Maryland Sheep and Wool Turns 50
In 1974 a group of wool-loving folks, shepherds, spinners, knitters and other crafters put on a one-day show to showcase Maryland wool. The event focused on selling fleeces with demonstrations, crafts sales, contests and food. It’s estimated that 1,500 people came that day.
That one-day show became Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, an event of international renown put on by the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association with the help of thousands of volunteers.
This year Maryland Sheep and Wool turned 50! Quite a few things have changed over the years. It’s longer, there are three days of workshops before the two-day festival.
The numbers have grown, those 1,500 wool lovers of the first year grew into 20,000 this year. In 1979 there were 25 craft booths, this year there were 275, and I believe I visited them all.
Maryland Sheep and Wool has become the show that is the unofficial opening of the festival season, with New York Sheep and Wool in October bringing festival season to a close.
All of the wonderful things about this festival just keep getting better, more great yarn and fiber to buy, more activities, and more sheep.
Yarn and fiber
It’s impossible to stick to a budget here, I know I spent much more than I intended to. The vendors bring all of their beautiful yarns and fibers, things you’re unlikely to find at your LYS.
Fiber Optics always brings her love of color. She had an event colorway and so many samples knit from her yarn.
Hey we know her! Jill Draper showcased her new Dorset sock yarn, Barstow, and her handwoven blankets made from the same yarn.
Spinners who aren’t interested in fleece were not left out. Look at this tempting array of hand-dyed roving from Loop. I might have bought two.
Things to do
If you aren’t into shopping or need a break from shopping, there are lots of activities, classes, music, an equipment auction, educational talks, and contests to entertain you.
The Sheep-to-Shawl contest is fun to watch: a group of five fiber artists shear, prep, spin and weave a shawl all in one sitting. This year they had their youngest group ever, The Quaker Bakers, a group from a local high school. They were even profiled on NPR!
The Skein and Garment Contest had some outstanding entries this year. Spinning, knitting, weaving, needle felting, crochet, and embroidery were all well represented, and the talent was breathtaking.
This hooked rug, celebrating the 50 years of Maryland Sheep and Wool is made from handspun and quite literally buried in blue ribbons. Each sheep was spun and hooked from fiber of the breed represented!
It wouldn’t be a fiber event without visiting the cuties in the sheep barns. Even after a couple of decades of spinning I’m still surprised by the number of breeds represented and the quality of the sheep. If you have the time watching the breed judging or the Parade of Breeds is fascinating.
The winning shepherds signal their victories by tucking their ribbons into their back pockets.
Selling fleeces for hardworking shepherds was the reason that the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival started, and it remains a huge draw. The line for the fleece barn on the first days was hundreds of people long.
There was a report from the first Maryland Sheep and Wool that ‘mobs of handspinners’ from six states came to buy all the fleeces. This year 152 shepherds entered 860 fleeces that were purchased by spinners from 30 states and Canada.
600 fleeces were sold the first day, and the Grand Champion fleece sold at auction for $700.
The wool fumes in the fleece barn cause you to have an overpowering need for fleece, even if you aren’t a spinner. Cecelia Campochiaro bought a prize-winning Merino fleece with the help of a fleece concierge and is having it spun into yarn.
If you are a spinner and a fleece fancier, just assume you’ll go home with more than you thought. I happily left with six fleeces.
Happy Birthday, Maryland Sheep and Wool—here’s to another 50!
More fibery goodness from Jillian
Jillian Moreno is obsessed with yarn; she can’t stop writing and teaching about spinning, knitting, weaving and stitching. Jillian wrote the best-selling spinning book Yarnitecture: A Knitter’s Guide to Spinning: Building Exactly the Yarn You Want. External Link. Opens in new window. and is co-author of Big Girl Knits and More Big Girl Knits.