49th Annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival


The sheep participants of the Sheep to Shawl competition after being shaved. Taken May 9, 2022 by Gillian Stingley

Gillian Stingley, Staff Writer

May 7th and 8th saw the 49th annual Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival at the Howard County Fairgrounds, around 30 minutes from the SSFS campus. Although Saturday was rainy and Sunday was cold, thousands of people flocked to the fairgrounds to visit the shows, competitions, and sprawling marketplace. Although the festival is not held in, or around, Sandy Spring, the Sandy Spring community is at the heart of this festival.

The festival hosts various competitions, most notably the Skein and Garment competitions and the Sheep to Shawl competition. Sandy Spring makes itself known in the Skein and Garment contest with multiple entries from SSFS staff and students. Some students in the weaving class chose to submit their pieces to the youth competition, where SSFS students often achieve shear victory. 

Colorful weaving with award ribbons attached.
Blanket woven by Cyrus Chisolm (11th) that received 2nd place.
Woven blanket with purple to orange gradient. 2 purple awards and 1 blue award hang from the side.
Sunset woven blanket by Nani Jackson. Received 1st place and the Mamie Francis Award.
Green, black, and grey checkered blanket with red ribbon attached.
Entry by Zoe Burgess (10th) that received 2nd place.

Junior Nani Jackson won first place and a special Mamie Francis award for her beautiful sunset blanket. Junior Cyrus Chisolm and sophomore Zoe Burgess both won second place for their colorful weavings. Gwen Handler, a former weaving, ceramics, and photography teacher at SSFS, began the tradition of entering weavings made by SSFS students due to her connections to the MD Sheep and Wool Festival. Though she no longer works for SSFS, the tradition is continued by weaving teacher Heidi Brown.

The Sheep to Shawl competition is one of the most technically impressive parts of the festival. During a three hour period on Sunday, teams of shearers, spinners, and weavers gathered to create a woven piece, as the name suggests, from sheep to shawl. After the pieces are completed, they are auctioned and the winner of the competition is announced after judges carefully inspect the finished result. The Sheep to Shawl competition turns weaving into an extreme sport and gathers an impenetrable crowd. I had the honor of spending some time with the sheep who participated in the competition. They didn’t have much to say, but seemed happy to be away from the crowds and the competitive atmosphere. In the end, a beautiful green and white shawl took the prize. The competition was incredible, and I personally recommend seeing it next year.

Group of women sitting in a circle. 2 sitting in front of a wheel, spinning. 1 in front of a loom.
Winning team spinning and weaving their Sheep to Shawl entry.

The festival also had a show of breeds, a creative shearing contest, a photography competition, spinning competitions, a fine arts competition, and a shepherding competition. The market was also intense- hundreds of businesses selling yarn, fleece, and artisan crafts. A few barns were also selling sheep, covering every sheep lover in lanolin from petting friendly lambs.

The festival is not one to miss, and I urge those not already planning to attend to visit the 50th annual MD Sheep and Wool Festival on May 6-7, 2023.