Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival: Yet another fine time

Time has been zooming past. I've been to Maryland (more on that in a moment), California to teach (few photos, although I've asked the organizers if they can send me some that they took in my workshop), and downstairs to the basement office at home, to catch up (at least partially) on paperwork. I can hardly believe that it was already two weeks ago today that I flew east to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, and one week ago today that I flew the other direction, to the Conference of Northern California Handweavers.

In nine days I traveled about 6200 miles, and in my three days at home between the two spurs of that bifurcated journey I managed to get a freight shipment out (550 pounds of books to a Pennsylvania warehouse) and handle enough other details to keep the household and businesses at least nominally afloat.

No wonder I've felt a little less productive than usual for the past few days and that this blog post got started but not finished.


I love the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Some time I need to look back in my records and see which was the year I first attended, after Linda Berry Walker of WoodsEdge Wools had urged Interweave to have a presence there for Spin-Off for quite a while. I was editor of Spin-Off. I think the first year we attended Maryland ad manager Sharon Altergott (a long-time good friend) and I went to the festival just to look it over. Before we left at the end of the weekend, we put in an application to have a booth the next year.

We didn't need a lot of space at the festival because we simply promoted spinning and Interweave's products, which were for sale from other vendors. We had a shallow half-booth in front of the utility room in what was then called Building V, and is now the Main Building (booth 18B). That became our home base for many following years.

Over time, my practice became to do set-up on Friday night and also perform a quick survey of the other booths to discover a fiber that would be catchy for people to watch me demonstrate with: color was always a draw. Early Saturday morning, I'd show up at the booth I'd identified, buy my fiber for the weekend, and then return to "home" and start spinning and talking with folks about spinning. Because we traveled light, I always used a handspindle, although occasionally I was loaned a wheel to try out for an hour or two. One year I spun all weekend on a Navajo spindle. Another year, fairly early in our time there, a new exhibitor showed up in the booth next door to the left along "our" wall—a young woman, named Maie Landra, working with her mother to present her lovely hand-dyed yarns and the designs she created to showcase them. In subsequent years, the woman's infant daughter joined them, and it went on from there . . . the young woman called her company Koigu. Now her yarns have become well-known favorites within the knitting community.

Lots of similar stories weave through my memories of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Because booth assignments tended to stay relatively stable, we developed a sense of neighborhood throughout and within the parts of the festival. Even with all the changes over the years, the festival overall still feels that way to me.

We only had two or three people staffing the Interweave booth, so breaks were infrequent. We put in long days, mostly standing on the concrete floor, but we worked beautifully together and got to meet many fine people who were either working the festival or visiting it. I remember many specific conversations. Sharon, more of a social organizer than I am, made sure we got some visiting time with other folks on Saturday night.

A couple of years ago, when it was time for Kristi Schueler to take the author photos that would be used on The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, I wore a vest for which I spun the yarn at Maryland and I held the cherry spindle on which I'd made the yarn. From purchase to plying, I made the vest's yarn during a single weekend, while talking with folks, using a variegated commercial roving with a bit of flash in it that I had bought from a Building V vendor. I did spin the yarn I used for trim at home later (because I ran out of the Maryland yarn just shy of finishing the front edgings). The vest, my own design, was shown in an early issue of Interweave Knits, although the instructions as printed in the magazine didn't precisely represent the way I made the garment; they were more generic and didn't describe the intricate ribbing that flows without a break into the main body patterning.

Hmmm. I bought the cherry spindle, one of my all-time favorites, at Maryland, too, from Noel Thurner of Norsk Fjord Fiber. . . . Noel has pretty much retired from that business now, as have a number of other folks who are still firmly part of the festival in my heart.


So Maryland feels like "home" to me in many ways, and I was delighted that Storey Publishing decided to have a book launch there for The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook. For the launch, Storey sponsored the AfterParty organized by Guido Stein on Saturday evening, and we participated in a book signing on the festival grounds on Sunday.

The AfterParty was held at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel, in one of the ballrooms.

Most of it was a bit of a blur, because I'm not especially focused when I'm part of one of the featured events, but I loved that Storey gave away five books as part of the door-prize drawings. It was sort of a jackpot thing: for five of the door prizes, if your ticket was called you ALSO got a copy of the book!

Carol and I did a presentation on the process of making the book. We'd been asked to prepare a ten-minute routine, so we put together an appropriate number of slides. Yet it was all ad-lib, and folks seemed to like the details so we went on longer than that.

