Source: The Taos News
Date: Thursday, September 27, 1984

Weavers, growers meet

While Taos sheep ranchers are getting bottom dollar for their wool, local weavers and spinners are paying high prices for imported wool.

Weavers, Growers meet wool festival article 1

Rachel Brown

“We need to get the two groups together. Something wonderful could happen,” predicts weaver and author Rachel Brown.

Sure enough, the Mountain and Valley Wool Association got a few sheep ranchers and a few artisans together and something wonderful is happening. It’s the Taos area’s first Wool Festival at Kit Carson State Park, Saturday (Sept. 29), 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Sheep ranchers, wool artisans and the general public will come together to browse, buy, learn and enjoy some good food, Brown said.

Wool, in all its various forms, will be displayed and sold. A fashion show is planned along with spinning and weaving demonstrations.

AT THE FESTIVAL, artisans can look for suitable fleeces and yarns and at the same time sheep ranchers can find out directly from weavers and spinners what kinds of wool are needed by the local market.

“What they will discover,” said Brown, “is that weavers want wool with body and luster. By introducing appropriate breeds into local flocks, the wool here could be made more suitable for local craftspeople, yet still produce good carcass yield for meat.”

Brown mentions Border Leicester and Karkul as breeds that might be suitable for this area.

The prevalent breed, Rambouillet, produces a fine-textured wool that has previously brought good prices from big wool mills. Lately, however, sheep ranchers are grumbling about the low prices they’re getting for their Rambouillet fleeces, and craftspeople are equally discouraged by the high prices they are paying for imported wools.

The reason for this became clear last spring when Brown was on a marketing trip to New York City.

“The gray flannel suit styles made from the Rambouillet fleeces are definitely out,” she said. New York designers are showing courser wools with a hand-woven look.

This new hand-woven look will be featured in a free public fashion show as part of the festival. Coordinated by Coral Barnes, a weaver and clothing designer, the show has received some interest from New York fashion writers.

In addition, hand-woven clothing will be sold from individually operated booths to the general public.

THE TREND toward coarser wools has been an advantage, however, to the few are sheep ranchers with old herds.

Apparently, the original breed in the area was Churro. This course wool is what we see in the old Navajo and Spanish weavings.

Until very recently flocks with remnants of the old Churro line have been spurned by the industrial mills in favor of the finer Rambouillet fleeces. The picture is changing, however, and local sheep ranchers with coarser wool of the old Churro sheep are getting higher prices for their fleeces.

Brown uses some local wools in her weavings and would like to use more as they become available. She wants her work to be as simple and direct and obvious as possible. “Working with local wool fits that philosophy,” she said.

BROWN IS founding member of the Mountain and Valley Wool Association, a nonprofit organization spanning 10 counties in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado that is dedicated to expanding local wool markets and resources.

Her work and copies of her book, The Weaving, Spinning and Dyeing Book, are for sale at the Solabra Gallery in Taos.

The Wool Festival is funded with a grant from Gov. Toney Anaya’s fund for Market Development, administered by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture; the New Mexico Department of Economic Development and Tourism, headed by Alex Mercure; a $4,000 grant from the Parks and Recreation Dept.’ and a $3,250 grant from the American Sheep Producers Council.


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