Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
I have been attending the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival with my husband for sixteen years, since the first year we were married and farming. Back then we would dream about keeping sheep on our newly purchased pasture as we walked through the stalls of sheep—Jacob, Barbados, Merino, Southdown and all the rest. We would laugh about putting a couple haybales in the back of the outback and bringing home a sheep or two. Then we had a baby and we’d toddle him past the sheep and say what fun sheep would be to keep. Our kids grew up loving our visits to Sheep and Wool. I could sit on the hill and watch the professional sheep shearers all day, as they clip beautiful fleeces off beautiful sheep. Maryland's own talented shearer, Emily Chamelin, gives wonderful demonstrations of sheep shearing.
After my friends taught me to knit, I had to attend two days, one as an aspiring shepherd with my family and one on my own as knitter and collector of yarn. Booth after booth of lovely yarn. I learned wet-felting and needle-felting, and I gleaned the booths for the beautiful wool roving, in stunning natural colors and vibrant dyed ones. Every fiber art of your dreams, it is all represented in the booths of this festival, one of the largest of its kind.
Some years I attend with a new crafty inspiration, ready for fuel. Sometimes I go without inspiration at all, and I see what catches me. A couple years ago, my husband spied a felt wizard hat, so I came home and made him one. Last year I came home with a spinning wheel. This year a needle-felted lion caught my eye.
Sara from Sarafina Fiber Arts, a new vendor at the Sheep and Wool Festival, made this incredible creature. As my friend said, “It doesn’t even look fake!” On my third visit to her booth, I figured out what I wanted to do. I purchased supplies from Sara to step up my needle-felting skills. I have spent some time needle-felting animals, mainly focusing on facial features. Now I can add wire structures to achieve more detail, structural support, and moveable parts. I teach homeschool kids how to needle-felt and I am excited to step up the instruction I can offer them.
She has clever tips and structural materials to make the small details feasible, like flexible wire for the fingers of a raccoon. Her tutorials are free online, and she sells the perfect wool blends and wires and tools to make it all come alive. I’m pretty excited about it.
People always ask why I don’t keep sheep. I like to make so many things in my life from the source—growing and making food, milking goats for my yogurt, handmade craft items. Why not grow my own yarn? I have my answer down pat—I love getting to the source of things. But I can’t do it all. This is one arena that I love to shop, from other people with a fiber arts passion. A wise friend told me I could buy all the yarn I want and I wouldn’t approach the cost of keeping sheep, and I’d have a better variety of yarn. I take her advice to heart. It is still tempting, every year at this time, to buy a spinner’s flock.
Did we go home with a sheep in the back seat of the car this year? No. Not even an Angora Goat Buck, but that was a close call. Maybe next year.
Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 Mother Earth News Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at MOTHER EARTH NEWS and House in the Woods, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to House in the Woods.
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