Thursday, May 09, 2013

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival 2013

If you live anywhere in Maryland, Virginia or Southern Pennsylvania and love all things wool-related, you have to go to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival the first weekend of May. I got up at an ungodly hour on Sunday, hoping to make an early start in order to get to the beginning of the "Sheep to Shawl" competition (which starts at 8.00 am for crying out loud!) but sadly didn't get out of the house until after 9.00. The morning started out cool and grey but the day turned beautiful - warm (but not too hot) and beautifully sunny. I understand that some years it's cold and rainy and others it's broiling, (last year was close and sticky) but this year was perfect. I did get there earlier than I did last year so although still had to park in a paddock, it wasn't the north forty.

Fortunately the Sheep to Shawl contestants were hard at it when I got there so I watched them for a while. They start by shearing a sheep (which someday I'll manage to be there in time for) and then part of the team prepares the fleece, passes it to the spinners who then pass it to the weaver to turn into the requisite shawl. They come to the competition with the warp (the long threads through which the spun wool is woven) already on the loom and then weave in the wool as it's spun.  There were four teams, all with different themes: one was "Gone Fishing", one "Garden Party" one all wore blue pjs with sheep on them, and one was dressed in Civil War garb. By the time I came back around to that section of the fair again they were done so I didn't get to see the finished articles but I understand that the Garden Party group won,
 with the Civil War ladies coming in second.
I'd had a look at the list of vendors before I went so I headed straight to the main pavilion where The Verdant Gryphon (previously the Sanquine Gryphon), whose website I've been stalking for some time, and Miss Babs (whose stall is notoriously a madhouse at festivals) were located.
I found the Gryphon first and met the lovely and very helpful Jamie (wearing the Verdant Gryphon's latest pattern, "Balin", a gorgeous knitted coat inspired by "The Hobbit").

I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide firstly, whether I should buy two (fairly expensive) skeins at what was, after all, the first vendor I'd visited so far, and once I'd convinced myself I should, which yarns to buy and, even worse, what colours! Finally, after much picking up, fondling, and putting down, I bought a skein of Bugga! in this year's "Experimental Love Child" colourway and Mithril laceweight in the "A Fairy, Kersti & A View of a Meadow" colourway. I'm pretty sure I'll make myself a pair of socks from the Bugga! but will have to decide what to do with the Mithril. Of course that's part of the fun of new yarn.

I then found the Miss Babs stall nearby, which was crowded but, according to a couple of people who'd been there on Saturday as well, not nearly as crazy-making as it had been the previous day. At least I could get INTO the stall. After much more yarn-fondling I found a gorgeous sock yarn called Tarte in tonal reds to make yet more red socks for my Beloved One. Once I'd finished with those two Must-Visits, I just enjoyed browsing the rest of the vendors. Everything sheep or wool related is sold at this event, from the sheep themselves, to tools for caring for them; from fleeces to spun yarn to finished products, and every tool you'd need to produce your finished product.
So there was a vendor who sold shepherd's crooks, others that sold spinning wheels,
uncountable booths offering fibre and yarn, and a few selling finished sweaters, hats or afghans.

There are also the sheep themed vendors
and a few frankly nothing-to-do-with-sheep-but-very-artsy vendors.
And there is of course, the food. In addition to the standard fair/festival food, there was sheep's milk products and (whisper) a lot of lamb. Look away now if you are squeamish and/or vegetarian.
When I had exhausted (read, exceeded) my day's budget for wooly goodness I bought myself a pit lamb sandwich and locally made rootbeer and sat in the shade to watch the end of the sheep judging. I particularly loved these two young ones looking earnest while the judges assessed their sheep.

 I went to the festival with a plan; a plan which involved sock yarn. Last year (about which more later) it was all about the spinning fibre, but this year I decided that as much as I love knitting socks, I haven't actually made many over the last year. So in the end, apart from the skein of Mithril, I got the Bugga!, the Miss Babs, a skein of Fiber Optic Yarns' Foot Notes in "Garnet", Blue Ridge Yarn's Footlights in "Mossy Hollow",  four skeins of a natural coloured wool/nylon sock yarn so I can experiment with dyeing this summer,  and...four tomato plants. I know, not exactly sheep or wool related, but they were there and I'd been wanting to buy some heirloom plants, so I got the "Mortgage Lifter" variety (4/$6). Apparently they produce prolifically - and I couldn't resist the name.

Now that I've spent all that money let's hope I do better about using it than last year's loot - twelve lots of spinning fibre I haven't touched since.

I'll try to dig out last year's fibre and take pictures of it, and this year's yarn, for the next post.

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