A Love Letter from a Spinner to MDSW

words and photos by: Laura Linneman

This year Maryland Sheep and Wool festival celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. This important milestone has me reflecting on how much the festival has impacted me as a spinner (and person) across the years. 


In 1990, I attended my first MDSW festival. I was nine and not interested in much at the festival besides petting all of the animals. The year before, my mom had tried teaching me to knit using double point needles and a sock work in progress. It did not stick. Over the years, attending MDSW became a tradition in our family. It often fell near Mother’s Day, and my mom frequently took us along with her and her friends to pet the sheep, bunnies, and other animals or watch the sheepdog herding display.  


It wasn’t until I was in my early teens that my mom made the mistake of giving me and my sister, Beck, twenty dollars each and letting us roam the festival on our own. My mom had figured that such a low amount of money would keep us out of trouble and fed while she spent time with friends looking at the plethora of fiber arts goods and demonstrations. She was wrong. By lunch, Beck and I had pooled our money and gotten our own Angora rabbit that we named Misty. We had my mom paged over the intercom when we got tired of carrying our new bunny friend around. Luckily for us, the bus driver and the other members of the guild – we had ridden a large tour bus from Pittsburgh with the Washington Spinners and Weavers Guild – helped convince mom that the bunny had to come home with us. That was the beginning of my love of the fiber arts and Maryland Sheep and Wool. 


Since that day in the early 1990s when we went home with Misty, I’ve been to the festival almost every year. At first, in the late 1990s, I was just a knitter, meeting up with friends and family, while taking home kits from Morehouse farm (who could resist an alligator scarf?) and sock yarn. I would ride the Rosie’s Yarn Cellar bus down from Philadelphia or fly in when I moved to North Carolina and then Memphis. But in 2007, things changed again. After years of me resisting very vocally, my mom taught me and my best friend how to spin and bought me a Ladybug wheel.  

Soon, most of my friend group also became spinners and we were buying combed tops, carded batts, and bumps in gorgeous colors from people like Into the Whirled, Loop Fiber Studio, and Hobbledehoy. I would usually accompany these fiber purchases with a spindle from Bosworth or Spanish Peacock. Often, these first few years as a spinner, I would get a single braid from several vendors to try, sticking to the familiar Merino or Corriedale. Seeing the parade of breeds (which is adorable and not to be missed) opened my eyes to even more sheep breeds. 


Soon those 4-ounce braids went from being just Merino and Corriedale to a whole world of different breeds (although I still prefer Corriedale to most other breeds). Then in 2014, I bought my first three fleeces from the fleece sale to split with a friend.  

Author (left) with a friend and a very special first fleece! 

Buying a fleece (or three) opened my eyes to even more possibilities in the fiber arts world. I was soon buying and trying different wool washes and equipment like flickers, hand cards, wool combs, and even a drum carder. Most of my crafting time went to processing and spinning yarn. I went from being a knitter who spins to a spinner who knits.  


More important than the fiber and tools I’ve purchased at MDSW, I’ve gotten to meet some of the most interesting people and fiber artists through MDSW. Vendors, teachers, volunteers, and people I had only met online prior to the festival have all become part of my fiber arts journey (and sometimes even friends). MDSW has become for me the perfect place to meet and connect with people throughout the whole community, making it one of my favorite and most inspiring times of the year. I always leave the festival a little sad that it is over but filled to the brim with creative plans for the next year. 


I’m spending today (the festival is four days away as I write this) texting with friends about which types of fleece we are hoping to find, which vendors we want to shop with, and what meetups and events within the festival we want to make time for. I know my spinning life would be much less rich without this festival in it. A huge thank you to all the volunteers who make this festival possible, and happy fiftieth Maryland Sheep and Wool!

Laura Linneman started knitting as a child but really became obsessed with the craft in her early 20s when she started knitting socks and spinning. She co-hosts the Knitgirllls podcast and the Super Summer Knitogether crafting retreat. She currently resides in Mississippi with way too many spinning wheels (is there such a thing?) and a Great Pyrenees named Purl.  

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