While other festival circuits - music fests, street fairs, and farmer's markets - are winding down for the year, knitters and other wool enthusiasts are just getting warmed up. During the first weekend of September, the thirteenth annual Wisconsin Sheep and Wool festival rides its way into Jefferson, Wisconsin, almost halfway between Madison and Milwaukee.
Inspired from the "Blueprint for Expansion" initiative in the late seventies, the festival (called just "Sheep and Wool" by its faithful following) attracts exhibitors, students, and customers from all over the upper midwest. The festival runs from September 5 to 7, and attendees are encouraged to enjoy the festival for any and all days. There are campgrounds nearby, in addition to local hotels and motels if lodging is preferred.
Sheep and Wool is not just your average craft fair, or a county-fair knockoff. If spinning is the preferred method of playing with wool, then batts are available for both exhibit and purchase. There is a marketplace, called the Country Store, with vendors selling everything from handspun yarn to notions to fine art pieces, with specialty items such as clay pottery and beaded purses also available. Sheep, of course, will also be on hand.
While many people just come to the festival for the shopping, the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool festival is much more about education than commerce. Every artisan, every instructor, farmer or exhibitor has one world goal in mind: open up doors and educate people on fiber, shepherding, and the process behind all aspects of wool and production. They also want to promote and advance the arts in this area, and share their knowledge with anyone who does not know what they know.
For veteran attendees, there have been many new events added to the docket this year, including a Walk and Knit Relay Challenge, which involves teams walking around a 100-yard lap while knitting a project held in a project bag. The team with a combined most stitches, fastest time, and fewest errors wins the race.
Also this year, the National Teeswater Specialty Show will exhibit at the festival. The Teeswater is a breed of sheep listed as "vulnerable" by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust; they have been bred in the United Kingdom for over two centuries, and produce a unique wool which keeps both its sheen and curly loft when spun. Attendees can use this as a fun opportunity to learn about an animal related to wool that is lesser known.
The schedule of classes, which are being offered all weekend, include Beginning and Spinning on Friday, Rug Hooking Friday afternoon, to Matchbox Amulets and Picking Up Stitches on Sunday afternoon. Many of the instructors also own local yarn shops or farms in the Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois regions.
Admission to the fair is just $7 for one day and $12 for the entire weekend. While the festival is not pet-friendly due to animal interaction on the festival grounds, there are many kid-friendly events, and children under the age of 8 receive free admission.
For more information on the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool festival, go to the event's website or call 920-674-7148.