One perfect day at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

Is it worth traveling about 3,600 miles round trip for one day at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival? Under normal circumstances, it would not be. . . . Oh, well, yes, it would, but I could never rationalize my way into taking such a trip. However, this year the universe conspired to make the trip work out for me—even financially—and yes, it was. It most certainly was worth it.

The morning started with a bit of rain, but the weather soon was perfect: not wet, but also not swelteringly hot. I've learned over the years to go to Maryland Sheep and Wool prepared for both downpours and extreme heat. On Saturday, I only needed regular clothes and shoes. (It was raining this morning when I left the hotel, so I can't speak for today's conditions at the fairgrounds.)

For someone's first visit to the festival, even an hour can be overwhelming, and a whole weekend is hardly enough and yet feels like way too much. Fortunately, I've attended Maryland Sheep and Wool more often than I can remember—most of the time working a booth—and I started going when there were far fewer people (although still impressive numbers). I know the layout and the feel of the event. That helps a lot.

Yesterday morning, I arrived early with friends who had a booth and I got a good parking spot and enjoyed a little visiting with other vendors before the festival officially opened. Then I realized how many items that I needed were still in the hotel room. After some deliberation, I decided to improve the quality of the rest of my day by driving back and getting them. This included things like an important phone number or two . . . and my checkbook. A significant number of Maryland vendors don't do many shows and therefore don't take credit cards. So I sacrificed my parking spot and about 45 minutes of festival in order to be relaxed through the rest of the day. (I'm not usually so scattered. Editing until 11 p.m. the night before departure might have had something to do with my absentmindedness.)

So here are a few photos from my day on the fairgrounds. Tomorrow I'll have another set of license plates.

This first photo makes me amazingly happy. On the left is Pat Slaven, whom I've known for about twenty years and not seen in way too long. She was walking across a field and I called out her name and we had a great visit, during which Joanne Seiff, on the right, showed up. Joanne is running around the northeast signing copies of her new book, Fiber Gathering. Which includes Maryland, of course.

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Seeing these two folks (who did not previously know each other) sets up so many links through spirit and time and space . . . the SOAR spin-in where we spun a yarn that went all over the room, the dinner in the back room at the Italian restaurant during the Estes Park Wool Market . . . more. (Pat's sweater is handspun and handknitted; Joanne's and mine are handknitted from commercial yarn. All of the sweaters have stories.)

I met up with a lot of long-time and new friends, more than I can list, and when I'm visiting I tend to want to just visit instead of taking pictures  (although I love the photos when I have them). I've learned not to plan too many meetings. It's too chaotic at the festival to carry an appointment book . . . spoils the effect. Serendipity works well, although far from perfectly. I'd hoped to meet quite a number of specific people . . . so I still have that to look forward to, in another place or time.

I did browse a bit with friends. Joanne located and took me to a great new vendor-type treasure: Solitude Wool, which is producing small-batch, breed-specific yarns from nearby flocks. The Maryland grounds are large and busy enough that I might have missed this new resource. Joanne knew that I would love it and made sure I got there. In turn, I made sure she and Dina (a friend who was at Maryland for her second time, so thus was no longer burdened with the false hope that she'd see everything) didn't miss the wonderful Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco

I'm going to have to see if I can adjust the photo I have of one of the Peruvian hats. The pieces are much more beautiful in person than in pictures, and the photo I have needs a bunch of help to even be moderately adequate.

Then we went our separate ways until next time.

One of the ways I have learned to inhabit the Maryland festival comfortably is to pay attention to some of the non-fiber activities, like music:

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Most of my shopping involved looking for an array of breed-specific yarns. There seemed to be lots more available than last year, which I think is superb. Because of the way I'll be using these skeins, I can't identify them yet by breed but I can say some of the places they came from were Solitude, Hill Farm, Spinning Flock Farm (can't find a website; great yarns), and Cobun Creek (also can't find a website).

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Another good way to change the pace at Maryland is by watching the sheepdog demonstrations. They usually happen three times each day and last for about half an hour. Nancy Cox Starkey has been the commentator for years. She and Mark Soper were once again kind enough to bring smart dogs and opinionated sheep for festival-goers to watch in action. They had some young, eager, and learning dogs there on Saturday, as well as a couple of mature pros.

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Usually I watch the Parade of Breeds, but because it's traditionally a Sunday event I missed it this year. However, there's also a Sheep Breeds Display that's ongoing in the new barn (the one with the fancy blue stalls), so I visited that late Saturday afternoon, when I was tired, and caught a shepherd introducing a Clun Forest lamb to some other youngsters. That's mom in the background on the left. She had a few things to say about the activities. (Clun Forests are a rare breed, currently listed with "recovering" status by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.)

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And I've also figured out the best way to locate your car easily: stick around until the festival is closed for the day (6 p.m.) and then a bit, so almost everybody else has left. This field was packed solid an hour earlier.

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Tomorrow: more license plates.

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7 Responses

  1. Sounds like you had the perfect Festival Experience!
    I’m going to the NH S&W with my daughter and mother-in-law this weekend (three generations of knitters!) and am really looking forward to it. My only wish is that they’ll have more breeds of sheep on display. The last few years they’ve concentrated on alpacas and llamas, and there’s not near enough variety in those…

  2. That was my concern about the rain I saw on Sunday morning as I left. When I’m prepared (the big two items are shoes that don’t mind getting wet and some sort of poncho or rain jacket), I like the festival in the rain, too, although I always feel bad for the outside vendors.

    I wonder if the universe will conspire to get me there next year? I never know. I missed eight years in a row once. That was not good!

  3. I’d like to visit New Hampshire Sheep and Wool, and a rainy day at Maryland is SO much better than no day at Maryland.

    My t-shirt in the photo with Pat and Joanne, with the ball-of-yarn sheep, was designed by Kristi, also known as Fiberfool and Designedly, Kristi http://blog.designedlykristi.com/

  4. I checked out Solitude’s website. Looks like great stuff. I’m really tempted to call up and place an order (must show restraint). Will you be bringing your loot to SnB for show and tell? That might be reason enough to push myself for an appearance.

  5. Amanda, I won’t be at SnB tonight. NEXT week. I’m in Salida, spinning North Ronaldsay. And yes, I can bring my samples. And yes, you would be so, so, so tempted . . . wisely so. I selected colors within a certain palette for a particular reason, but the general color availability in these yarns is exquisite. Solitude is doing mechanical processing, but they are doing it right. The yarns retain the qualities of the breeds. I have two skeins of their stuff, which isn’t enough to give you a sense of the variety but *is* enough to let you know about quality! Top-notch.

  6. Hi there! You did a great summary. 🙂 I am still in recovery from Sunday at MD. Rain. Cold. Couldn’t feel my feet… and then on Monday I succumbed to some sort of virus that both my nephews have too. I’ve felt pretty ill but being 6 months or 3 with this would be worse. Anyhow, I’m in Vermont now, and hope NH will be a blast (and be dry) and I’ll feel up to it. Wish I had the energy to do these posts justice with even more comments!

  7. Hi, Joanne: Oh, I hope you feel better soon! Cold feet at a festival are not good. Sometimes I love my rubber boots (although I only pack them when I’m flying to Alaska, so I would have been caught out by Sunday in Maryland this year, too . . . my water-walking sandals, yes, but no warmth). Rest. Tea. Fiber .

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