Here's the first slide, before the party began, after a collaborative crew had set up the projector, sized the picture/screen relationship, and keystoned the image (made it look square on the screen). The situation wasn't a great one for good photos, but the pictures hint at what went on.


Pam Art, president of Storey Publishing, introduced us. She's in the light blue below. I'm on the left, in a purple cotton handknitted sweater (great for summer events in air-conditioned rooms). Co-author Carol Ekarius is behind Pam, and organizer Guido Stein is in the white shirt on the right.


Guido's mother was there this year. She is as nice and as interesting as a person can be, and I had a great time talking with her. She had ideas for us involving international educational outreach about fibers that will require multiple cloning of ourselves and a bunch of years to implement, but we've started on them. . . . 

Some books were available for sale and signing at the party. Most of the stash was held back for the signing at the fairgrounds on Sunday.


Because Storey sponsored the party, the event raised about $1,000 for rescue organization Star Gazing Farm.


On Sunday, Carol and I signed books steadily for an hour and a quarter and then they were all gone. The copies that were there were air-freighted in, so the number was limited. The rest of the print run was still on the boat, coming by more economical means. We did have special bookplates that we signed for folks who were there but were in line too late to get the book itself.

And we didn't have to worry about missing the Parade of Breeds (a concern I'd had since I heard about the timing of the book signing). We were at the show ring in plenty of time!

Can digital cameras wear out? I was having trouble getting good photos of the sheep, although I was in a good position. The shutter speeds were correct, but it seemed to take about three-quarters of a second between when I pressed the button and the shutter fired. This is new. Changing batteries didn't help. Sheep can move a lot in three-quarters of a second. I have blurry images of all sorts of critters.

Yet I did get a few halfway decent photos at the Parade of Breeds, mostly, I think, through luck. Here are some Jacobs, with enough movement to be interesting, not completely out of focus.


Colonial Williamsburg's Leicester Longwools make regular appearances in the parade.


Scottish Blackfaces were represented by this delightful character.


This Shetland ram was not only incredibly handsome but very friendly. He charmed me completely. His people said that he'd be happy to go home with me, and if it had been feasible, I'd have been tempted! Yet I don't think they would have wanted to give him up. He was wonderful.


Suffolks have such fascinating faces. The wool is often overlooked by both shepherds and textile folk, yet can produce an exceptionally versatile, serviceable yarn, superb for making mittens, sweaters, hats, blankets, and other items that see daily use and provide a lot of comfort. As a spinner, I'd rather see the wool at full length, instead of trimmed for the show ring.


There was a lovely group of American Tunis, lambs and adults, showing the color shift from cinnamon to oatmeal (with color remaining on faces and legs) as the animals mature.


Not from the Parade of Breeds, but from when I was wandering around the barns, here's Sue Bundy, one of the people involved in Solitude Wool. She has American Karakuls at her RedGate Farm. She's brushing the fleece before showing one of her sheep, while a couple of others from her flock look on in the background.


I didn't get much shopping done, although a friend had sent me with her budget and a mission that I fulfilled. I did get some lightweight wooden cardweaving cards for myself, something I hadn't seen before that I have a reason to use within the next six months. And a Lincoln Longwool t-shirt, bright pink, that will become a regular part of my life at home.

Ah, Maryland.

We had a great time.

Thanks to everyone who played a part in making it happen.

And now I'd better get this post up, before another week wings by.


16 thoughts on “Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival: Yet another fine time”

  1. Mightn’t a ‘soft flash’, fill or low-light setting of your digi camera have helped?
    I’ve often found that it helps ‘stops’ the action and eliminates the fuzziness as well as brightening up these low-light, inside outdoor conditions like you were in.
    Is your camera fairly new?
    I know..I know, because I’m older than you and don’t have all of the iSomething toys… just one more piece of today’s technology to learn (its controls) but fortunately, the cameras designed in the past few years all have on-screen menus and the few commands we need to create and cover most situations are easy to learn and quickly access with the push of a button.

  2. The camera's about six years old (is that "the past few years"?) and I haven't found a "soft flash" setting on it. I have read the d*mn manual, and it hasn't revealed the secrets I need to feel completely comfortable with it.

