Report from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival
Howard County Fairgrounds, Maryland
by Jennifer H. (KR forum name Bluestocking)
|The Day Begins|
We began our day by heading to the Main Exhibition Hall to hit several vendors we knew we wanted to see. We also wanted to check out the fleece competition. There, Bess (Bessh in the forums), my partner in crime for the day, and I decided to split a fleece.
We found a lovely, soft and very clean Corriedale fleece, not too large, in varying shades of grey and tan. Bess also purchased a lovely celtic spindle from Golding Spindles.
Then it was off to the garment and skein competition to meet Martha (Marfa) and view all the entries, some of which were truly works of art. We then had a wonderful lunch with several other Knitter's Review members, and then it was back to the festival for some serious shopping.
The Knitter's Review group, from left to right: Marg from Michigan, Jennifer (BlueStocking in the forums), Bess (Bessh), Lissa (Lissa), Anita (Achrisvet), Martha (Marfa), and Patricia from New Jersey. Missing from the photo are Shawn and Shawn, Edie, Rebecca, and LJ.
|Inside the Festival|
The festival can be neatly divided into two complementary pursuits: fiber and animals. The fiber activities encompass sheep-to-shawl contest, a skein and garment competition, and a fine arts contest.
There's also a multitude of workshops and seminars geared toward the fiber arts (spinning and knitting workshops on such topics as color work, intarsia, and steeking), plus hundreds of vendors in six different barns and a main exhibition hall pictured at right.
The animal activities include fleece animal competitions, shepherding and shearing workshops and demonstrations, animal husbandry and health, marketing, commercial spinning and cheesemaking, 4H Club activities, and the Annual Maryland Lamb and Wool Queen contest. You could also browse various vendors of sheep and farming equipment.
In addition to all the vendors and animal activities, there are also musicians as well as food vendors selling both typical county fair food and lamb burgers and such.
A live auction offered spinning, weaving, and other fiber equipment, including the antique ebony spinning whell and original distaff you see here. It sold for only $100!
|Trying to Stay Focused
Even when I narrowed my focus to the fiber side of the festival, there was still too much to see and do in one day. In fact, it took the entire day just to see all the vendors and stop for a quick lunch.
For this article, I had to limit myself to those vendors that had Web sites for viewing. This festival is particularly special, however, because you can find great deals on beautiful, handspun and hand-dyed yarn, much of which isn't available anywhere online. This is yet another reason to attend the festival if at all possible.
The festival isn't just for knitters, however. Possibilities abound for spinning, weaving, and felting enthusiasts too. Fiber is everywhere -- roving of all types imaginable dyed and natural, angora and angora batts, fleeces, mohair locks, you name it.
Wool in the Woods, a fiber company located in Biglersville, Pennsylvania, specializes in hand-dyed yarns and designer kits. The booth was chock full of wonderful fiber, including the sock section pictured here.
There were brightly colored sock yarns, as well as lovely wool/mohair/silk blends ranging in weight from lace to bulky. Their booth was an eye-catching rainbow of color and texture.
Handpaint Heaven, a retail shop from Vermont, featured handpainted, hand-dyed yarns, knitting kits, and free patterns.
The company had an abundance of lovely Cherry Tree Hill yarns as well as wool, silk, mohair, alpaca, cotton/rayon, and novelty yarns. Here we see Martha reaching a state of fiber overwhelm!
Persimmon Tree Farm had absolutely spectacular handspun yarn, as well as equally breathtaking roving and fiber. Her mohair locks were richly colored, soft, clean and gorgeous. Bess purchased some of these for her stash.
A trip to the festival would be incomplete for me without a visit to Hunt Country Yarns, my local yarn shop (LYS) in Middleburg, Virginia. The owner, Bob Kelly, is an amazing source of knowledge about all things related to fiber.
He and his wife, Valerie, are gracious and wonderful people, and the shop is paradise. Best of all, Bob will go out of his way to locate yarn, fiber, needles, whatever you need, and ship them wherever you need them to go.
Another festival must is The Mannings, a double-sized booth that was full of all things for knitting, weaving, and spinning. The were lots of books (definitely the best book display at the festival), as well as wheels, yarns, fibers, dyes, and supplies.
Located in East Berlin, Pennsylvania (not far from Gettysburg), The Mannings offers all these products in their retail shop, in addition to looms, equipment, and classes.
Misty Mountain Farm, located in Amissville, Virginia, raises its own Finn sheep, llamas, and angora goats. It's also where I happily purchased my new spinning wheel. [The author is pictured here in front of the Misty Mountain Farm booth.]
The owner's fiber is lovely, and the Finn roving is unbelievably soft. Misty Mountain also carries mohair cones and various hand-dyed yarns and supplies.
|Carolina Homespun was another excellent fiber vendor, with weaving and spinning supplies, fleeces and roving, dyes, and yarns.|
Stony Mountain Fibers, from Charlottesville, Virginia, focuses mainly on weaving and spinning supplies. Barbara Gentry, the owner, dyes merino top "pigtails" in wonderful color variations, and also sells many other types of fiber, yarns, rug and weaving yarns by the cone, knitting needles and other supplies, wheels, and looms.
Below left is Barbara Gentry; below right, Bess and Martha stand in front of the Knitter's Review notecards and accessories that Barbara had for sale. Note Martha's Knit Happens T-shirt!
|One of our favorite fiber vendors at the festival is Little Barn Inc., just a portion of which is shown at right. The store offers a true cornucopia of fiber -- many, many varieties of wool, cotton, silk, mohair, tencel, llama, alpaca, and synthetics.|
The owner of Little Barn was giving bottled water away to anyone who wanted it, no purchase necessary. Appalled by the price of bottled water at previous festivals, he now comes stocked with water for free.
Little Barn also has a Web site devoted to discontinued fiber and odd lots, at Little Barn ~ A Fiber Odyssey.
|Sheep to Skein Services
If you're interested, you can purchase a fleece at the festival and drop it off at one of many vendors to have it washed, cleaned, carded or combed, and even spun up into yarn. One such vendor is Fingerlakes Yarns, pictured at left.
Located in Genoa, New York, Fingerlakes processes fiber into carded roving, pencil roving, or yarn. This company also sells its own yarn in wool, angora, and unspun fiber.
|Many non fiber-related vendors were also present, including potters, basket makers, wood carvers, blacksmiths, jewelers, and soap makers. One of my favorites was the handcrafted soap and Moth Beware mix from a Simpler Thyme.|
The Moth Beware mix is a fragrant blend of hand-planed cedar, pennyroyal, lavender, patchouli, mugwort, eucalyptus, bay leaf, oakmoss, lemon verbena, and basil. It can be found on their Web site under Mercantile.
This mix makes my yarn and fiber unappetizing to moths. As an added bonus, it smells great.
And finally, what festival would be complete without a shot of the animals? Here's one of the cutest attendees at the fair, a French angora rabbit from The Wool Merchant, Schnecksville, Pennsylvania.
The owner has no Web site, but you can email her. She also sold wonderful angora rabbit fur by the ounce.
| Talk about this festival (and others) in our forums