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Roving Correspondent: A Dispatch from Maryland Sheep and Wool + The Textile Museum at GWU
May 20, 2015
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Greetings codders! A few weekends ago I attended the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival, and what a wonderful weekend it was- great weather and great fiber!

People in the know will tell you to arrive right when the gates open, but that’s not really a secret anymore, it was pretty packed all day.  We started by grabbing programs and heading to the Rabbit Barn.  The Rabbit Barn has all the cool fiber demos- if you wanted to see a sock knitting machine in action (or 5 of them!) there you go.  And everyone is so friendly and happy to explain their craft!

I saw a Charkha for the first time.  They’re of Indian origin, and are particularly useful for spinning cotton which has a short staple.

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Book charkha in action! Check out the skein- skinniest singles I’ve ever seen

My perennial (ok, I’ve only been twice) favorite demo is the woman who spins right off of an angora bunny.

The woman on the left just has a live bunny on her lap!
The woman on the left has a live bunny on her lap!
Gratuitous bunny photo
Gratuitous bunny photo

On to the sheep!  The sheepherding demo, which they do 6 times a weekend, is not to be missed.  Last year all the sheep escaped, and the dogs had to herd them away from the highway.  This year’s presentation was not quite as hair-raising, but it was still awesome.  Those dogs are focused, I tell you.

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I’m hardly a spinner, but the fleece barn is still really cool if only to see the expert shoppers in action.  I love the wall of breed information and lock to yarn samples.

Breed info sheets
Breed info sheets
Fleece sale
Fleece sale

Otherwise it’s so fun to wander the barns and check out the sheep great and small!  There are shearing demos scheduled during the weekend, but I find that somebody’s usually getting a haircut in every barn!

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Beautiful!
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Haircut time!
Ok, this one isn't a sheep
Ok, this one isn’t a sheep
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Lambs

And there’s the shopping…. Oh the shopping.  Definitely check out the Ravelry group if you want to see some envious hauls, I’ll warn you I’m really not trying to add to my stash.  Last year I purchased some Maryland grown yarn and roving to make some thrummed mittens, this year my goal was a Maryland spindle and some roving to actually spin.

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Some lovely Jacob pin drafted roving from Firefly Farm
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Which is already well on it’s way to becoming yarn!

I also stopped by the Feederbrook Farm stand, and squooshed all the weird and wonderful fiber they had (I didn’t get any Milk or Rose Fiber but I did get a BFL/silk/alpaca blend which they appropriately call “Unspun Butter”.

Wall of softness at Feederbrook Farm
Wall of softness at Feederbrook Farm

Overall it’s a really wonderful weekend.  You can learn so much just from chatting with the farmers, vendors, and fellow attendees all of whom are terribly friendly.  I’ve already got the dates for next year in my calendar!  Oh that’s May 7 & 8, 2016, if you’re curious.

On Sunday I made a quick stop at the Textile Museum on the George Washington University campus in Washington, DC.  The museum used to be a stand-alone museum in two gorgeous historic homes owned by the founder, George Hewitt Myers, but it wasn’t great for archival purposes (challenging to keep humidity and heat at appropriate levels), or for the number of textiles (19,000+) in the collection so it’s just joined with George Washington University to become the George Washington Museum and the Textile Museum. Don’t worry, this just means there’s even more exhibition space for fiber of all kinds!

Their first exhibition in the new space is titled “Unraveling Identity: Our Textiles, Our Stories“.  It’s broad reaching, breaking down identity into a few categories, and approaching each through clothing and textiles.  Some of the most engaging exhibits contrasted cultures or ages or both.  One vitrine held a Japanese firefighter’s helmet from the 1800s, and next to it was a modern helmet from the DC Firefighter’s Museum.

The highlight for me was this beautiful felt wedding dress.  The dress is snow white, with a thick (I’d say about 3/4 inch) felt obi belt and train.  Created by a Dutch designer for a Japanese bride, the curator has also placed a traditional kimono nearby to contrast.  The kimono had two sets of sleeves- one long, for the bride to wear on her wedding day and one shorter to replace the long sleeves once she was married.  The wall text also mentioned the Japanese aesthetic value of “iki,” meaning “sophisticated and restrained chic”, which was evident in both garments.

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Beautiful felt wedding dress at Textile Museum

And look!!  They had an Indian Charkha there, next to a photo of Ghandi spinning on one!  The popularization of the charkha was huge to the Indian independence movement, it even featured on early designs for the Indian flag. For someone who had literally just heard of a Charkha the day before, I felt very in the know.

Not the exact charkha used by Ghandi, but still!
Not the exact charkha used by Ghandi, but still very cool!

The Textile Museum is open every day of the week except Tuesday, and is an $8 suggested donation.  Unlike sculptures or paintings, textiles are so delicate that after being on display in an exhibit, they have to “rest” in storage for a much longer time.  The benefit to us, the visitors, is that the exhibitions change constantly!  Check it out next time you’re in DC!

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Emma Wright lives in JP and when she’s not fawning over cute animals she enjoys knitting, sewing, and spinning.

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