Knitters go to living, breathing source

Sheep and Wool Festival attracts visitors from afar to buy miles of fleece

May 02, 1999|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

There were the lambs, of course, snuggled sleepily in their pens. And the aroma of grilled mutton kebabs and the lilt of hammered dulcimers.

But for aficionados, the real draw of the annual Sheep and Wool Festival in Howard County is something a little earthier.

"It looks awful," said Jackie Zipf.

"Smells even worse," added Sheila Rovelstad.

Fleece. Freshly sheared, still soiled with grime and resin, it disappeared by the truckloads yesterday as spinners, weavers and knitters from across the country and farther descended to buy it up. For them, the festival at the county fairgrounds has become among the choicest places in the nation to buy raw textiles.

Zipf and Rovelstad, both of Columbia, didn't have far to travel.

But eight women from Toronto drove for two days to get to the show. They joined the 35,000 expected to attend by the festival's end this evening.

"We've known about it for years," said Ann Rostrup, a first-time visitor, as she headed for the exit with large plastic bags of Border Leicester wool sheared from long-haired sheep. "There are things here you just can't find anywhere else."

Her friend, Hilde Van Derschaaf, departed clutching skeins of black and gray merino wool spun with silk.

It is hard to predict what form some of these yarns might take. Sweaters, obviously.

Then again, Debbie New's last big project was knitting a boat -- 3 feet by 6 feet. It is on exhibit at a gallery in Ontario, Canada. Inspired by her purchases yesterday, which she stuffed into a backpack for the trip back to Toronto, she next plans to learn how to spin.

Some of the fleece could be headed for an even more glamorous destiny.

Renate Maile-Moskowitz, a costume designer for the National Shakespeare Theater and the Washington Opera, perused stacks of yarns dyed in subtle shades of greens and purples.

"I look for trends in colors and patterns," she said. "I find more exotic fibers here." In the past, she has incorporated some of the yarns into masks.

Angora. Merino. Mohair. Some of the more elaborate yarns were priced at more than $70 a skein.

The simple pleasure of taking a raw material and transforming it into something useful seemed enough for most shoppers.

That is the mantra of Annie Kelley, who has been with the festival nearly every spring since its start 26 years ago.

Owner of Kiperoo Farm in Poolesville, she has 50 breeding ewes and from them produces wools in gray and brown. This year, she loaded a four-horse trailer with her spun yarns -- some dyed, some natural -- and expects to be sold out by the end of today.

"I have many of the same customers I've had coming here from the beginning, and many more," she said. "It's just getting harder and harder to buy wool yarn in the stores."

Callan Curtis, 12, of Silver Spring, was among the shoppers at Kelley's tent yesterday. A fledgling ballerina, she not long ago knitted a pair of leg warmers for herself, as well as a purse, hat and mittens. With the rose-colored yarns she bought yesterday, she will crochet a purse.

But she's not stopping there. Callan plans to plant indigo, madder and other flowers to use for dyes for her yarn.

The festival continues today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free.

Pub Date: 5/02/99

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