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Feed Your Gilt and Raise a Cavy

Don't know the difference between a feed dog and a Squeezer? The L.A. County Fair, which closes tonight, is the place to find out.

September 28, 2003|Stephanie Chavez | Times Staff Writer

If you have a passion for mastering Hardanger and are obsessed with perfecting your kloster blocks, you are:

a) an extreme mountain climber

b) a masseuse

c) a needle art hobbyist

To find out, visit Building 4 at the Los Angeles County Fair.

While you are there, pay a visit to the caged dwarf hotots, marvel at the woman who can create a work of art without the aid of feed dogs and presser feet and be aware that a Squeezer lurks just around the corner.

There's no interpreter or dictionary that can help you navigate this tourist attraction, but the 2003 Los Angeles County Fair, which closes tonight offers a vocabulary lesson all its own.

The fair aims to be both educational and weird, serious and whimsical for the nearly 1.3 million visitors who pass through the gates. And everything -- from the 1,530 contest categories to the 2,000 consumer goods exhibits -- has a name, some of which only an aficionado can decipher.

Some of it's a guessing game. Like, what's a Hot Stick?

"Something to eat? Sausage on a stick?" answered fairgoer Becky Fernandez, 50, of Huntington Park.

Good try, but incorrect. Indeed, many food items at the fair do come on a stick, including deep-fried Twinkies. But a Hot Stick is actually a curling iron. Its exhibitors in Building 4 like to yell out "Hot Sticks for hot chicks," to grab your attention.

Some of it is cutesy, if not somewhat confusing: Like, what's the difference between Touch of Purple and Rhythmic Touch?

"One is a cleaner?" Fernandez guessed.

Good job, Becky, you're half right. Touch of Purple is a purple-hued jewelry, glass and plastic surface cleaner. Rhythmic Touch, however, is tricky. It's a portable device the size of a transistor radio used for "transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation," according to a brochure.


"An electric massager," said exhibitor Elise James, 34, an aspiring actress.

Some of the most perplexing jargon can be found in the needle arts categories.

Ask 15-year-old Mariela Flores what a feed dog is and she answers back with a question:

"Dog food?"

But when the same question is put to Gloria Shambaugh, a 20-year sewing veteran, she looks as if you have just asked a driver what a steering wheel is.

"Oh my! Of course I know exactly what it is," she said, with a tone indicating that she was close to adding "you dummy" at the end of her sentence.

"It's the little row of metal teeth on a sewing machine that pulls the fabric," she said. It works in conjunction with the presser foot, she said, which is the metal fork next to the needle that helps guide the fabric.

When a sewing instructor gives this command: "Ladies, put your feed dogs down and no presser feet allowed," it means that the craftswomen behind the sewing machines are going to engage in "free motion embroidery" to create their designs.

OK, but what's Hardanger and kloster?

"Ooooh, that's a question for Tecla," Shambaugh said, referring the question to her sewing teacher.

Across the aisle, though, needlework expert Phebie Day Lozano was quick to answer, pulling out a glossy instruction manual titled "Hardanger" that describes it as a "type of embroidery form the Hardanger Fjord region of southwestern Norway." Kloster blocks are rectangular groups of satin stitches.

"It's a popular form of stitching used in tablecloths, place mats and European and Scandinavian curtains," Lozano said, as if the terms were as common as zigzag.

But what about inkle looms?

"I have no clue," said Robin Mauldin, 17. "You know, it's not normal here. I mean there are things here you don't see in stores."

Sky Shivers, the name of a man, not a thrill ride, understands the important role of proper terminology in his role as livestock supervisor. As hundreds of spectators gathered around a pen to watch a sow give birth to eight piglets, he explained: "This is a sow, which is different from a gilt. A gilt is a young female hog that has never given birth."

A gilt can be pregnant, but is called a gilt until she actually gives birth.

Shivers is also an expert on boar goats.

One may be inclined in a fit of anger to call a particularly loathsome man a boar, referring to the Webster's Dictionary definition of an uncastrated male pig. But, Shivers said, boar goat is a term few people ever use, being the name of a popular farm animal bred for its meat-producing physique.

"More people are getting into boar goats than any other breed," he said. "The competition is real fierce" in blue-ribbon fair contests.

When it comes to Pinzgauer, Maine-Anjou or Charolais, Shiver said it's all really simple. "They are just exotic breeds of cattle."

Just as a dwarf hotot is a docile little rabbit and a cavy (pronounced K-V) is more commonly known as a guinea pig.

"Yeah, there is an insider language within each industry," he said, and after a while formalities are dropped and every animal has a nickname: Pins and Maines, for instance.

So test your fair vocabulary skills:

1) Lapidary

"A laxative?" guessed Fernandez.

No, the art of cutting, engraving and polishing precious stones.

2) StarFiber

"A nutrient to help the body?" answered Miriam Gudino, 15.

Sorry. It's a mop with absorbent fibers.

3) Shisha mirror

"It helps you apply makeup," said Karen Murray, 43.

Wrong. It's a tiny mirror typically the size of a fingertip used in knitting and other needle crafts to decorate clothing such as vests and hats.

And don't worry about the Squeezer. It's only lemonade.

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