The Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival is held the first weekend in May in West Friendship, Maryland. It claims to be the largest fiber festival in the U.S.
For me it’s a knitting adventure. I meet a group of other knitters at a deli at 35th Street and Sixth Avenue to board a bus that leaves the city at 7.00 a.m. sharp for the Maryland fairgrounds. This was my fifth pilgrimage to the MDSW. I join friends and others on this bus. This group started as part of BAKG, the Big Apple Knitters Group. Now it’s a word of mouth event that fills up quickly!
We all board the bus with anticipation of the wonderful yarns and fibers that we will see and buy. There’s excitement in the air. Regardless of age, we’re like small children who have been waiting for Christmas all year. We can’t wait to get to the fairgrounds and drool over the wonderful display of goods.
Despite the clouds and forecasted poor weather, we came prepared. By the time we arrived in Maryland, the rain had already passed through. The outdoor stalls had temporary coverings. The lines for the fairgrounds were short and buses were re-routed to avoid muddy parking.
As a veteran of four previous MDSW fairs, I had a couple of early stops on my itinerary. Living in Manhattan, I have access to a wide variety of yarns. Therefore, I use festivals like MDSW to buy fibers from local producers and rare breeds.
First on my list was Spinning Flock Farm, a small Maryland farm which has a small offering of Blue Face Leceister, which is a rare breed. I love it for its ability to show stitch definition and the soft material it makes. It’s wool that’s not itchy! Spinning Flock Farm generally uses old fashioned colors. In addition, they have a variety of other types of wool. I always buy enough wool for a sweater.
I stopped by the Ravelry gathering at the Rabbit Hatch and got my buttons. My husband had made me a tailored one to promote this blog. The place was packed with Ravelers and their friends. Everyone is wearing knitted garments and are intoxicated with the fiber fumes.
Since I had visited Tess Yarns in Portland last summer and figured that I would have an opportunity to do so again this summer, I had decided not to stop by their tent. But…the burst of color lured me in. I considered buying some of her lace merino which is a great buy at $10.00 a skein. Instead I opted for two skeins of a blue-green super wash merino. It should be just enough for a long sleeve sweater if there’s not much design.
On the recommendation of a fellow lace knitter, I made my way to Spirit Trail Fiberworks. It was a small booth in the main barn filled with color. I found a wonderful wine colored merino lace weight. I would have bought 2 skeins but alas it was the only one in that colorway. I am hoping to make a small shoulderette from one of the recent Knitty patterns.
The most unusual find was a blend including dog hair (yes you read that correctly). At $24.00 for 200 yards, I decided it was a bit too exotic to try. It was made by a small mill where a woman comber her dog team and they used the hair.
This year, I was attracted to the Wensleydale Long Wool again. Last year, I came close to purchasing some for its amazing luster. One of my fellow knitters has been making a shawl from some olive colored wool. Since I still worried about the “itchiness factor”, I only bought enough for a shawl as a test. It’s a deep, rich grey. It breaks my rule of only buying fromlocal producers since it’s from Yorkshire, England but I am hoping that it makes a wonderful shawl for the fall.
In addition to the fiber buying frenzy, there are wonderful exhibits of hand made goods. I use these pieces for future inspiration.
Of course, there’s the usual fair fare. It’s a combination of lamb dishes mixed with fresh lemonade, ribbon potatoes and ice cream.
Then there are the animals who are really the center of the show (although unlike Rhinebeck, I don’t go out of my way to walk through the barns.)
For entertainment, there were several groups of musicians playing folk music. It’s a good place to park the less wool-friendly members of your group.
By 4.30p.m., my New York bound knitting friends wander back to the bus. Each ladened with packages and feeling happy. The bus home is an exchange of seeing what types of fibers and colors we have purchased. Everyone has found some wonderful wool to make a stunning piece. Tired from the adventure, many sleep or knit as we motor back to New York City.
Submitted by: Knitted Yarns Editor-in-Chief