Where do I begin?

Trying to tell the story of my experience at Maryland Sheep and Wool is like trying to sum up summer vacation in 5 minutes, or like the Harlot recounting her book travels in one post. Brace yourself.

Thursday

4:30 am: Scott and I left to meet up with Barbara and Pam. Yep, the same Barbara from BASD who taught me how to make boucle and who machined socks at Spa; a very knowledgeable spinner and lover of all things fleece. Pam I met for the first time; she owns The Fiber Studio up in NH, 15 minutes from this weekend's NH Sheep and Wool Festival (she'll have a booth so go say hi). Scott drove home.

6:00 am: Barbara, Pam and I hit the road. Well, sorta. I slept. I heard there was very little traffic. (Stop rolling your eyes, I drove a shift in the afternoon.)

We arrived in MD 9 hours later. Not bad! Most of the trip was slept away or spent driving, so there was very little knitting time. All that careful project planning.

The evening was spent relaxing. Ahhhh.

Friday

We arrived at the fair grounds by 9 am and headed straight for the Fleece Show area in the Main Exhibition Hall, a HUGE building soon to be filled to the brim with vendors and yarn and fiber. I nearly fell over. Instead, I started hopping around in excitement. Some vendors were setting up, some booths were empty. [picture me hopping from foot to foot clapping my hands]

Barbara was volunteering at the Fleece Show and Sale, and I hadn't heard back from the T-shirt sales volunteer coordinator, so I offered my hands to the Fleece Show folks. A really nice bunch of people. Really.

I walked through the grounds while they got set up, and OH. MY. GOD. I think photos will help here (taken Saturday morning before the rush). There was the Main Exhibition Hall, with two aisles:

Main Exhibition Hall

Main Exhibition Hall

There were 3+ barns full of vendors. There were tents along several of the main pathways. The slogan for MDSW should be, "Wait! There's more!"

Everywhere you turned, Color. Fiber. Yarn. I began to understand why I'd been seeing "MD$&W" on blogs. I'm lucky (or am I?) my credit card didn't melt.

Some things that caught my eye:

A walkway with tents:

Grounds pre-rush

Long line o' folks waiting to buy T-shirts (see the first white building after the hearts? That's where the line starts):

T-shirt sales line

Little Barn and their mountains o' fiber:

Little Barn

Lots of Chasing Rainbows Dyeworks at Carolina Homespun:

Chasing Rainbow Dyeworks at Carolina Homespun

Gorgeous Golding spindles:

Golding spindles

Beautiful handdyed yarns:

...

Another booth of beautiful handdyed yarns:

...

Lovely Shelridge Farm yarns:

Shelridge Farm

Koigu:

Koigu

Delicious and soft Three Waters Farm handspuns and handdyed yarns:

Three Waters Farm

Beautiful lace in a booth:

incredible lace

And more:

incredible lace

Morehouse Farm Merino (oh so soft):

Morehouse Farm Merino

Tess' Designer Yarns (unfortunately, washed out colors in the photo but gorgeous in person and constant lines; this is one colorway display, there were many more):

Tess' Designer Yarns

Beautifully rich colors of Brooks Farm:

Brooks Farm Fibers

more:

Brooks Farm Fibers

Lots of Socks That Rock at The Fold (gone by noon) where Dagmar stopped me to say hi (hi Dagmar!):

STR galore

More to the left:

STR galore

Phew. Are ya pooped too? Back to our narrative.

Meanwhile, the Fleece Show folks were preparing to receive fleeces for show and/or sale. All kinds. I was mostly tied to the computer, whizzing through the database, adding registrations, printing records, finding info. As a web developer computers were second hand, but as a new spinner the whole fleece thing was a mystery. In fact, I had never seen a fleece before so I looked on with curiosity and clicked away.

From 12 to 5 it was a madhouse, a seemingly never-ending line of exhibitors with bagged fleeces. All told, about 500 fleeces and 100 exhibitors! It was great fun being in the thick of things, even if at an armslength and in front of a computer screen.

At 4 I left to meet Sheila of Wool2Dye4, one of the Dye-O-Rama sponsors who was taking a class. We had sent a few emails back and forth and when we realized we were both going to be at MDSW, we had to meet. We walked through the grounds and chatted, while all around us were more vendors setting up.

I headed back to the Fleece Show to find Judith McKenzie McCuin and Lois Geer judging fleeces. Another mystery! What makes a good fleece? So many breeds and characteristics. How do they keep it straight?

Post dinner break I got the chance to walk with Judith while she judged and I listened to her running commentary on fleece qualities and expected characteristics for each breed. Incredible! Judith is a real teacher who was happy to share her knowledge. I soaked it up. I learned about cotting, yolk stains, breaks, ram fleeces (man, what an odor, I recoil at the memory); saw examples of poor skirting, inconsistent crimping across the fleece, excessive belly wool. Saw some mighty fine fleeces, too! Border Leicesters, Karakuls, Jacobs, Shetlands with their double coats, Lincolns, Merinos... All the while putting away fleeces that didn't win and moving winning fleeces to be judged later for Best in Show awards. It was an incredible opportunity!

I asked around for what breed would make good lace weight yarn, since that's my latest spinning obsession. Cormo was recommended to me by several people. I hadn't tried Cormo before so I eyed the Cormo fleeces. Expensive. But oh so pretty.

As the night wore on I started dancing around. That's what I do when I get tired at night. Don't you? There were cries of "give her more work!" I guess most people don't dance when tired.

