A sleepy sheep

Festival Rules:
Notes from the 2009 Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival
an editorial by Linda Cortright

Some in the knitting world think that the first weekend in May ought to be declared a High Holy Day. Perhaps in deference to the as-yet unanointed "Saint of the Stitch" or the "Cardinal of the Cable." It should be a day (or two) when those of us who are otherwise consumed by weekends of softball practice, preparing the garden, and endless loads of laundry can cast away our cares and head to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival (MSWF) without fear of familial or professional repercussions.

But like most High Holy Days, rules must be followed. My attendance at this year’s festival made me think of a few that should be on the list.

Rule #1: Come Hungry
Fortunately, MSWF does not fall during Ramadan or any other religious observance that requires fasting from sunrise to sunset. Although, after consuming my annual quota of fried dough and patronizing the local Boy Scout Chapter selling lamb burgers on a grill cooked two at a time, fasting does seem like a reasonable activity.

funnel cakes with blueberry toppingIs it just me, or does anyone else think the idea of eating fried dough at home makes about as much sense as bringing your own popcorn to the movies? It just doesn’t taste the same, now does it?

It has been my experience that the best food at Maryland is not necessarily the vendor with the longest line since the speed (or lack thereof) of the guy operating the frialator can create a significant backup. Instead, look at which vendors have the really early lunch lines. If they’re queuing up for shish kebab at 10:15, it’s a safe bet there’s a tasty treat at the end of the stick. And not only that, you can recycle those sticks to use as an extra set of size-five needles.

Rule #2: Bring a Guide
If you are a first-time attendee at MSWF, you definitely need to be baptized. I would not recommend clothing yourself in a hand-knit white gown complete with a matching bonnet and booties, nor would I encourage a full-body immersion into one of the large water troughs provided for the animals.

Some of the KR lunchersBut I would suggest that this rite of passage only be done under the supervision of a responsible adult who can safely guide you through your journey. I might even recommend a set of godparents in the unlikely event that your guardian should be otherwise engaged and unable to assist you. I've seen more than one person grow faint as they ventured down the corridor of the main vendor building where the gross sales of fiber products could satisfy the GM bailout plan.

BunniesRule #3: Look Beyond the Sheep
Even though it's the MSWF, where the emphasis is clearly on ruminants and their lanolin-infused fleeces, opportunities abound to pay homage to the Easter Bunny. For the novice knitter, working with angora can be a hare/hair-raising experience. I happen to prefer buying my angora straight from the rabbit. It helps soothe my nerves as I mutter evil incantations with every dropped stitch to think of that delightful pink nose twitching about. How could such an irresistible creature be responsible for my near mental collapse?

And if one is to pay tribute to this Easter Bunny of sorts, it should not be done without buying the requisite chocolate to go with it. Perhaps a small wafer of chocolate and a sip of lemonade dispensed by the local head shepherd should be incorporated as the official "communion" for this High Holy Day, yes?

rainRule #4: Surrender to the Journey
But as I walked around this year's festival, amid rains of Biblical proportion, strolling past vendors offering exquisitely hand-dyed skeins that could easily hang in the Louvre, and admiring the incredible selection of "endangered" yarns that come from such rare sheep breeds as Cotswolds and Leicester Longwools, I realize that going to MSWF is already a spiritual journey.

For, no matter how many years I go, and no matter how many times I stop and visit each new vendor or each new woolly breed—touching, smelling, tasting, and dreaming about all that the fiber world has to offer—I will never reach complete enlightenment, but perhaps just catch a fleeting glimpse of a weekend in nirvana. And isn't that what two sticks and a ball of yarn are truly all about?

Linda Cortright is editor and publisher of Wild Fibers Magazine and has recently formed a non-profit organization, Keep the Fleece, in honor of the United Nations International Year of Natural Fibres (IYNF). She has been attending Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival for many years, but this time she was deeply occupied supervising the creation of the "World's Longest Scarf," a fundraising effort sponsored by Keep the Fleece to help raise $250K for Heifer International in honor of the IYNF. Find out more.

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