Go to a wool festival and you’ll be surrounded by people who share your love of fiber and yarn. Everywhere you look, you’ll see what you need to create with what you love so much. You may come home tired, but you come home ready to get to work. I have yet to hear of anyone who knits (or weaves or crochets or spins or felts or crafts with fiber in any way) who left a fiber festival and said, “I’m not doing this anymore.” It’s usually quite the opposite!
Our bus trip to the 2012 Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival (MDSW) started at 6:30 a.m. last Saturday. The knitting needles came out before we were even on the road. The weather forecast called for partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s. About 3 hours later we rolled into the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, MD. The festival had been open for less than an hour, and the lines at the entrance gate were gone, but we passed folks who had already bought so much they were heading out to the parking lot to free up their hands.
Although it’s easy to think of it as a shopping mall for yarn, MDSW is still very much an agricultural fair. Thanks to all the sheep judging, sheep shearing demonstrations, breed displays, fleece contests, sheep dog trials, and abundance of supplies and tools for sale to the modern shepherd, many will enjoy the event without even looking at the yarn. So can you guess where Jill and I went first? We headed straight for the main exhibition hall to see some of the vendors that only sell at fiber festivals or online, including Signature Needle Arts, Spirit Trail Fiberworks, Miss Babs, and the Verdant Gryphon. Can you blame us?
The picture of the Spirit Trail booth gives you some idea of the crush of people. I spotted an admirer of Jennifer Heverly’s Spirit Trail yarns wearing a Daybreak. (Stephen West’s Daybreak shawl was a recent class at the shop that will be repeated this summer; pattern available at the shop.) Visitors tend to like to wear their handwork at these festivals, but it wasn’t really handspun organically-dyed 100% wool steeked Fair Isle sweater weather, so lucky were those who had thought to make themselves light cotton or linen tanks and tops (see above left). I did see a lady in her gorgeous coral Dahlia Cardigan from Interweave Knits, Fall 2011, though. (Btw, did you know you can now buy IK, Knitscene, and Interweave special issues at GYI?) And I saw a lady knitting as she shopped. Now that’s dedication to your craft.
Once through the main building, we were off to the dozens of barns and tents and stalls that beckoned with yarn, roving, and fleece. Brooks Farm from Texas always has one of the more eye-catching displays:
Tess’ Designer Yarns hangs their yarn by color groups:
(And if you have to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it.) We may have spent quite awhile in the Seacolors booth, where Nanne Kennedy was selling her yarn dyed in solar baths of (you guessed it) Maine sea water:
The neighboring booth was filled with wool not quite so needle-ready:
The Fold is a perennially popular festival attraction, a shop that retails the yarn crack known as Socks That Rock. This was as close as I could get to it:
And that booth you could at least look into. There were several that were so packed with bodies that you only had the vendor’s sign above your head to hint at what was within. After seeing what seemed like enough yarn to circle the globe several times, we were ready for a bite to eat. You have to be ready for fair food. (Vegans, take note: you’ll need to bring you own lunch.) There are lots of choices, however. You can choose the ethnicity of your sausage.
You can indulge with corn dogs, funnel cakes, kettle corn, and fudge.
And you can stand in line for lamb barbeque and gyros.
I opted for the latter – once a year can’t be a bad thing, right? – and once hunger had been sated, it seemed like a good time for more fiber-viewing.
Those are braids of roving hanging at the Misty Mountain Farm booth. It was tempting to start buying fiber just for its decorative possibilities, to say nothing of its insulating properties, but I resisted. Spinners were out in force, showing us what you’re supposed to do with combed and brushed fiber, including this nice lady spinning directly from dyed alpaca locks.
Where did she get those locks? Why, perhaps from one of these cutie pies.
The shorn gentleman’s name is The Cisco Kid. And, yes, he has blue eyes. Jill will back me up on this: once I started photographing the livestock, I couldn’t stop. Here’s a French/German/Satin cross baby angora rabbit that would have fit so neatly in my GYI bag.
His large all-French companion, however, would not have.
Little baby goats and big mama goats (quite the family resemblance).
And sheep at last. There were eating sheep and sleeping sheep…
Sheep having pedicures or waiting to be sheared…
Sheep nosing and sheep posing…
and impeccably groomed sheep heading for the judging ring.
By 3:30 p.m., we were ready to head for the barn, too. We hadn’t seen everything and everybody, by any means. MDSW draws attendees from around the world, many staying in nearby hotels to attend classes as early as Wednesday and to visit both Saturday and Sunday. For us, though, the workshops, the live music, the craft and shearing and sheepdog demonstrations, the fleece show, skein and garment competition, sheep-to-shawl contest, sheep breed parade, spinning wheel auction, lamb sale, shepherding seminars, and children’s events will just have to wait for another year. Below is the way out. Not exactly a straight line.
Just as we were leaving, we passed a booth on the left set up by a local nursery. It definitely had a calming effect on nerves jangled from exposure to so much yarn and all things wool-related. And on the right as we left, this gentleman was sitting outside the hospitality tent, a reminder that there’s plenty of wool in the world, the sheep keep making more, and there’s always more to learn and master in the world of fiber arts.
It was a glorious day, surrounded by friends and so, so many sheep, which is exactly why we went, after all. Hope you will be able to join us on our next wool trek coming up on Sunday, October 21st, to the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY. Until then, keep thinking wooly thoughts!