The Wool Festival at Taos
Kit Carson Park
Taos, New Mexico
October 1-2, 2005
colors of Taos
Since the Taos Pueblo was built 1,000 years ago, the Taos area has always held a magical draw. In the early 1900s it became a favored destination for such creative figures as Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams, and D. H. Lawrence. And since the late 1500s, when the Navajo Churro sheep breed was first introduced, fiber has played a significant role in Taos creative culture and economy.

Fast-forward to 1984, when the Mountain Valley and Wool Association welcomed 15 vendors to the first Wool Festival at Taos. In 2001, the Association voted to expand membership to include not only New Mexico and Colorado artists and fiber producers but also those from Texas.

Compared to the likes of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival or the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, this is an intimate affair with only 68 vendors.

Since 1984 the festival has taken place in Kit Carson Park, a spacious open area in the very center of Taos. It's a beautiful spot ringed by the distant Sangre de Cristo mountains and in the immediate shadow of Kit Carson's grave.

The festival area is arranged like an old-fashioned wagon train, with the booths ringing the perimeter of the festival grounds. They all open into a large grassy center where a few food booths, storytelling, demonstrations, and live musical performances took place.The festival grounds
The parklike festival setup
Most festivals I've attended set booths in rows, leading to perpetual traffic jams as crowds try to navigate the tight space. Instead, the Taos grounds were spacious and relaxed.

This being the Southwest, the predominant sheep breed reflected here was the Navajo Churro. Several times almost threatened by extinction, the Navajo Churro sheep breed is currently enjoying a slow but steady recovery. This rugged animal has a strong, long-staple fiber that's ideally suited to weaving. And indeed, weaving yarns, fibers, Navajo looms, and weavings themselves were everywhere.

The Tierra Wools booth had several blankets on display, as well as a rainbow of their trademark locally raised Navajo Churro fibers in single-ply yarns hand-dyed both with natural and synthetic dyes.the Tierra Wools booth
Tierra Wools booth

The Friday before the festival, I drove 90 minutes west of Taos to the tiny village of Los Ojos to see the Tierra Wools operation up close. This inspiring cooperative carries on the Rio Grande weaving tradition while also training local residents in business management.

The village of Los Ojos
The village of Los Ojos
The inside of Tierra Wools' showroom
Inside the Tierra Wools showroom, partly picked clean in preparation for the festival

Lezlie King's Colour Alternatives had some stunning, more contemporary-styled weavings made from handspun, naturally dyed yarns. She also had her naturally dyed yarns for sale, as well as dye materials.
Colour Alternatives yarns
Naturally dyed yarns
Colour Alternatives Weavings
Weavings from Colour Alternatives

The Felt Rebellion
Felt, felting materials, kits, tools, and finished felted items were almost as prevalent as weavings.

Larkspur Funny Farm and Fiber Art Studio had some particularly interesting kits and felting materials, as well as gorgeous hand-dyed yarns from their own animals.
Felting materials
Felting materials at Larkspur Funny Farm and Fiber Art Studio
Larkspur yarn
Dyed yarns from Larkspur Funny Farm and Fiber Art Studio

Catfish Studio had bright and whimsical felted items in all sorts of shapes and incarnations, including some particularly tempting hats and tea cosies.Catfish Studio
Catfish Studio felted garments

But my favorite felted item was the Taos Tortilla potholder, from Taos Mountain Wool Works.the Taos Tortilla potholder
The Taos Tortilla potholder

Yearning for Yarn
I was delighted to discover several new (to me, that is) yarn sources.

The first to grab my eye was Elsa Sheep and Wool Company. Elsa specializes in delicate, pure, buttery soft cormo yarn from her own sheep. It is available in several weights and three natural colors—white, a light grey, and a deeper grey.

All three colors are excellent candidates for dyeing. They also had a slew of machine-knit socks, mittens, gloves, hats, and sweaters, as well as some handknit hats.
the Elsa booth
The Elsa booth
Handknit hats
Handknit hats at the Elsa booth

My second surprise was Plain & Fancy Sheep and Wool Co., from Henderson, Texas. Although they've been a staple at this festival for years, they were entirely new to me—yet another reason knitters should always try to visit festivals in other parts of the country.

