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2015 Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival by Elysa Darling!

by The SpinArtiste on May 10, 2015

Publisher’s Notes:  I love having guest bloggers and this week we are lucky enough to have a lovely post from Elysa Darling of 222 Handspun Yarn sharing her perspective on the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival that was held last weekend.  I’m sure you will enjoy Elysa’s words and images!  Thanks so much, Elysa!!

I consider myself pretty fortunate to live within an hour and a half drive from one of largest and one of the longest running fiber festivals in the United States. This year was the 42nd Annual Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival (MDSW) which was also celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Leicester Longwool sheep returning to the U.S.

A Leicester Longwool Sheep

A Leicester Longwool Sheep

 

The event features over 200 vendors, fleece sales, classes and workshops, sheep breed shows, skein and garment and sheep to shawl competitions, sheepdog and shearing demos, and live entertainment. It’s held each year over the first weekend in May at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, Maryland and about 60,000 – 70, 000 people attend each year.

 Festival Entrance - Saturday Morning Early Shoppers

Festival Entrance – Saturday Morning Early Shoppers

There is an air of excitement as you approach the festival. I took a bus from my local yarn shop and we got there early Saturday at around 8:45 am. They were already letting people in the gates and you could see vendors scurrying to complete their last minute preparations.

The Central Maryland Knitting Guild did the yarn bombing for the festival again this year and they did a fabulous making the path to the main gate look festive and inviting.

yarn bombed tree w

Over the years I have developed relationships with other spinners, fiber artists, and farmers and this is my main opportunity to catch up with them and do some serious shopping. What I really like about this event is that it’s not just for knitters. There is a big hand spinning community in the area and many vendors cater to art yarn spinners and carry premium fiber in an amazing array of colors and textures. If you are looking for eco-friendly small farm raised fleece and rare breeds you will not be disappointed by the huge selection.

Avalon Springs Farm Booth

Avalon Springs Farm Booth

Feederbrook Farm Both

Feederbrook Farm Both

For first time attendees it can seem a bit overwhelming, especially on a Saturday. You will find long lines for some of the necessities such as the fleece sale, a few very popular vendors, restrooms, and food trucks (in that priority order!). But don’t let the lines deter you. That’s where you meet the best people and kindred spirits and you get to talk about your love of all things fibery and not seem weird at all.

 

Lining up for the Fleece Sale Early Saturday Morning

Lining up for the Fleece Sale Early Saturday Morning

 

There is a lot to see and do from shopping to sheep herding and shearing demos, to entering contests and competitions. I spent a full Saturday and better part of Sunday visiting and talking with as many friends (new and old) and sheep as I possibly could. The weather was great and there was lots of food and folk music to enjoy while you shopped or relaxed in the shade.

The craziness and fun of the Fleece Sale

The craziness and fun of the Fleece Sale

You know if the lines are long for the food vendors, the food is good!

You know if the lines are long for the food vendors, the food is good!

If you are really adverse to crowds, Sunday afternoon is the perfect time to shop. Many vendors replenish their stock and there are some good deals to be made at the end of the day.

Relaxing and spinning in the shade

Relaxing and spinning in the shade

 

Sheep going for a walk

Sheep going for a walk

One of my favorite activities at the festival is watching the Sheepdog Herding Demos. They usually have some less experienced dogs mixed in with the older ones and it’s really fun to watch them do their job so enthusiastically. The demo I went to had some seemingly laid back Bluefaced Leicester sheep and a young sheepdog who was very eager to herd them. He did a great job despite not wanting to “lie down” when he was asked a number of times.

Sheep Herding demo 10 w

Sheep Herding demo 9 w

Sheep Herding demo 12 w

Sheepdog Getting the “Lie Down” Command (Again)

 

It’s amazing how the sheep really stick together as a tight unit. I was admiring the way their fleece swayed as they ran around the ring.

Sheep Herding demo 11 w

 

Each year I go back, it seems I know more and more people and get to make new friends from all over when standing in the line to buy fleece or just chatting on a bench outside. “What did you buy?” or “Did you make that?” are great conversation openers. I always bring business cards with me and have Facebook and Instagram open so I can follow other fiber enthusiasts whose names I might otherwise forget.

There are so many vendors, it is very hard to see the whole show in one day

There are so many vendors, it is very hard to see the whole show in one day

Dancing Leaf Farm booth -- near the entrance and a very popular spot!

Dancing Leaf Farm booth — near the entrance and a very popular spot!

 

the Hobbledehoy booth in the Lower Corral area -- a great place to run into other folks who like to make creative yarns

the Hobbledehoy booth in the Lower Corral area — a great place to run into other folks who like to make creative yarns

The Marigoldjen booth - gorgeous hand painted yarns

The Marigoldjen booth – gorgeous hand painted yarns

Another mainstay of the Main Building...Loop with its luscious selection of colorful batts and bumps

Another mainstay of the Main Building…Loop with its luscious selection of colorful batts and bumps

I was consigning some of my handspun yarn in Folktale Fibers / A Little Teapot Designs booth inside the main hall, so I stopped by to check in and watched them spin and drum card some fresh fiber batts.

Anne spinning closeup w

Folktale Fibers and Little Teapot Designs

Folktale Fibers and Little Teapot Designs

I’m always attracted to anything bright/neon. Isn’t this the perfect sign?

Wild Hare Fiber Studio

Wild Hare Fiber Studio

 

Sheep, sheep, and lots of sheep. I missed them last year so I was determined to get some photos this time around. They had lots of ewes with their little lambs, which of course meant every time someone walked by there were “oohs” and “ahhs” (myself included).

 

Bluefaced Leicester Lamb

Bluefaced Leicester Lamb

 

Gotland Lamb

Gotland Lamb

 

Bluefaced Leicester Sheep

Bluefaced Leicester Sheep

 

Natural Colored Border Leicester Sheep

Natural Colored Border Leicester Sheep

 

Border Leicester Sheep

Border Leicester Sheep

 

American Teeswater Sheep

American Teeswater Sheep

 

Getting Ready for the Show Ring

Getting Ready for the Show Ring

 

 

So how do you best enjoy a huge festival like Maryland Sheep and Wool? My advice is to plan ahead. I wrote down the booths I wanted to go to and circled them on the vendor map the day before. I brought some cash, but most everyone takes credit cards (except the lemonade stand and some food vendors). If you can carpool or take a bus, that’s a nice way to enjoy the ride.

You might consider packing some snacks and water, wear walking shoes, and bring extra-large collapsible bags. You never know when you might score such as a freshly shorn fleece just about to be thrown out with the trash like I did late Sunday afternoon. Remember to keep your eyes and ears open (free fleece!), and don’t be afraid to ask questions or chat with strangers. Most of all have fun!”

 

Elysa Darling is a spinner, color addict, and animal lover who has a small yarn and fiber biz called 222 Handspun (www.222handspun.com). A native Rhode Islander, she has lived in Northern Virginia for nearly 20 years and dreams of owning a farm one day. She recently learned to crochet and does some weaving, but has yet to learn to knit. When she’s not spinning or taking photos, she’s working as a User Experience Designer for an online public education company. You can follow her at Facebook.com/222handspun and Instagram.com/elysa222.

For more of her fiber story, check out her interview with SpinArtiste: http://www.spinartiste.com/featured-artist-elysa-darling-of-222-handspun

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