Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival 2016

[While I continue to work on my room, here’s a little bit of festival fun from a few weeks ago.]

alpaca faceFor several years now I have heard the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival discussed, in tones both hushed and exuberant. I was regaled by tales of spinning wheels obtained for cheap through the auction, or bags of freshly shorn fleece ripe (in more ways than one) for the picking, and all the lamb and mutton-related foods one could hope to consume in a 48 hour period.

I was intrigued by the festival – both because I’m getting more and more into textiles, and also because I’m a folklorist and, well, festivals are part of my milieu, as it were – but I had not been able to attend Maryland Sheep and Wool before. The date always bumped up against my annual trek to Pennsylvania for Fairie Fest.

cotswold

Cotswold

This year, for the first time since I’ve known about it, Maryland Sheep and Wool fell on a different weekend than Fairie Fest (which wouldn’t have mattered this year, anyway, as we didn’t end up going). I was ecstatic. At long last, I would experience this fiber festival first hand.

Mom and I headed out Saturday morning, a little later than I had hoped, me keeping a suspicious eye on the weather. The forecast had said it was going to be sunny (Mom kept insisting hers said “partly cloudy”), but it threatened rain for most of the drive up and even sprinkled a little while we were on the final road in to the festival.

Getting to the festival, once we were on the back roads, was a little time-consuming. The festival is held at the Howard County Fairgrounds and the roads leading up to it don’t seem to be quite up to the challenge of dealing with hordes of fiber loving festival goers. When we finally got through the gates and met up with my friend Casey…I was immediately distracted.

Constantly distracted.

Merino

Merino

So many fuzzy things! So many cute things! Such bright colors! All the beautiful knit and woven and crocheted and sewn and felted things!

We tried to enforce some semblance of order to our wanderings, but it was near impossible. Every where I looked, I was excited. Not to mentions, I had to touch all the things!

I was particularly taken with some absolutely beautiful (and GIANT) skeins of handspun alpaca yarn at one of the booths.

We went through a number of barns, weaving through and around rather sizable

spinning angora fiber

spinning angora fiber

crowds, fondling bits of yarn, and cooing over impossibly fluffy angora rabbits. We watched as a woman spun angora fur from a rabbit sitting on her lap. She would spin, reach down and comb the rabbit with her hands, and spin more fluff, and all the while the rabbit happily sat on her lap, enjoying the petting.

I probably could have seen more of the vendors at the festival if I hadn’t gotten so distracted by looking through all the pens at all the different kinds of sheeps, but…I’m not sorry I looked at the sheep. I’m used to seeing the Hog Islands, and even a few other breeds like Jacob sheep at area fairs, but this was an opportunity to see a multitude of breeds I had only read the names of on my spinning fiber labels.

That's my hand petting the giant sheep, by the way. I'm 5'4", for reference.

That’s my hand petting the giant sheep, by the way. I’m 5’4″, for reference.

Romney, Corriedale, Blue-faced Leicester, Merino…and so many more! I was particularly taken with the stunning Lincoln Longwools that I discovered in the corner of one of the barns. They are enormous, and their wool is a lovely variegated black/gray/cream color, all capable in one fleece. If I were to keep sheep, I think it would have to be Lincoln Longwool. Which is funny, considering they are almost as tall as I am.

I was actually very tempted to purchase an entire Lincoln fleece, spotted in one of the barn stalls. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the ability to sell it by pound, and instead were asking for a solid price for the entire fleece.

There were a number of different demonstrations and bobbin lacecompetitions and the like going on throughout the course of the weekend. We only managed to catch a little bit of some of the fiber arts demonstrations. This woman was using bobbins to weave lace. She seemed surprised when Mom knew what the bobbins were called and what they were for, which really shouldn’t have been a shock, considering we were at a fiber festival.

Plus, I have a feeling that the lady was probably the same age as Mom, but thought Mom was younger. That doesn’t mean younger folks don’t know what lace bobbins are, of course. But ageism works in both directions.

I had gone into the festival with specific goals, which I think helped combat a little of the effects of over-stimulation. I knew I wanted to pick up the following things, if at all possible:

  • bison spinning fiber
  • shawl pin
  • yarn bowl (for Mom)
  • some other kind of “different” spinning fiber
  • un-dyed roving

I ended up leaving the festival with afore-mentioned bison fiber (only 1/2 oz, as it is rare and pricey), 1/2 lb of bamboo fiber in gold, 1 oz baby camel down, and 4 oz of natural Finnsheep roving.

finnsheepThe Finnsheep was the highlighted breed this year, and I was happy to pick up some processed roving. I think it feels softer than the BFL that seems to flood the market these days, and I’m hoping it’s a little easier on my hands than teasing apart the Merino roving I sometimes work with. Apparently, the wool likes to felt. I’ll have to make a note of that on the tag when I finish spinning it.

Sadly, we didn’t get to all of the booths at the festival, and we didn’t get to any of the demonstrations or workshops (besides what we say in the barn with the lace making and angora rabbits), despite us staying until they were literally closing down on Saturday. That’s the trouble with only having one day to see everything…there’s just so much to see!

As with any first visit to any festival, I came away with some suggestions for visits in future years:

  1. If possible, schedule for the two full days of Sheep and Wool.
  2. If you can’t go both days, make sure you get there EXTRA EARLY on the one day you go, so you can make use of the entire time.
  3. If you live further than 30 minutes away, you might look into renting a hotel room for the weekend, so you don’t feel as tired trekking back and forth at the beginning and end of the day.
  4. It helps to have a clear list of the things you want to look for when you are at the festival – I knew I didn’t need to buy yarn this go around, as I’ve been spinning it myself. So I was able to convince myself to bypass some of the booths.
  5. Study the schedule ahead of time – if you know you want to catch a specific workshop or demonstration, make note of it and build in plenty of time.
  6. If you plan to purchase a lot, look into bringing a wheeled bag for your purchases. There is no guarantee that you will be parked anywhere near the front gate.
  7. Look into using a GPS marker for where you parked your car on the giant hill.
  8. Remember to take time to hydrate and eat something!

I’ve since spun up the baby camel (it was so soft!) and have started working with the bison – though I had to move that to my drop spindle, to deal with the challenge…it’s extremely light and pulls apart too easily for me to spin it on the wheel. I’m sure that more experienced hand-spinners than me can spin it on the wheel, but it’s currently a challenge that is a little far beyond me. So, onto the drop spindle it goes!

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