Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Pilgrimage - Part 1

One of the most anticipated rites of spring for lovers of sheep and wool is the annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  This year was their forty-third event and even vast as it's become they have it down to a science.  Vendors, competitions, shows, classes, livestock, food, demos, auctions....every department seems to run smoothly and that adds to the enjoyment of the event.

For me, one of the main events is the fleece show and sale.  I choose different fleeces each year to represent the farm and did well again this year.  Given that there were over 900 fleeces in the event and a producer is limited to entering seven I think that having three place in their classes was pretty respectable.

Organizing that many fleeces into proper groups for judging and sale has become an art form there.  Paperwork is attached to each fleece which includes not just facts like weight, breed and price but other criteria such as coated or non-coated animal, Maryland resident shepherd, member or not of MD Sheep Breeders Association, and other info which is needed when judges are considering fleeces for some special awards.  Of my seven, five sold in the sale, one sold in the parking lot after I had taken it back to the truck and the last one went to a person who had emailed me while I was away and needed just that fleece. 

One of the main not-to-be-missed events (there are many) is the Skein and Garment competition.  This encompasses much more than just skeins and garments - every facet of fiber art that you can think of has a category and classes for entries.  The talent and creativity on display is inspiring to say the least. 

Here is just the smallest fraction of items that were on display.  These first three were big winners and all done by the same person.  Clearly she was given more than the usual amount of talent when born - probably got some of mine and a few other peoples' too. ;-)   Actually I did help a little - the light brown sweater is made from the fleece of a ewe in our flock - Flower.

All items are displayed to their best advantage which isn't always easy given the number of pieces.  The organizers have taken to hanging some things over the edge of the table which actually helps show bigger portions of the item than you could see if they were just folded up on the table top. 

Most of the blankets were hung from rods near the ceiling which saved space and also gave them the room they deserved.

Intricate weaving......

Intricate knitting.......

This woven messenger style bag was complex from every angle and the gloved volunteer held it so that I could show off both the side panels and the big flap over the front.

And another volunteer tilted this framed needle felted rooster portrait so that the overhead lighting wouldn't glare on the glass.  They were all very eager to handle the entries so hidden details could be seen.  The public isn't allowed to touch the articles.

I love this piece.  The rooster is very well done and is framed by actual chicken wire under the glass.  Very clever and  an artistic touch, I thought.

There is a category for educational posters done by youngsters.  It was heartening to see such well done displays.  Even the ones done by what were the real young kids were artistic and informative.  You could tell the children were really "into" making a good poster.

Sometimes the colors in a piece really caught my fancy.

Or they made you say, "Aw, how cute is that??"

And it was hard to resist admiring a piece when it made eye contact with you.

But not all the talent on display was in the competition.  This lady was minding her own business when I passed her on the main boulevard, saw her sweater and pantomimed 'can I take your picture?' 

You meet a lot of good natured people at the festival!

Of course the vendors are another one of the main reasons to attend.  With over 250 vendors gathered in one place you can shop till you drop and still not see everything.  They all want to grab your attention, display something that visually describes what they are all about, and set themselves apart from the others so that you'll be drawn into their booth.  A daunting task in a setting so full of really good vendors. (This is just the biggest building - there were five other barns full of vendors and about 75 vendors in tents on the grounds).

The felted gown and stole that would certainly make a statement no matter where you wore it.

The wall of specialty fabric (this is only a small section) that was heavily weighted with sheep prints but also had every farm animal imaginable and knitting themed prints, too, made you want to sew something - anything! - so you could have the fun of buying the fabric.

Sometimes the wares for sale drew you in when you did a double-take in passing and realized they weren't what you thought.  Drawing?  Painting?

Nope, completely embroidered with a sewing machine guided by hand.

But some booths made themselves impossible to miss, like this one with a nearly life sized felted giraffe towering over the crowd.

Next time - the real stars of the festival!


  1. OMG! Great report and salivating in anticipation of Part 2. I just spoke today with a shepherdess I know who loaded up her trailer with sheep from her flock to trek them(3000 miles worth) to their new owner but then exhibit at this show. She was tickled to be there and I don't blame her one bit after seeing this!

    1. Hmmm, might it have been the Mendenhalls? Or maybe the Dallys? Maria Rooney? Several producers from the west coast make the trek!

    2. Robin Lynde Meridian Jacobs

  2. Expert reporting. looking forward to installment 2

  3. Nicely done! I missed a lot of what you captured because there is so much to see!

  4. Robin! I was there and you brought so much of the real flavor of this Festival to life....The photos, the narrative...I want to go right back and catch the things I missed! Thank you, thank you. When I am having a "moment" of stress or unrest, I plan to come back here to your blog and relive this great Maryland show!

  5. This really makes me want to make the trip! That felted giraffe is amazing and SO much talent! Congratulations on your fleece winnings!! Can't wait to see part 2!

  6. Thank you so much for the wonderful pictures and commentary!! How enjoyable.

  7. The knitting, weaving, spinning, etc entries are all so amazing/inspiring/daunting! Thank goodness for MDS&W - all of these creators are truly artists and deserve credit and attention for their ART.

    And you and all of the shepherds who work so very hard to raise your sheep, coat your sheep, find good shearers, skirt their fleece, etc - you all are artists too!

  8. I just looked at all three posts! That is one amazing event and I loved all of your photos. Of course I am very tuned into the chronicles of Abby and Sara.