The fibers come from Plain & Fancy's own merino and merino-cross sheep, and they are hand-dyed by owner Grayce Aggen. The colors are bright without being loud or artificial. Solids still have delicate hue shifts, while the multicolored blends manage to reflect patterns and themes found in nature.

The soft and succulent yarns are mostly single ply and available in several weights. I got some for my personal use and still get butterflies in my stomach imagining what I'll do with it.
the Plain and Fancy booth
The Plain and Fancy booth
Close-up of Plain and Fancy yarns
Plain & Fancy Yarns up close

I was pleased to see the Brooks Farm booth as full on its home turf as it has been at all East Coast festivals I've attended. People never seem to tire of their soft, fluid mohair blends and warm colors.Brooks Farm Fiber
A crowd at Brooks Farm

Judy Ditmore was also on hand with many wool-based offerings from her hand-dyed Interlacements yarns, while Galina Khmeleva had a booth displaying her stunning Orenburg lace shawls (as she wrote about in her book, Gossamer Webs) and lace-weight yarns bearing her company's label, Skaska Designs.

Making Art from Fiber
Ellen Sibelius and her Ellen's Wooly Wonders got my vote for cheerful whimsy with her wonderful line of stuffed animals. Available both as finished item (made by Ellen using her own handspun) and pattern form, the animals ran the gamut from donkey to crab, water-spurting whale, turtle whose head pops out of its shell, and several adorable prehistoric animals.

My four-year-old niece instantly fell in love with Benny the Burro, who came complete with blanket and saddlebag full of accessories. (She sobbed for 10 solid minutes until her yarn-loving auntie went back to Ellen's booth and got it for her. Benny didn't leave her side the rest of the weekend.)

Sibelius first stumbled upon the concept after her pile of handspun tidbits had grown too large. These patterns are indeed perfect for any bulky or superbulky leftovers in your stash. I hope to see more of Ellen's designs reach the mainstream.
Ellen's sign
Ellen's sign
Ellen's animals
Ellen's animals

Kinney Dejan stole the show with her breathtaking fiber paintings. Over several months she hand-felts each piece in multiple layers to create the depth and visual complexity normally reserved for oil paintings.Kinney Dejan and her paintings
Kinney and her creations, the top one of which came home with me.

The Animals
Dogs outnumbered sheep by at least 10 to 1—a surprising sight after being at so many festivals that prohibit dogs. They were all remarkably well-behaved and added to the overall relaxed cheer of the event.
Mo the Magnificent PekeA big bold bassett hound

Sheep on display in the Critter Corner.
an angora rabbit
An angora rabbit for sale in a vendor's booth.

a baby yak
A baby Himalayan yak in the Critter Corner.
a pygora goat
A pygora goat in the Critter Corner.

By the middle of the second day it dawned on me that I was seeing lots of wool, alpaca, llama, and angora—but almost no silk, and no cotton or synthetic fibers. A little research revealed that this is intentional.

Festival rules require than vendors only display animal-based fibers, leaving cottons and synthetic novelties out of the party entirely. Even silk is up for debate.

Taos is a splendid place to visit in October. The hollyhocks and Russian sage are in bloom, the ripe Colorado peaches are in the market, the sky is intensely blue, birds are everywhere, the tamales at Orlando's are heavenly and the sopaipillas at Roberto's, unforgettable.

It's a charmed yet complex place, and I look forward to digging deeper in future visits.

Offsite Journeys
Ironically, noticeably absent from the festival was possibly the town's most famous knitting establishment: LaLana Wools. Immortalized in Melanie Falick's Knitting in America, this shop is famous for its colors, all of which are obtained by entirely natural methods.

the LaLana entry
The entryway to paradise
Inside LaLana
Inside LaLana
Fortunately, LaLana is located across the street and down a block from the park, making pilgrimages easy. I use the word "pilgrimage" intentionally, for this shop has the hushed, awe-filled feel of a cathedral.

Vast north-facing clerestory windows illuminate undulating walls of fiber reflecting vibrantly electric colors in wools, mohairs, silks, cashmeres, and other tantalizing blends of natural fibers.

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