28 May 1999

Chancing your arm in the arty crafty fair…

IT ALL began when I bought six Jacobs. I did the right thing by the sheep and enrolled for the sheep course at the agricultural college. The tutor seemed to think that Id got the wrong breed. I should have bought 100 Mules or 60 Poll Dorsets or even some milking sheep but by then I was very fond of my ewes. They all had names like Bathsheba and Araminta and I somehow had to prove the college wrong.

I made a start when we sent the first lambs on. We sold the meat privately and did very well. I got the lamb skins cured and they were so exotic, I could hardly believe it. My husband said he had a friend at work who might like one so I put all 10 in his car so that his friend could choose. When he came home I thought he had forgotten to bring them back. They just sold themselves he said.

When I told the college of my profit a ewe, they went a bit quiet. I overdid it when I mentioned that I had sold all the fleeces for £8.50 as well. My margins were quite a lot better than the Mules.

I went up to around 100 ewes but the trouble with bigger numbers is that you run out of workmates to sell the sheep skins to, so I had to start going to craft fairs. By then the fleeces were being commercially spun and made into natural undyed knitwear. Just the thing for the environmentally green I thought but I needed to do a crash course on the idiosyncracies of craft fairs.

These events can be very big and very expensive or small and informal. They can be faultlessly organised or a total disaster. If it is raining, nobody buys much. They are wearing soaking wet anoraks and carrying umbrellas and it is just too difficult to try anything on.

If it is very hot, it is always even hotter in the craft marquee. People just laugh at the knitwear and say, "Havent you come on the wrong day?" and you have to give a hollow laugh back. Then theres the allergy brigade who say they cant wear anything woolly or they get a terrible rash. Theres not much you can say to them either. There are the days when people admire everything and say theyll bring their husbands back in a minute but he takes one look and disappears over the distant horizon.

But it is not always like that. Some days are just magic. People fall over themselves to try things on. They buy a sweater for themselves and a jacket for their other half. They come back 20 minutes later and say that Gideon and Marmaduke have seen them and would like a sweater each for Christmas and theyll take a couple of waistcoats for Auntie Jane and Uncle Benjamin too. The hyperactivity on the stand is catching and more people crowd around.

They want the hand-knitted coat for £100s that you never expected to sell. Someone wants six hats for stocking fillers and a couple of sheepskins would be nice for the cats. A man says hed like four sheepskins for the seats of his car and while he is getting out his credit card, his wife says to make it enough for the cardigan she is just trying on. There seems to be a mad hysteria to buy. If only I could always pick the right fair.

Anna Milner