a friendly festival sheep

The 2008 Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival
Howard County Fairgrounds
West Friendship, Maryland
May 3-4, 2008

More than 30 years ago, a group of people gathered at the Carroll County Farm Museum for a weekend fiber event. Their goal was simply to connect those who make fiber with those who use it, helping sheep breeders find a viable market for their fleeces.

The End of Innocence

farmland near the fairgrounds
Back then, Howard County was deep in the country and filled with pastoral farmland.

the inevitable encroachment of civilization
But with each passing festival, development has encroached and farm after farm is being replaced by fields of large tidy houses in treeless lots.

This year, the rapidly advancing "outside world" finally hit the festival itself as a string of thefts and acts of vandalism left many wondering if one of our largest and most treasured annual gatherings was still safe and secure.

Brooks Farm Yarn
While I was helping set up the Spirit Trail Fiberworks booth early Saturday morning, word spread over the PA system that that the Optic Waves Shawl from my book had just been stolen from the Brooks Farm Yarn booth. It was a sad and sobering way to begin what was supposed to be a joyous event. Unfortunately, this proved to be the first of several incidents that shook vendors and festival organizers.

The Feeding Frenzy

People in line for their annual Socks That Rock fix
Unaware, the rest of the crowd was in full festival mode. People were lining up at their favorite spots 15 to 30 minutes before the festival even opened. At The Fold, knitters snatched up their favorite colors of Socks That Rock from Blue Moon. What you see here is just the beginning of a line that went outside the barn, around a corner, and halfway up a hill.

goodbye Woodchuck
A different kind of line was forming in the main building. Not nearly as long but moving twice as slowly, the line was there for us to pay our respects to Woodchuck Products (or "Woody" as we call its owner), who was shutting down business after 26 years.

saying goodbye to Woody
We snatched up what niddy noddies, orifice hooks, bobbins, shuttles, and other fiber tools remained from Woody's stock—all of them exquisitely and thoughtfully crafted from fine woods—before reaching the end of the line, where we had a brief chance to thank Woody, give him a hug, and say goodbye.

the line for T-shirts
The annual festival souvenir line was healthier than ever, at least 40 people deep no matter what time I passed it. Souvenir sales help ensure that the volunteer-run festival remains free and open to the general public, so I finally did my part and enjoyed getting to know my line-mates over the course of our 45-minute wait. (You can also buy festival souvenirs online.)

Groups assembled for other types of gatherings, too.

the Ravelry gathering
In the rabbit barn, Ravelry members assembled to cheer Jess and Casey, meet one another, and write their names on Ravelry buttons so they could identify one another throughout the weekend.


And in the next building, sheep were being crowded into pens and prepared for judging.

watching the judging competition being judged

Meeting the Animals

The real fun of fiber festivals is getting to encounter and interact with the animals whose fiber gives us such creative fulfillment. Sheep filled the barns...

more sheep did I mention the sheep?

another sheep has a snack checking out the neighborhood

...and they roamed the fairgrounds, popping up when you least expected them.

a sheep on the fairgrounds meeting another sheep on the fairgrounds

more sheep More sheep

lamb anyone?

Alas, sheep also popped up in a few other places too. The full cycle of life tends to be especially evident at these events.

ex-sheep more ex-sheep

Eyeing the Crowd
When so many knitters gather together in one place, it's an easy way to spot knitting trends. And if this particular festival is any indication, lace would have to be the hot ticket in knitting right now—seconded by socks, which were a little trickier to spot in the wild. Everywhere I looked—in booths, in the skein and garment competition, and on people—I saw lace.

more lace yet more lace

did I mention there was a lot of lace? lace

and more lace more prize-winning lace

Still Finding Fleece

the fleece judging
The original fleece component of the festival is still alive and well, although there were some surprisingly sub-par fleeces in the competition this year. On Friday before the festival officially opened, many of those fleeces had been judged by this fellow in the green shirt. He slowly and patiently walked the small crowd through each fleece, explaining what he was seeing and what he wanted to see. I urge you to sit in on a fleece judging if you ever have the time—there's much fiber wisdom to be learned.

the man in the lab coat

Fibers from each fleece were further inspected in an electronic microscope by this gentleman in the white lab coat.

the fleece sale
On Saturday morning, most of those fleeces (and a bunch that hadn't been submitted for judging) were then put up for sale. Prices are high and competition can be fierce, but I succumbed to two ribbon-winners this year, a jet black Corriedale and a sumptuous white Cormo/Corriedale cross.

This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called Knitter's Review Gathering at Maryland Sheep and Wool. Make your own badge here.

On Saturday afternoon I got to meet new KR faces, greet old KR friends, and sign copies of my book. I was so busy enjoying the moment that I forgot to take pictures except for a few snapshots, which you can see on Flickr through the thumbnails at left.

The Worries Return
Sunday began on another sobering note. Overnight, hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise had been stolen from several vendor booths in the main building and the nearby barns. Cash registers had been pried open, and all the goat pens and rabbit doors had been opened. Thankfully all the animals were safely found and recaptured.

Some theft is to be expected anywhere. But the degree to which this year's event was violated left a lot of people—attendees and vendors alike—feeling disheartened and worried. Some items were clearly stolen for their cash value alone, but others would've held no value at the local pawn shop—they could only have been attractive to a knitter.

Festival organizers (remember, this is a volunteer-run effort) are now faced with the challenge of restoring safety without taking measures that would permanently change the face of this very special event.

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