    So the true question here is, "ARE you older than I am?" I still miss my Minolta rangefinder, purchased in Japan in 1968, with which I could shoot in low-light situations (including concerts) by adjusting the shutter speed and F-stop by instinct and get publishable photos (true, I liked available-light b/w photography best). That camera did finally wear out (cost to fix exceeded my budget) after more than 30 years.

  3. You can tinker with the PSA540 on manual, but it’s still got issues, which is one reason I upgraded to the SX10IS. It has a better built-in flash, and a real hot shoe to let you do more in low light.

    And thanks so much for the photos: that Jacob certainly isn’t impressed with being held back (I can hear him *baaaa* just by looking at him!), but that Shetland ram is just gorgeous.

    Not just the colour, but that so-sweet expression…. (But that colour is fab too!) I would have found it hard not to bring him home either.

    Sadly, we don’t see Tunis sheep here: when I’ve met them at MSWF, they’ve always struck me as being very laid-back. 🙂

  4. Thanks, Linda, for your insights, because you know exactly what I'm dealing with. I've messed around with the manual settings with not-altogether-satisfactory results. I do like that it *has* manual settings, which was part of the reason I bought that model.

    The Jacob was funny. No, he didn't want to be held back. He wanted to trot out there and show off.

    Tunis impress me, too, as laid back. I spent quite a bit of time in proximity when they were prepping to enter the ring: my location was right at the gate where the sheep and handlers were about to be announced. Some took longer than others. The Tunis hung out there for an extended time and were quite mellow. Four of them, no less!

    In the breed-display barn were a couple of Soay–teeny, but I doubt that anyone seriously considered including *them* in the Parade of Breeds. What a handful they would have been, and likely would have gotten loose. Definitely would *not* have liked standing in a nice, neat line once they were in the ring. A small saving grace would have been that as "S" sheep they would have been late in the progression. Still. Very wise not to even try to get them to play this particular game. They were quite calm back in the barn.

  5. What a delightful post, Deb! Why wasn’t I there? The sheepy pics are a great pleasure – what a charmer of a Shetland ram! I have trouble getting sufficiently adorable pics of my own Shetland ram, because he is SO inky black that his expressive features don’t show up well. I am also so glad to see someone (like you) spinning a garment’s worth of yarn on a fave drop spindle. I’m using one right now to make samples from my rammie fleece. Knitted up a swatch tonight but ripped it back because I worked too tight to show off the yarn. And it is *killing* me not to have a signed copy of your new book. I am so excited about this, and can hardly wait for the slow boat to arrive with the rest of the print run!

  6. Hi, Linda V! I wish you'd been there, too. One of these days. We'll have to figure out how to get you signatures on a coy of the book. 

    I thought you would enjoy that Shetland ram, and I thought about yours as I was getting to know him. Lighting would be critical in getting your dark fellow well represented in a picture. 

    Swatching is about making sure things are good with the tension and the yarn. I swatch a *lot*. I enjoy getting to know the materials and choosing the right tools. By the time I get the components right, I can comfortably forge ahead.

  7. I wonder if your spindle isn’t a “cousin” of mine, which also came from Noel years ago – is it the PGR one where the shaft screws into the whorl? It’s a great one! Thanks for the update on Noel Thurner.

  8. Yay!  I got to meet you, see the presentation, AND won a copy of the book!

    Any idea if the rest are really hitting the booksellers this week?  There are some mighty anxious people over on Ravelry wondering – no idea if you would know.

  9. Thanks, Freyalyn. I love the vest and have worn it a lot. They substituted a k2/p2 ribbing when they put it in Interweave Knits–it was VERY early in the magazine’s history, and there was a staff project sequence involving vests.

    Congratulations, Lynn! So glad you won a copy of the book! I am reading the same tea leaves as everyone else about the physical appearance of the rest of the shipping. The only inside news I have is that the publisher has been pressing me and Carol to fill in missing addresses on the list of folks who helped us out in a big way, who will get comp copies. That means they think they will have copies to send those people very soon.

    All the online places are still saying they’re taking pre-orders. But I’m thinking we’re within ten days of release.

  10. May 27th! My Birthday and my pre-ordered copy arrived!!!!! YEA!!!

    I love your blog posts and this is definitely one of my favorites! I love them all, but the Shetland is one of my favorites. He would not love my backyard, but I’d love for him to visit. What a great face! I did also love the Scottish blackface too! Glad you got a great seat and even if you have blurry photos, the memory of seeing all those sweet sheepies is a great thing!

    Congrats on your book and thanks from your fibery fans!

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