This week I received some exciting mail – the 2021 Woolcraft Schedule for the Australian Sheep & Wool Show held in Bendigo, VIC. The show was cancelled for 2020 and so I did not get a chance to enter any exhibits last year, but I thought this might be a good time to reflect back on my experiences from 2019…
In 2019 I entered 4 items in the ASWS Woolcraft competition – three skeins of handspun yarn and one handwoven article. Entering something handmade into a show has been a goal of mine for years, but I’d never gotten organised in time… This was the first time I’d entered anything in a show, so of course I started with a national competition!
It was a slightly daunting and confusing (but exciting) thing to do so here are some of the things that I did/experienced that hopefully I have learned from in the process – perhaps it might help others who are also thinking of entering their work in this sort of show.
Step 1. Read the category/class criteria very very carefully. Then read it again. Maybe get someone else to read it and give you their interpretation as well…
Check your materials meet the criteria (e.g. fibre content) and whether you still have labels and samples for yarn/fluff that you’re using. I thought I’d read the criteria thoroughly, and still missed a key word in one of the categories I applied for (that being, spun from the same fleece).
Step 2. Check the entry method & date. The ASWS requires an entry form to be submitted by post, then they will send you back the forms, sample bags and tags you need to submit your actual work with. You also needed a stamped self-addressed envelope for them to send the forms/bags/tags to you in – I’d recommend at least a DL size envelope because the tags were quite long. For this two-part approach you then need also to note down the deadline for the actual exhibit submissions to be received/delivered, allowing for postage time; or for in-person drop-off if you are nearby enough for that to be an option.
Step 3. Realistically evaluate the time you have to get your items finished and think about how many categories you want to enter. Send in your entry forms so that you are now committed and note the dates for sending in your finished exhibits so that you know the deadline you are working toward.
Bear in mind, if there is an entry fee for each item you will submit that may warrant consideration of how many categories you can enter. For the ASWS they also have the option to post your entries back to you after the show (very, very handy for a show that’s a 6 hour drive away!) but it does add extra cost for the registered post. You don’t want to enter and pay for categories and then not be able to submit everything in time. I decided to only enter 4 items in 2019 because I already had 2 finished that (I thought) fit into a category, so finishing just 2 more items seemed realistic. HAHAHAHAHA
Step 4. Read the category/class criteria again. Despair when you realise that the beautiful big skein of handspun 2ply you already had is ineligible because one ply is merino and the other brown corriedale, and although the contrast looks very striking and beautiful, the class name does clearly say spun from the same fleece. Frantically prep more wool and get spinning a new skein!
Step 5. (I recommend skipping this step if at all possible) Get a cold and spend a few days in bed and/or in a daze & barely able to lift your arms. Panic a bit.
Step 6. Spin and weave as much as you can every day that you have left, allowing time for postage, and for your items to dry if they need to be wet-finished!
Step 7. Collate and organise your samples – for the ASWS Woolcraft competition they have specific requirements for fibre content (it’s a wool show after all) and so require some samples that they can test if need be. You get a small ziplock bag to put them in, I used a lock of dirty fleece and one of clean, and some dyed fleece for the skein that included dyed wool. Thankfully I had a good bit of leftover yarn from my weaving project, and I’d kept the yarn label somewhere “safe” so that it only took a small while to find it and put in the bag. Each category also required certain information to be included, e.g. WPI (wraps per inch) of spun yarn, intended use, or percentage of wool content. For the ASWS Woolcraft you are also encouraged to include Design Notes and/or an Inspiration Statement of up to A4 size, so I added some notes about my design process & decisions underneath the required information with a few small photos of each project in-progress.
Step 8. Finish your items (wet finish, dry and block as required).
Make sure they are presented nicely – e.g. that your handspun skeins are tied with the same handspun wool and are neatly twisted (and of a good length/width ratio, don’t make the circle too small!) or for a garment you may want to block it. I carefully re-skeined one of my handspun entries to a larger circumference and to make the colour progression more orderly & distinct. Tag your items – the ASWS Woolcraft tags came with a perforated section, so that if you were collecting your exhibits in-person you could tear that section off to match up with your items upon collection. Pin the tags and sample bags to your items (this seems a bit awkward for the handspun skeins!) and if you have an article with a back/front then pin it to the front to make it easier to display it right way out/up. (Note – they still managed to display my shawl inside-out, so don’t be too precious…) Double-check you have everything you need to send with each entry.
Step 9. Post or Deliver your entries!
I finished my final item (a woven shawl) on Tuesday 2nd July, packaged everything up, and sent it off by express post on Wednesday 3rd of July, giving myself a margin of 1 day before the deadline of 5th of July. It was a rush to the finish, not helped by getting sick, but I just wanted to make sure I finally entered something. I am really, really proud that I persevered and made it before the deadline, even if it was only by 1 day!
Step 10. Go along to the show and admire all the amazing work that everyone has entered!
In fact, even if you miss all the other steps before this one – go and see the show anyway! The Woolcraft displays are so inspiring and the atmosphere is always warm and buzzing with excitement despite the cold Bendigo winter. It’s truly breathtaking to see the breadth of talent and techniques and realise how much passion and time people have put into making their exhibits, as well as the all the effort the organisers and volunteers put in to make this event possible.
Being the first competition I had entered I didn’t really have any expectations going into it, so to receive any ribbons was a surprise. I got four!
Even better was that my exhibits were returned (promptly too) with their score cards and a sentence or two of feedback for each item! I was very happy to have received good scores and helpful comments on my items.
I delayed and deliberated about entering this competition for… around 5 years? But it was so great to finally just go for it, and I’m really, really glad I took that leap. The feedback and comments I received were the most rewarding aspect as I could then take that forward in my own development, but I also found the challenge and time limit created a great incentive to push forward and resolve design problems on the fly in order to get things finished.
I’m now very excitedly planning the entries I will send in for the 2021 Australian Sheep & Wool Show.