The Annual Sheep and Wool Festival Post

That familiar feeling has been in the air for the last few weeks. It starts when my friends start making their plans for Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which may not be the first fiber festival of the year but still heralds the beginning of the season.

A quick trim before the show!

A quick trim before the show!

I saw photos of a friend’s wool fleece haul at Shepherd’s Harvest last weekend and could almost smell the raw wool through the computer screen. Washing wool, carding wool, spinning wool (or llama or cashmere or alpaca) yarn—they’re wonderful, but the experience of buying fleece from the person who grew it is a special feature of the wool festival.

As we look forward to the Estes Park Wool Market, the wonderful event I’m lucky to live near, I started thinking about the things I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss at this year’s show.

Anne’s Top 5 Sheep and Wool Festival Must-Dos

1. Talk to some wool producers.
I’m usually so busy looking at the sheep, alpacas, goats (I love the goats!), llamas, and bunnies–or buying their fiber in the market—that I forget to talk to the people who know the fiber best: the farmers and ranchers. The producers at fiber festivals have a close relationship with their animals, and they’ve made the decision to specialize in growing fiber (even a specific breed). Find out something about the cashmere goat that catches your eye or the strange horned sheep in the corner.

Dana Ruehlman and one of her champion natural-colored ewes

Dana Ruehlman and one of her champion natural-colored ewes

2. Go to the fleece judging.
And get there early! Look over the available fleeces, snap a lock for soundness. Admire the colors you like. You might be able to buy a fleece before the judging starts. You may feel clever when the fleece you’ve bought wins a blue ribbon (or disappointed when you discover something you’d overlooked). They hang around to listen to what the judge has to say. Keep in mind, though, that a fleece that doesn’t win the blue ribbon may still be perfect for your needs (and be more affordable, too).

3. Watch a shearing.
And try not to laugh. It’s terribly undignified for the sheep, but remember that it doesn’t hurt them and they’re happy to be rid of those heavy coats. Unless you have a very primitive breed, the sheep count on shearers to relieve them of their annual or semiannual growth. (You may not see alpacas or llamas or goats being sheared at the show.)

4. See the sheep herding dog demonstration.
And try not to fall in love with them. They are so smart and cute and good-natured! But I know that herding dogs need to work hard at a job every day, and if I got one and didn’t keep it busy, I might not like its hard work dismantling my living room.

5. Last, but not least . . . The market!!
Or, let’s face it, both first and last. Whether you’re into hand-dyed fiber, raw wool fleece, small-batch wool roving, a drop spindle (or three), or even a new spinning wheel, you can either check out everything there is before you start buying or make a beeline for a few trusted vendors. My old rule of thumb was to always have cash or checks, but these days I carry only a few checks because many vendors now accept credit cards.


Judith MacKenzie at the Estes Wool Market

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