Haute couture in Paris has met its match and more at the 41st annual Mass Sheep and Woolcraft Fair, as women and children and a few young men, dressed in their woolen finery, lead their sheep during the Lead Line competition.
“It’s a fun way to promote wool,” notes Lead Line organizer Cathy Niedziela of Hadley, MA of the event held in Cummington, MA on Sunday, May 25. “They can purchase a wool outfit, or sew an outfit, raise sheep, shear the sheep and send their wool to be processed; a wide variety. What we’ve seen, people use their own wool, weave it and fit it.”
Adult and child senior Lead Line division winner was Shelburne’s Barbara Giguere of Dragon Brook Yarns and her granddaughter Tessie Sweeney of NY. Giguere raised the animals, sent the wool out for processing, then dyed the warp, wove the fabric and sewed a green beige plaid wool jacket with a silk lining, and wore it proudly, leading her llama, Maddy, born the day before Martin Luther King Day.
Most entrants were members of the Pioneer Valley Young Shepherds 4-H (PVYS). Pittsfield’s Isaac Epe wore a wool cable knit sweater. His grandfather Bill Chandler wore a sheepskin coat, leading a Tunis breed sheep, and placed 2nd. Alice Newth placed 3rd.
Alexandra Springstube won the senior division, leading her Cotswold; Brianna Taylor was 2nd. Brianna’s mother held her Tunis sheep while Brianna modeled a long coat made by a friend when the friend attended a Philadelphia fashion school.
Brimfield’s Kaitlin Poitras won intermediate class leading her Dorset; Cummington’s sisters Joanna, with her Shropshire, and Faustyna Jaracz, with her Southdown, placed 2nd and 3rd respectively. The sisters wore 100 percent wool vests, and long floral skirts they sewed themselves, with floral scarves. The ensemble represented their father’s Polish heritage. They carried their baby sister, one-year old Filomena, who wore a pink wool sweater knitted by a family friend. Nancy Hull Mueller placed fourth.
Worthington’s Taylor Mason won the Jr. division leading her Horned Dorset; sister Olivia Mason placed 2nd with her Suffolk; Sophie Goodnow came in 3rd, with llama Maddy.
Lillian Giguere won the Cloverbud Class; Eliza Hull Mueller took 2nd and Filamena Jaracz placed 3rd. At the end, Niedziela said, “I thought it was wonderful.”
Bill Chandler owns Brattle Farm in Pittsfield, MA, raises 40 sheep and sells lamb and wool. Last year he was adult and child Lead Line winner. A 15-year fair attendee, he was waiting to enter a natural color merino in the wool division. “It’s all about participation and having fun, we’re really happy with the number of entries we had this year.”
As his grandchildren live only a couple miles away, they visit every weekday for a few hours. Chandler has raised sheep for 20 years. Prior to that, his wife Donna was in 4-H, showing Hampshires. “We had our children and took a break,” only to return and teach their grandchildren the rudiments of sheep raising.
Patrick Hussey of Hussey Brothers of Brimfield, MA showed Southdowns, placing 5th in another division. Win or place, the young farmers work hard, feeding and caring for their sheep.
Nearby, Elizabeth Niedziela helped friends from Hukowicz Farm show their natural color wool Suffolks. She started 4-H at age 7 and is now aged out, but still devoted to working with sheep and the tightknit sheep community.
Carreen Warner, Ashley Flagg, Meghan Bowen, and Mary Molina comprised the team Ply of the Tiger, and won the fleece-to-shawl contest. All are employees at Webs wool shop in Northampton, MA, and well acquainted with the high standards required to win.
“This weekend far surpassed our expectations,” said fair co-coordinator Lisa Bertoldi, Williamsburg resident, with 575 cars just on Saturday and 59 vendors.
New this year were three sheep products, meat, wool and sheep milk-cheese and yogurt and a Breaking Down a Lamb into Kitchen Cuts class given by local butcher John Stein, attended by over 30 people.
Coordinators are filming a documentary, honoring the fair’s history, both for anecdotal information and behind-the-scene efforts. Bertoldi said, “We work together pretty closely, dog people, fiber people, sheep people. It’s a lot of work, all volunteer, and very gratifying.”