Maryland Sheep and Wool

Sheep. Fleeces. Roving. Yarn. Dyes. Wheels. Books. Bags.

Whether you’re a farmer, dyer, spinner, knitter, crocheter, weaver, or just lover of sheep, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival has everything you could possibly want. And lots of it. This annual gathering of fiber farmers, lovers, and enthusiasts is  held the first weekend in May at Howard County Fairgrounds. There are classes, both for spinning and knitting techniques and small business classes for the vendors and farmers (which I taught!). There are competitions: sheep breed, fleeces, handspun skeins, handknit and handwoven projects. And there are meet-ups, lots and lots of meet-ups.


I attended for the first time back in 2006. I was a beginner knitter and a new dyer (I started my handmade yarn business that year!), and after a short conversation with my (non-knitting, but very crafty) Mom, we decided to make the 8 hour drive from Western Ohio to West Friendship, Maryland to attend the festival. We woke up leisurely Saturday morning and made our way to the rural fairgrounds.

Big mistake. The parking lot (a giant, muddy field) was packed. We weren’t quite prepared to walk through the mud to get into the festival, but once we did – it was all worthwhile. Yarn I had only heard about (Socks that Rock sold-out in the first few hours), everywhere. I didn’t really know anyone in this world, except a few knitters on Flickr (oh, Flickr!) and we didn’t have a way to publicly plan a meet-up…so when I saw knitters I recognized from their blogs or photos I just  silently squealed to myself or elbowed my mom (Eeeep, MOM, that’s the Yarn Harlot!!)

Maryland Sheep and Wool

We attended again a few years later, this time bringing along my best friend and her sister. Even though they weren’t as obsessed with knitting as I was (am), they had a great time. (If nothing else, petting the sheep and eating fairground food is a good time). I managed to squeak out a hello to a few online friends when I bumped into them.

This year, I was invited to teach the pre-festival classes, so I drove up on Tuesday, taught Wednesday through Friday, and attended the festival for a few hours on Saturday before driving home. I met up with my own students, headed over to my publisher’s tent to say hello, and stopped by a few friends’ booths to say hello. After years of living and knitting online, it felt like a casual reunion, where everyone has their own game plan and meet-ups and friends.

What makes the festival (and really any festival) of this size worth attending is that there’s so much of your weirdly obsessive world, all in one place. There are hundreds of vendors selling yarn, tools, techniques you’ve only seen online. (If you live in small town like I do, it’s thrilling to see it in person!) There are dozens of bloggers, Instagrammers and podcasters, just wondering around. There are internationally-known teachers offering workshops. And, thanks to Ravelry and the profusion of indie businesses, there are meet-ups. Meet-ups of fans of podcasts, or dyers, or just regular Ravelry users. I held a mini-meet-up of Starship Captains (members of my online business community) inside the booth of one of the vending members (Flying Goat Farm). One Captain, a yarn dyer who wasn’t vending, held a meet-up for her own customers. You can spend all day, just gathering in small and big groups, with people that you take classes with, share a passion with, or just others that listen to the same podcasts, read the same blog, and buy the same products. And unlike TNNA or Quilt Market or other professional events, the attendees aren’t “working”. They’re strolling, meeting up with friends and filling their shopping bags. This, combined with the fiber animals everywhere, and the sunshine and the green fields, makes for a relaxed, leisurely day of shopping and hugging.

Should you attend?

Local knitting friends always ask me this: Would it be worth it for me to go? The short answer is: yes. If you’re obsessed with yarn, are active in an online knitting community, and would love to meet some of your online friends and favorite companies in person – do it. If you live close, definitely go! If it’s too long of a drive, check out fiber festivals that are closer to you.

Here are some suggestions:

Maryland Sheep and Wool, West Friendship, MD (outside of Baltimore)

SAFF, outside of Asheville, NC.

New York Sheep and Wool, aka Rhinebeck, in Rhinebeck, NY.

Black Sheep Gathering, in Eugene, OR.

Iowa Sheep and Wool, in Colfax, IA

(There are “sheep and wool” festivals in most states…but they don’t all offer yarn and knitting supplies, many are focused on sheep breeders)

If you go to any of these festivals, go prepared!

Bring mud boots (not my cute for-teaching flats!), wear (handmade!) layers, and if you REALLY want to get a specific product, make a plan for it. Get the map online and circle the vendors you care most about. Assume that if you want it, so does everyone else, so go straight to specific booths as soon as you arrive, and then you can relax and stroll and see it all. And don’t forget to stop by the sheep and say hello!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This