Thursday, May 12, 2016

Through The Looking Glass

Going to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is like going to another world - a magical place made especially for addicts enthusiasts of all things sheep and fiber related.  It's fun for muggles non-fiber people, too, since the whole thing is a carnival of color, creativity and sheep.  Nobody gets bored at Maryland!

Friday it absolutely poured rain so set up was miserable for vendors. Thankfully, Saturday was dry (although it stayed gray all day) and the crowds were thick. (Biggify to get a sense of the density of people. Attendance is usually 50K.)  Notice the lady at lower right.  Yes, her hair is green. Yes, it's supposed to be green.  A lot of fiber folk are inclined to dye their hair for these types of events.  Red, blue, green, yellow, orange, purple - it was all there.  Maybe someday I'll dare.....

I was tickled to see that two of our fleeces placed in the show!  Cotswold 'Nancy' took second in her breed class and gray Cotswold 'Irene' earned an Honorable Mention in the Colored Long Wool class (essentially 5th place) competing against some very popular breeds. Woot!  Overall, between the show and sale-only fleeces there were nearly 1200 entries.

After checking the fleece show results the next stop was the Skein and Garment competition.  I'm always blown away by the creativity and technical expertise of the entrants.  Tables and tables and shelves and racks and displays - all covered in amazing fiber art.

Hooked rugs (this one was done with yarn, not wool fabric strips).....

Drawing (check the hand mirror - how sweet is that?!?)


Needle felting (yes, that's wool, not paint)........

Knitting (and more needle felting)..........

And of course, spinning...........

The sheep shows started at 8:30 AM both days and ran till the very end.  There were two judges working adjacent rings and they were both just what one would hope for in a judge - thorough, careful and clearly knowledgeable.  When judging livestock, animals are usually judged from the bottom up, meaning that the judge will dismiss to the rail animals that aren't in the running for the top spots.  I was very impressed to see the judges pause all handlers as they were dismissed and have a word or two with them.  This is huge for the animals' owner - if you don't know why the judge dismissed you then you have no insight about what to work on in your breeding program.  All too often classes are decided and the judge tells the reasoning for placing the top three and no word is made of the others.  The judges took an extra amount of time with young exhibitors and I like to think the comments were encouraging - "Your lamb is fitted well and is built nicely but in this class she's just so much younger than the others that she doesn't compete well and that's the reason she's at the bottom this time.  It's not because she's a poor animal." Or words to that effect.  When you see an eight year old pulled out first and she ends up smiling after the judge speaks to her you know something positive was said.

As one class was finishing up the producers would bring the sheep for the next class and pen them around the perimeter so they'd be handy.

It was fairly bright out when this white class was being judged and the light was good.

By the time some of the colored classes were happening it was clouding up and getting late in the day - not optimal for comparing black fleeces on animals.  No problem - the judge directed the class out of the arena and into the natural light.

"Colored sheep" covers a lot of territory.  Basically it's any color other than solid white.  Black, brown, gray, harlequin - they were all there, and beautiful!

I can't even guess how to describe this one.  Spotted merle?  Spots on ticking?  Solid over mottled coloring? Appaloosa??

The barns are open to the public and people were milling through the aisles looking at different breeds, talking with shepherds about their animals and getting up close and personal with the sheep themselves.  A lot of people had never been closer to a sheep than the chocolate lamb in their Easter baskets.

This boy was delighting in giving an appreciative Cotswold a good back scritching.

This colored  Blue Faced Leicester was willing to share a blueberry muffin.  (He didn't really eat it - the man holding it out knew better than to really feed someone's animal anything.  He just used it to get the sheep's attention.)

There is a whole barn devoted to breed association displays.  Just about every sheep breed you can think of brings literature, props and a representative sheep or two for display to the public.  It's a great way to learn about different breeds and what their principal uses are.  This big ram is a Montadale.  As luck would have it, our spinning guild is doing a sheep breeds study (sampling the fleece of many different breeds) and Montadale was on the list.  Thanks to Emma's Daisyhill Farm we now have his fleece to work with! 

He was a very mellow, friendly ram and after representing his kind in the display all weekend and the Parade of Breeds on Sunday he was whisked down to the shearing area.  A lot of show sheep were shorn after their classes were over so there was a steady stream of animals needing shearing which also provided a steady demonstration of that skill for all who wanted to watch.

This is Emily Chamelin, a professional sheep shearer.  She's amazing to watch - can shear with either electric or hand shears - and had this big ram neatly parted from his fleece in just a couple of minutes.  So adept is she at handling the sheep that this big ram never struggled a bit as she clipped him.  (She's still in costume from shearing for a Sheep to Shawl team earlier that day.  Argyle isn't the usual dress code.)  FYI, the other shearer on stage is a lady, too.  No gender bias on a farm when work needs to be done!

And after a long day of fun at the festival everybody gets to eat a good supper....

....put on your jammies and relax for the evening.

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival - there's no event quite like it!


  1. That made me feel nostalgic for the Rhinebeck show - but I don't care for the crowds. There is nothing like immersing yourself in all things sheep and fiber. Congrats on the placings - and thanks for showing that wonderful Montadale sheep.

  2. I was there on a mission for some fiber processing equipment,(success!)warp speed through the CROWDS, and quick peak at the sheep. So disappointed I missed Mr. Spotty.
    Congrats on the accolades. I am honored to have played with some of your fleeces.

  3. I have some of Nancy's fleece I think. Now I feel special.

  4. Thanks for this year's festival description - and the sheepy photos!

  5. what a great post & appropriate timing &'m going to the NH sheep & Wool festival tomorrow! so excited!! Loved all of your photos.

  6. Are you going to breed your ewes this year? That Montadale looks handsome!
    Congrats on your fleece wins

    1. Not sure, it's still early in the year. If we did it would only be a select few. I have to admit it's been nice not to have to watch and worry over bred ewes and lambs this spring.

  7. Thanks for taking me along. I am wild about those colored sheep!!!

  8. Robin, what a wonderful post this is!!! I was there on my first visit and your photos and words have made it come alive again. Thank you!!!

  9. If the spotty sheep was a German Wirehaired or Shorthaired Pointer, I'd say she was 'black and black ticked'. :)