The loom of our lives

Annual Wool Festival at Taos celebrates the shear joy of our weaving tradition

By Dena Miller, tempo@taosnews.com
Photographs by Morgan Timms, photo@taosnews.com
Posted 10/2/19

"We are bound to our bodies with the fragile threads of earth. Our skeleton is a loom on which every system is strung and woven with our blood. The …

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The loom of our lives

Annual Wool Festival at Taos celebrates the shear joy of our weaving tradition

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"We are bound to our bodies with the fragile threads of earth. Our skeleton is a loom on which every system is strung and woven with our blood. The meeting of opposite elements woven into a whole is the quest of every spiritual seeker. No wonder the art of weaving is so appealing: it is the essential art of creating the unified one out of two opposites." -- Author Susan Barrett Merrill in "The Art of Weaving a Life" (2016).

Members of the Mountain and Valley Wool Association would readily agree and point to their decadeslong work in the preservation of this art --arguably one of civilization's most ancient and most profoundly connected to our existence -- while moving it into the future.

Welcome, then, to their 36th annual Wool Festival at Taos, which will take over the main field of Kit Carson Park this weekend (Oct. 5-6), its schedule jampacked with demonstrations and competitions against a backdrop of live music, delicious food and fun activities for the whole family. There's nary a better autumn pastime - and it all begins on Saturday at 9 a.m.

Admission is free.

"We have an outstanding regional market featuring juried artists, crafters and vendors offering their wool, fiber, yarns, fiber arts-related tools and equipment as well as finished garments and home furnishing items, and other artistic fiber creations," said Merce Mitchell, board chair of MVWA and site coordinator for the festival. Also available for purchase will be festival T-shirts and other merchandise featuring the design created by Cory Phillips, the artwork design contest winner.

"And of course there will be food vendors offering a variety of beverages, snacks, lunch items including regional lamb, and other delicious choices. With the added ambience of live music, the festival is unique and fun for the whole family."

Indeed, you'll find many of your favorite local strummers and singer/songwriters performing hourlong sets of country, folk, Native flute and drums and traditional New Mexican music throughout both days of the festival.

Saturday morning will kick off with a juried mill and hand-spun yarn contest, as well as an open-to-the-public fleece contest. And, beginning at 11 a.m., a number of hands-on demonstrations will be offered, including spinning, dimensional and textural flat felting, sculptural needle felting, alpaca rug weaving, and techniques with tints, toners and shades.

At 3 p.m., famed Diné (Navajo) weaver Sarah Naataanil will present the demonstration of a traditional loom and regale her audience with stories of how Diné spirit beings brought the gift of weaving into the world.

"On top of this busyness on Saturday, we will also be holding our silent auction from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m," Mitchell said. Auction items are donated by the many vendors involved in the festival and is one of the highlights of the weekend, easily the nonprofit organization's biggest fundraiser. "It's a great opportunity to acquire some of the beautiful works being offered this weekend."

The festivities on Sunday will once again begin at 9 a.m. Vendors will, of course, be on the grounds, and, "Sunday's juried competitions include those for hand-dyed yarns and finished garment and home furnishing items," Mitchell said. "We'll also have demos on triangular weaving, circular knitting, traditional Navajo hand-spinning using a lap spindle, a try-your-own-hand at weaving and a live demo of hand-plucking an angora rabbit."

Throughout the weekend, the festival's sheep shearing and Fiber Critter Corner will invite both youngsters and oldsters to meet some of the vendors' favorite alpacas, sheep, llamas, goats and rabbits. "Our spinners and weavers love, love, love their animals. They're well tended, clean, happy - everyone will enjoy this part of their visit to the festival," Mitchell noted.

And, for the first time, Taos Wool Festival will feature Susan Barrett Merrill's EarthLoom, a project that was developed by Merrill's EarthLoom Foundation to encourage the creation of public art as a building tool of community. "The EarthLoom will be available all weekend for everyone to weave a little, or a lot. The resulting piece will be donated to Community Against Violence."

Despite its deservedly down-home, folksy reputation, Mitchell is quick to point out that with each year the festival has seen an influx of young artisans who are spinning (pun intended) a new order and a new conversation on the craft of fiber arts. "This young generation has some cool, creative ideas that give new life to an ancient craft," she said. "There are a lot of people who you could say are really 'happening' and give new energy to MVWA and the Taos Wool Festival. It's so exciting."

MVWA became a nonprofit membership organization in 1983, with the mission to maintain regional networking for crafters in the upper Río Grande region of Northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Subsequently, ranchers and crafters from Texas were included, and it's from all these regions that the vendors, demonstrators and competitors you will meet have hailed.

"The important thing is, we're here to support local arts, local culture and local agriculture. Our membership represents small farmers and ranchers, many of whom have invested generations into creating things made with love, with consciousness, with joy and with community," Mitchell emphasized.

And the best way to thank those who preserve the backbone of our affinity with the land around us is to support this treasured festival of Taos.

Kit Carson Park is located at 211 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For more information about the Taos Wool Festival and its schedule of events, visit taoswoolfestival.org.

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