Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vacation, Part 2--Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

Been home for a week and a half and still writing up the vacation.  Of course, other things have happened--adopted the possums, started the new term, have been to a dyeing workshop, and caught a cold.  And there's Bob's Major Room Overhaul.  All those will come later.

The real reason for going to Maryland was to attend the Sheep and Wool Festival.  It's been going on for 30-something years, always the first weekend in May.  I've always wanted to go, and have always talked myself out of it--it's too far away, it's too expensive to go, I have all the fibers and tools I'll ever need, I don't like crowds . . . . . .   all true.  But the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is THE major festival of the fiber world, and I really just wanted to experience it.

And it was an experience.  We got there around 9:00--the fairgrounds were scheduled to open at 9:30.  The traffic was backed up for several miles before the fairgrounds.  The parking was very efficiently done by boy scouts and cops (some on segways) packing the cars like sardines in a can.  (there was additional parking off grounds with shuttles to bring people in)

It was, in a word, overwhelming.  There were about 10 barns on the grounds--some packed with sheep, most packed with vendors.  Tent cities had sprung up in open areas at each end to hold the vendors that couldn't fit in the barns (according to the brochure, there were about 200 vendors).  And they were all being mobbed by the shoppers.

As a dabbler in fiber things, I've always been a bit in the minority.  It was odd to see thousands of people of "my tribe."  My plan had been to do a quick walkthrough of the vendors to see what was there, and then go back for a closer look at anything that interested me.  HAH!!  One does not wander--one wedges.  You find an opening in the crowd and elbow in.  Bob (aka "The Sherpa" with the backback) would stay in the center aisle, sort of moving in a slow vortex in the crowd and waiting for me to crawl back out again.  Normally I panic in a crowd--but a crowd of fiber lovers tend to be a fuzzy friendly sort of crowd. But still--click on this picture to enlarge it, and realize that fuzzy multicolor mass going up the road is all people.  And I took this picture on Sunday when it wasn't quite so crowded (I was too busy being stunned on Saturday)

In fact, I was so overwhelmed on Saturday that I really hedged about going back on Sunday.  I had heard that there was a zoo in Baltimore . . . .   But by Sunday morning I was ready to hit the fray.  We took it a little easier this time.  We spent some time in a tent watching a "sheep to shawl" competition (three spinners, one weaver, and one sheep).  The looms are pre-threaded, and the teams have 3 hours to shear the sheep, card and spin the wool, and have a finished shawl made.  We spent a couple of hours lying on a hill in some very nice grass (and no fire ants!) watching a blade shearing competition.  Shearing a sheep with hand shears takes more skill than using electric shears.  Having blade sheared our own sheep (which took about an hour per sheep and resulted in an animal that looked like it had been sheared with a dull grapefruit spoon) we could appreciate the skill of these shearers.  And take advantage of the perfect weather--I've heard that some years it's cold and rainy for the festival, and some years it's hot and oppresive.  But it was breezy, balmy, and blue-skied for us. And later we found fence-space to watch the sheepdog demonstrations.  Always fascinating to watch the well-trained dogs--with their intensity of purpose and low-crawling walk they're just this side of a wolf stalking it's prey. 

And we spent some more time wandering the sheep barns.  Anyone who thinks a sheep is a sheep is a sheep would be amazed at the variety of sizes and shapes these wooly beasties come in.

Despite that in fiber I have reached the stage called SABLE (Stash Aquisition Beyond Life Expectancy) I did have to get at least a bit of swag for The Sherpa to carry.  Tools:  a set of wool combs (a medieval form of wool prep--these are called St. Blaise combs after the patron saint of wool combers--a bishop who was flayed to death by wool combs),  an addition to my spindle collection (I love the spiral-carved hook) and a small loom for weaving narrow bands (it will make more sense when I put a warp on it)

And while I did wander through the barn with the bags of fresh-shorn fleece, I did not succumb to the temptation there and limited myself to some smaller bags of washed and ready-to spin fibers.  There's some lusciously soft yak and silk, some white cormo and silk (cormo is a sheep breed I haven't spun yet) and some soft green merino and silk.  There seems to be a common theme here--I'm like silk like Paula Dean is about butter--it just improves everything.
And some small things.  For me--a button that reads" I spin because knitting wasn't weird enough."  For the owner of a local yarn shop a a bumper sticker that says "If knitting was exercise you could bounce a quarter off my ass."
So Maryland Sheep and Wool is off my bucket list.  I've done it--and don't have to do it again.  There will be other, smaller festivals to attend, but I'm glad to have experienced this one (and with a faithful Sherpa to encourage me)

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