Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival

One of the longest running fiber traditions on the East Coast is the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. For 44 years, this festival has provided one of the largest venues for fiber-enthusiasts to gather and share their love for their crafts. I spoke with Lee Langstaff, president of the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association, and Kris Thorne, office manager at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, about this tremendous event. Read about our conversation here.

Gus: Tell me about the history of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

Lee: The Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival is first and foremost a celebration of sheep and a vehicle to showcase those who have dedicated themselves to highlighting the very best of what sheep have to offer. Now in its 44th year, this flagship event of the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association seeks to connect producers of sheep and their marvelously diverse products with the people of all walks who want to enjoy and make use of what sheep have to offer. This means everything is there – sheep breeds to see, sheep to purchase, raw fleeces, wool processing equipment, knitting, weaving, felting, dyeing equipment, and accessories, sheep and wool related artwork and every kind and color of yarn you can imagine. Educational resources related to sheep and wool are offered through seminars, workshops, demonstrations, and informal discussions.

Kris: Family-friendly and affordable, this Festival has its roots firmly in the agricultural roots that bring us all of the benefits of sheep.

Wool Festival: Demonstration of the fine art of blade shearing. Photo by Larry Fisher.

Demonstration of the fine art of blade shearing. Photo by Larry Fisher.

Gus: Pretend you talking to someone who has never been to your fiber festival, what would you highlight as your “WOW” attractions?

Lee: Here are just a few:

  • So many sheep! Huge array of breeds, sizes, shapes, colors and types of fleece.
  • This is the place to go for fleeces – so many types, colors, breeds! Over 1000 fleeces in the Fleece Show and Sale and knowledgeable and helpful volunteers to help you find your perfect fleece.
  • The huge variety of great vendors (over 275, selling yarns, spinning, knitting, weaving, felting equipment and supplies, artwork, wool processing equipment and sheep tools, and equipment for shepherds.
  • Friendly shepherds – so much to learn from the folks who raise and care for the sheep who produce all the things we love. Watch them groom and fit their sheep for showing to highlight their best qualities.
  • Sheep to Shawl Contest – teams compete against time and are judged on finished woven shawls – starting with a sheep and a shearer and finishing with finished products that are auctioned to the highest bidders – all in one day! See how it’s done each step of the way, from shearing to prepping the wool, spinning and weaving a shawl.
Working sheepdog demonstration by Mark Soper. Photo by Lee Langstaff.

Working sheepdog demonstration by Mark Soper. Photo by Lee Langstaff.

Gus: What are your biggest festival do’s and don’ts for enjoying your fiber festival?

Lee: DO visit the sheep! The Breeds Display Barn usually has over 40 different breeds of sheep, with information about their histories, uses, and qualities of the fiber they produce. The Sheep Show barns contain some of the most beautiful fiber producing sheep that can be found anywhere – of many breeds and fiber types.

DO visit the Fleece Show and Sale! Over 1000 fleeces are entered each year. Natural colors, white, fine, medium, longwool and primitive type fleeces are all for sale. There are breed specific sections for as many as 18 breeds. Prize winning fleeces in all divisions are some of the most beautiful fleeces you will ever see!

Yarn in all colors of the rainbow and then some. Photo by Larry Fisher.

Yarn in all colors of the rainbow and then some. Photo by Larry Fisher.

DON’T believe you must be there first thing Saturday morning! It can be mobbed. Best kept secret: Things are more relaxed and laid back Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday – and it is easier to see and peruse the wonderful retail, sheep, food and demonstration opportunities.

DON’T be in a hurry! Take your time to enjoy the laid back and friendly atmosphere.

Kris: DO learn from the experts! Enroll in one of the many Fiber-Arts or Shepherds seminars. Seminars run for 3 days prior to and during the Festival weekend. Whether your interest is in spinning, knitting, dying, felting, weaving, or deworming, hoof trimming, evaluating fleeces, wonderful and highly qualified instructors will work with you to hone your skills and expand your horizons!

DO bring your family! Even if you are focused with precision intent on finding your favorite yarn, spinning wheel, loom, drop spindle, sock pattern, sheep halters, or electric fencing – there are many things for the rest of your family to enjoy: working sheep dog demonstrations, great food, music, a parade of sheep of all breeds, and friendly shepherds!

DON’T bring your dog (unless it is a qualified and necessary service dog). Sheep are prey animals and can be stressed by the presence of dogs – especially dogs that are not familiar with or not trained to be around sheep! Any dogs left closed in hot cars will be liberated by whatever means necessary.

MSWF Logo 1

MSWF Logo 1

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival
Howard County Fairgrounds
2210 Fairgrounds Road
West Friendship, MD 21794-9604 USA

Saturday May 6th, 2017: 8:30am – 6:00pm
Sunday May 7th, 2017: 8:30am – 5:00pm

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