Wednesday, April 27, 2005

And please, no livestock on the bus...

I promise not to use a single bad ewe/you pun in this post – not an easy task when you’re writing about the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. Maryland Sheep & Wool is one of the largest sheep-related gatherings in the country, and we in Philadelphia are lucky to live just a short bus ride away. It’s hard to know where to begin in describing Maryland Sheep & Wool, but maybe “nirvana for knitters” is a good place to start. You’ll find all kinds of sheep (and other livestock, like gorgeous long-lashed alpacas and fuzzy angora bunnies); sheep-herding dogs; every kind of yarn and fleece product imaginable; sheep tchotkes and art; knitting, spinning, and dyeing tools; fiber-related workshops; and (gulp) lamb-related cuisine of all sorts.

And did I mention the yarn? Hand-dyed, space-dyed, or natural sheep-colored; Koigu remnants sold by the gram; commercially-produced and handspun; breed-specific yarn and blends; sock yarn, scarf yarn, sweater kits; unique items that you just can’t find anywhere else, even on the Internet (many of the family farms and other small producers don’t sell on the Web). Want to knit with yak or camel hair? Looking for spinning fiber made of recycled milk bottles, tofu, or soy? Have a hankering for some hemp, bamboo, or ramie yarn? You can find it – along with some yarns and fibers you may not have heard of, like ingeo, made from corn (yes, corn, as in maize). It’s worth saving up for this trip, because from the time you walk in until the time you leave, you’ll see something you’d love to get your hands on.

For the third year in a row, Rosie’s Yarn Cellar is running a bus trip from the shop to the festival and back on Saturday, May 7th. We’ve got two full buses and a waiting list to boot!

Last year, we had an amazing time on the bus before even crossing the state line – imagine 60 or so rabid knitters, spinners, and/or crocheters in a tightly enclosed space, gulping down coffee and drooling in anticipation of the delights to come. We admired each other’s projects-in-progress, taught each other new skills, swapped names of favorite vendors, and got to know each other a little better. And everyone oohed and aahed over their brand-new Rosie’s tote bags.

Once the bus arrived, our Philly contingent swarmed the festival. First stop for many was the souvenir booth: T-shirts and backpacks and other items with the festival logo are hot sellers and often are gone within a few hours. Dorlynn went straight for Tess’ Designer Yarns, a handdyer of yarn and fleece. Grace was all over the Koigu booth, and if you think knitters are mild-mannered tea-sipping grannies, you’ve never seen a bunch of knitting hipsters practically brawling over mini-skeins of Koigu! Lisa looked awfully Jane Austen in her sunhat. Nicole opted for an overall sussing of the terrain, then plunged into serious buying later on.

If your budget is tight and your closets already overflow with yarn, don’t stay home: there’s still plenty to do and see. Admission and parking are free, and the event is very purposely family-friendly. Hear roving musicians; watch sheep being sheared; introduce your kids to sweaters that aren’t sold at any mall; marvel at the sheep-herding dogs; watch spinning demonstrations; see your child crack up when a llama licks her hand. Take a walk through the exhibit of prize-winning entries and admire the creative talents of the winners. And don’t forget the original purpose of the festival: we knitters sometimes forget that the event is sponsored by a sheepbreeding organization. There are real-live shepherds who’ve come to learn about sheep breeds, there are farmers looking to buy and sell their livestock, and wool producers who want to improve their productivity or find new equipment.

If you’re going this year, you can whet your appetite with the list of events and vendors found on the official festival website. If you’d like customized directions from your home, try Mapquest. And for another perspective on last year’s festivities, check out the article in Knitter’s Review.

For first-timers, Lisa Myers has compiled a list of tips to make your trip even more enjoyable: wear comfortable shoes & clothes; bring hat, sunscreen and/or umbrella, depending on the weather forecast; if you’re going to shop, bring good old American cash and your checkbook, as some vendors don’t accept plastic; bring a nice big tote bag and stock it with water or snacks (“healthy” food is hard to find in a land of lamb kebobs, fried dough and ice cream).

And for those riding the Rosie’s bus, please don’t forget the first and foremost rule: no livestock on the bus!

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