We didn't leave until 10 pm and man, I was pooped but elated. I had been in the thick of things, part of the team! Surrounded by friendly fiber loving folks, some of whom had sheep of their own (Rose, one of the volunteers, won 2nd prize for one of her fleeces!). I experienced fleece judging first hand and learned a LOT about fleeces and sheep! And I got a free T-shirt for volunteering. :)

Saturday

Fleece Show and Sale

We arrived early again before the Fleece Sale began. What can I say, I bought a fleece. A Cormo! But not just any Cormo. THE Cormo:

Grand Champion Fleece

The best Cormo out there happened to win Grand Champion Best in Show. Can you believe it?? The exhibitor was Alice Field of Foxhill Farm in Lee, MA, who also had a booth. Man, this fleece is a Beaut. In all ways. Almost no vegetable matter. Incredibly even crimp. Nice luster. Each lock is, in a word, amazing. I'll take photos tomorrow. Promise. Actually, I split the fleece, since 7 pounds seemed like more lace than I could spin in my lifetime, hehe. My mind still reels. Grand Champion fleece! Wheeeeee!!!

I helped out again at the Fleece Sale, organized the tables as fleeces sold, answered the easy questions and passed off the harder questions to Rose. Thanks, Rose! A little after noon when things slowed down I wandered out and watched a sheep shearing demonstration. Fascinating. And a little after 1:30 made my way to the blogger gathering. I said hello to Cara, and was found by Pixie with her cute T-shirt and her friend Lauren.

Me 'n' Pixie

Judy came by with her sister Linda, and we oohed and aahed over Eunny's latest creation.

Me 'n' Judy

The party broke up early and I happily hung out with Judy and Linda for a while longer. I pushed some lovely Cormo/Alpaca (same vendor as my Cormo fleece!) on Judy and picked some up for myself. For practice. ;) We admired Brooks Farm yarns while Linda valiantly resisted its siren call. We stopped at The Merlin Tree where I got to try out the Hitchhiker wheel and meet Dave, its creator. Judy was a test spinner for the Hitchhiker, how cool is that? Dave is a fun guy.

Everywhere were sheepy cries and baaa's (actually, sounded more like meeehhhhh's; I practiced). Everywhere there had been people. I had heard MDSW was elbow-to-elbow crowded, and when I saw the crowds, I was not impressed. It wasn't a throng. It wasn't Tokyo's Shinjuku with its insane waves of pedestrians flooding into intersections. But when I tried to move. through. the. crowds. of. peo. ple. like. mud. so. slow. With so much to see, it was step step step, stop, step, stop, step step, stop. It's like cars passing an accident, everyone slows down and there's no getting past. Well, less gory, of course. It wore me out. I couldn't bear to take any photos once the crowds showed up. Not of the packed booths, not of the masses.

I did take a couple of sheepy pics for my niece:

Some sheepies

A barn

and this big guy caught my eye:

yo

I eventually found Barbara and Pam at the Spin-In, where I won a mug for being the first to complete a Word Search. :)

Sunday

We slept in. Aaaaahhhhh.

Once on the grounds, I hung out with Barbara while she skirted a couple of fleeces she had picked up and had a nice leisurely time hanging out and learning more about fleeces and the skirting process. A sheep-raising family stopped by and asked her opinion of a couple of fleeces. A man stopped by with part of his new great wheel and asked her if it was complete. I began to think we should have opened a booth a la Peanuts: "The Spinning Doctor Is In, Spinning Help $5" (inflation).

Shopped out, I decided to try a few wheels and see the animals. At The Yarn Barn, I talked to the very friendly and informative Jim, and tried the Kromski Symphony (niiice), 24" Schacht-Reeves (niiiiiiice), 30" Schacht-Reeves (niiiice), Lendrum Saxony (niiiice) and Kromski Minstrel (niice). Guess which will be my next wheel. ;) No no, not any time soon. Just sayin'.

I drew a crowd while "demo-ing" and heard a few parents explain "look, she's making yarn". A mother and daughter stopped by and I ended up pulling out my own spindle to show them how they could park and draft to start off. The girl was 8-10 years old and looked like she really wanted to learn to spin. She and I were both happy when my mini-demonstration changed the mood from "I don't know, honey" to "Well, let's look into getting a spindle, then!"

I ended the day walking through the barns and seeing the sheepies, and happily recognizing Jacobs, merinos, Romneys, Leicesters... well, when they were not shorn.

It was "See you next year!" to the Fleece Show volunteers and we were all happy to hear that! They're not a blogreading bunch, but in case they find their way here, thank you to Linda, Rose, Michelle, Carol, Judith, Lois and everyone else who made my weekend so memorable! I stink at names so I'm sorry if I left yours out.

Monday

It was obscene seeing just how much fiber I bought. Packing it in the car and unpacking it when Scott met me just off the Pike were, uh, moments I wish I could have shrunk and hid the haul. I did manage to limit yarn purchases to just 1 skein of Morehouse Farm Merino. That wasn't a big help, though.

It's good to be home! I'm not quite back yet. It's surreal, like Alice falling into another world and her life changing, expanding with every experience. My world has expanded. If I didn't volunteer I would have left MDSW thinking it was an incredible shopping experience and chance to meet a few folks and learn some sheepy things. I wouldn't feel the pull to make the 9 hour drive year after year. Volunteering and making new friends made all the difference for me. I'm looking forward to doing it again! (But, ahem, buying less.)

Oh yeah. All that knitting and spinning I thought I'd have time for? Ha ha ha. Hardly.