Wool festival this weekend
courtesy photo, Angora goats, such as these youngsters, provide kid mohair. They're part of the Tucson Wool Festival, to be held this Saturday, Oct. 17, at the Withers Ranch in the Northwest.

For the fifth year, the Northwest's Withers Ranch opens to the public for the annual Tucson Wool Festival this Saturday, Oct. 17.

Fiber enthusiasts, families and animal lovers enjoy the free event at the working fiber ranch off Linda Vista and Thornydale.

"Educating the public about animal husbandry and the many uses of natural fibers — spinning, knitting, crocheting, weaving, and felting is my passion," said ranch owner Kathy Withers, so workshops and demonstrations continue be the focal point of the festival.

The event features fiber artists and vendors from all over the Southwest, with demonstrations of weaving, spinning and various types of felting. Visitors can tour the eight-acre ranch and meet Withers' exotic mix of alpacas, llamas, angora goats and rabbits, as well as Shetland, Jacob, Border Leicester and Rambouillet sheep. Danny Smith is back from Missouri to demonstrate the art of shearing sheep and goats.

In recognition of the International Year of Natural Fibers, hand spinning events open to the general public have been added, and expert guest judges will be on hand to critique handspun yarn and spinning techniques. Anyone interested in participating in the spinning events should check the website for details.

Again this year, the festival features a "community sheep-to-shawl project," this time a one-of-a-kind freeform lap rug. For the past year, the Freeform Spinners Group, which meets at the ranch, has been spinning, weaving, knitting and crocheting a lap rug. It'll be raffled off at the festival, with all proceeds donated to Casa Maria kitchen, which feeds many hungry Tucsonans each week.

"Casa Maria serves a bag lunch to more than 600 people and more than 200 families," according to Brian Flagg. "We exist entirely on private donations, so food, clothes, money, and help in the soup kitchen are always appreciated. We are busier than ever."

Work is beginning Saturday on a new project to be raffled next year. Everyone — experienced fiber artist and novice alike — can knit, crochet or weave a small section of the project, to be completed over the next year and raffled off at the festival in 2010.

Admission to the Tucson Wool Festival is free. Families, community groups and anyone interested in learning more about the fiber arts are welcome. Activities begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, and conclude at 3 p.m. Call 572-3758 or e-mail jmarckathy@aol.com for more information, or view the latest Tucson Wool Festival info at www.uniquedesignsbykathy.com.

Tucson Wool Festival

Free and open to the public

Saturday, Oct. 17, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Withers Ranch, 4010 W. Palo Seco

From I-10: Exit Cortaro Farms Rd., east to Thornydale, north past Linda Vista, next left on Palo Seco. Withers Ranch is the second driveway on the right. Parking will be just past the wrought iron gates or along the road.

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