Saturday, May 14, 2016

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

Last weekend I was invited to join the ladies from my Stitch & Bitch for their annual road trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in Howard County in Maryland, a bit west of Baltimore. I am so honored to have been asked as there are only four seats in the car and three are permanently occupied by the founding members of the S&B. I feel like I have landed! 
The Festival is amazing. The fairgrounds are enormous. The permanent buildings hold vendors selling everything you can imagine including:  wool, yarn, yarn dyed with sea water, yarn dyed with bugs, yarn died with plants, raw fleece, spinning wheels, sheep supplies, buttons, knitting needles made from glass- wood- metal- bone, and I cannot remember what all else. They also hold the sheep pens, auctioneers, the 4H-ers showing their little lambs. The angora rabbits have their own roofed patio - not exactly small and then there is an enormous corral for the sheep dog demonstrations. It was wonderful! 

Highlights for me included:
Bare Naked Wools which featured "natural, dye-free, chemical-free, American made wools that make everyone from the farmer to the knitter swell with pride." This stuff was gorgeous! All natural colors. I knew there were a lot of natural colors - but I didn't know there were this many. The owner designs her own patterns. They fit well on many body types, look tailored, and are just - well - wow. Above is the tank top knitted in the hempshaugh lace which was so soft I can still feel it in my fingers. If money had been no object I would have bought some yarn here. But alas, it was also American-made prices (for which I do not fault them) $48/skein. Whew! What she also did though, for which I do fault her, is make the skeins an amount just shy of what is needed to make the tops. The top above, for example, needs 800yards but the skein is only 700 yards. In order to finish it properly one must purchase 2. I'd rather she just sold the wool and pattern as a kit with the correct amount of yardage. I'd happily pay the $60. But to force people to  purchase two skeins? Then have that enormous amount left over - have to purchase three? Hmmm that doesn't sit so well with me. Turns out - she didn't sell us any yarn. Some patterns - but no yarn. Too bad - but I'm not sure for whom.

One pattern I was coveting was this gorgeous Aran sweater:  
 I'm having trouble finding them on the web but I'm thinking of writing to them to find out if they sell the written pattern. It is such a lovely design.

I also found something I've been looking for for some time:
offset scissors! These are perfect for those hard-to-reach places. I couldn't decide which size and since they were rather reasonable I bought both. I have not yet found an occasion to use them but I'm sure I will soon enough.  
What I really wanted though was some roving. Roving is the carded, unspun wool, often died. Spinners purchase this in order to spin their own yarn in the thickness of their choice. As I am not a spinner - what will I do with it? I had a dream a while back about a sweater knit out of roving. It was gorgeous. I'm not planning on recreating the same sweater as my dream, but I so want to experiment with it. 
I shopped around all day, it was more expensive than I had hoped. But my stalling paid off. I spotted the color I wanted in the morning. When I showed it to a fellow S&Ber, it had gone on sale! I ended up with three balls for the price of two!
 Yes, there are four in the above photo - but that is because I split one. It is too thick to knit straight off the ball. With the split - I'm still getting one stitch per inch! I cannot spend time on this project at the moment though since it was finals week this week, and my parents are coming on Monday. That's okay - this project isn't going anywhere. The roving has also been inspected and approved by the Supervisor. 

While the wool was all amazing and the experience was fantastic (I'd love to go again) one of the unexpected highlights for me was the sheep dog demonstration. 
It was like being in a Babe movie - except with an actual sheep dog. These dogs are so well trained and their focus on the sheep is amazing. They respond to both verbal cues as well as whistles. The whistles are a wide variety of sounds and of course would carry better if the sheep are oh, say, a mile away and the shepard needs to send the dog to round them up. The three yearling sheep were a comedy act in themselves. Two of them were having a power struggle, leaning against each other each wanting to go in a different direction at a full trot. The third straggled behind until she just had enough. Instead of trotting dutifully along behind the other two, she stopped and watched the show until the sheep dog realized he was missing one. She got with the program pretty quickly after that.
Sigh - conclusion? so much yarn so little time. 

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