different colors and textures of yarn on display at her booth.
“This is a natural black. You can’t dye this. It’s from animal named Midnight Moon,” she said, offering up a bolt of jet black yarn.
Visitors to the festival can find all sorts of colors and textures of wool, fleece and yarn at the festival, from the rough fibrous, twine-like material to the soft, velvet feel of angora fit for making sweaters. As for colors, vendors can find almost any color they want for their project, to earthy Terracotta browns to vivid almost neon like greens blues and reds.
Jessica Threlkeld, who started Midnight Designs in 2007, said she started her wool business, because she couldn’t find the vivid blues, greens and reds that make up much of the color range of the yarn she sells.
“We started dyeing because we couldn’t find the colors commercially that I wanted to use, Threlkeld said.
She also came up with a process that preserved the colors longer.
“A lot of the natural dyes are kind of muted. I got frustrated buying other people’s yarns that when you were done with them, they bled into the water when you washed them and they dulled down,” Threlkeld said. “We developed this technique where are bright fiber colors do not bleed, or it’s very, very minimal.”
The festival has a special tent where visitors can sit and spin wool, weave, knit and talk to passersby about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
“We just come for the two days and spin and knit. Anybody here is open to answering questions from novices,” Janet Dominguez said. Dominguez shared the tent with her fellow weavers, spinners and knitters George Pearson and Mary Berry.
She said people often ask them what type of spinning wheels they have, and how they got started in spinning.
They can also show off their creation in the tent.
Pearson brought a shawl with her. She has a group that specializes in making shawls and other items out of Orenburg Lace, a special, finely knit type of lace using goat down
Under the tent in the early October sunshine, she was busy making yet another shawl.
“You came to the right place,” she said with a welcoming smile.
Berry came all the way from Farmersville Texas. She has a school and a store there called Fancy Fibers.
She taught two classes so far. She’s been coming to the festival about 20 years. She loves being under the tent with her new friends.
“Oh man, there’s nothing better than sitting and spinning,” Berry said. “You’re with your tribe, you’re with like minded people doing like minded things.”
When she’s not sitting under the tent with her new friends, she likes to walk around and see what’s new at the festival.
“I love everything about it, but mostly, I like the wool,” berry said. I follow certain artists when I’m here, and like a lot of people I buy many of the products they make. I like to support them.”
Berry also comes to keep up with the trends, and to relax in the mild mountain climate
“Of course, there’s always something new to see too,” Berry said. “There are people doing something different. It’s hot in Texas right now and it’s beautiful here.”
Next year’s festival will be held on Oct. 6 and 7. To learn more log on to taoswoolfestival.org/