by George Looby, DVM
The many varied facets of New England agriculture was never more evident than on the weekend of Nov. 2-3, when producers of products made from animal fiber filled the Mallary Pavilion located on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, MA.
Today every New England State has a group of sheep breeders who promote the products those animals provide and these people were very much in evidence at this show. In recent years Alpacas have assumed an important role as a source of fiber for the production of a wide variety of articles.
Every segment of the animal fiber industry was represented in the the exhibit area.
Donna G. Woolam CFE, director of Agriculture and Education at the Eastern States Exposition, reports that there was a paid admission of 3,772 with over 4,500 total attendees, a healthy increase over previous years. This show is presented by the Eastern States Exposition and the New England Sheep and Wool Growers Association. The over 180 vendors exhibiting apparently enjoyed a good show with 90 percent of those in attendance already signed up for next year’s show scheduled for Nov. 1-2, 2014.
All levels of experience seemed to be present. And they were not disappointed in the wide variety of materials offered for sale, skein after skein of wool was displayed in the widest variety of colors imaginable. Not only was the product available but also the tools with which to craft whatever final product they were making — be it quilts, mittens, rugs, caps, you name it.
Not only were the basic materials offered for sale but there was a vast array of finished product for those searching for caps, scarfs, socks and mittens already made and ready for use. Another facet of the industry that has developed a devoted following is the cosmetic products offered for sale, including soaps, lotions and balms.
During the course of this two-day event, there were several demonstrations and lectures together with a fashion show. One demonstration that always draws a crowd is sheep shearing, a study in how a single person can skillfully shear an unwilling 160 lb. sheep in a matter of minutes. Due to its popularity, this demonstration was repeated several times.
A skill that has reappeared in recent years is that of felting, which was introduced to those unfamiliar with the process in at least three different workshops. Felt is a non-woven textile produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. It can be made from natural or synthetic fibers and processed to be very soft or tough enough to be used as construction material. Beyond its use in specialized textile products, felt is used in pianos, in the production of automobiles, and in picture frames.
When all is said and done, the sheep industry is the cornerstone for all other components of the animal fiber industry. Representing this group is the American Sheep Industry Association which serves as the primary advocate and legislative body for the industry. Founded in 1864 as the National Wool Growers Association, it evolved over the years into its present structure serving over 70,500 farms and ranches on which sheep are an important source of income.
Within the structure of the organization are five councils, each of which has a charge to oversee a particular aspect of the industry. The American Wool Council promotes the production of domestic wool both at home and overseas.
The Fiber Festival of New England has found a definite place in promoting all things relating to fiber production and as the word spreads among those involved in any aspect of the industry, it is certain to grow and become an even more relevant venue for promoting all that the fiber industry has to offer.