"Go ahead; he won’t bite,” a mother urges gently. Tentatively, her little girl slides a finger across the curls rising from the dense fur on the sheep’s back. Before long, her small hands dig deeper, disappearing into the thick wool as her face warms with a smile as bright as the sunflowers covering the surrounding fields. “It feels like carpet,” she says, eyes huge. “Really, really nice carpet.”
That kind of revelation—a sudden connecting of the dots between end products and the animals that provide them—is why Yvonne Uhlianuk opens her Romeo, Michigan, sheep farm (40 miles north of Detroit) to thousands of visitors every fall for her Mt. Bruce Station Sheep and Wool Festival (September 28–29, 2013). “People are tired of not knowing where their clothing or food comes from,” Yvonne says. “What I am trying to do here is keep things alive that are good, simple and natural.”
Yvonne once worked as a chef in some of Detroit’s toniest restaurants, but her satisfaction with that life trickled away. A meeting with a charming part-time farmer at a local market set her on a different path. “Peter still jokes that I was his best client until he married me,” Yvonne says with a laugh. Today, the couple tends to a flock that includes 60 Corriedale, Colored Corriedale, Jacob and Moorit sheep and to Sheep Stuff, a cottage industry that turns wool into throws, sweaters and other products.
During the festival, visitors learn about shepherding and traditional crafts, such as carding, natural wool dying, spinning and knitting. Sheep shearing, border collie demos, and workshops in beekeeping, broom making and other skills round out the offerings.
The popularity of Mt. Bruce Station’s festival reflects a surging interest in small-scale farming, handmade goods and a slower lifestyle tied to the land. Faythe Levine, co-author of the book Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design and director of a documentary by the same name, believes the revival of traditional skills is a natural reaction to a fast-paced, plugged-in world. “Working with our hands provides a sense of reconnection and relief from interacting online,” she says.
For kids, too. Activities for little ones might include interactive displays, workshops, a straw mountain or maze in Little Shepherd’s Field near the barn.
Perhaps most charming, though, is the setting. Scarlet maple trees color the farm and fields, signaling that it’s time to pull on a handmade wool sweater.
Are you getting enough fiber?
For more information about the Mt. Bruce Station Sheep and Wool Festival, call (810) 798-2568 or visit sheepstuff.com. Or check out some of the region’s other fiber-arts festivals.
Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival This popular three-day event runs September 5–7, 2014, at Jefferson County Fair Park in Jefferson, Wisconsin (32 miles east of Madison). It features shepherding workshops, a country store and Wonders of Wool classes. Admission charged. (608) 868-2505; wisconsinsheepandwoolfestival.com
Interwoven Expressions Fiber artists from states along Lake Michigan showcase their garments and gifts in this juried show October 19, 2013, in Valparaiso, Indiana. (219) 762-7748; interwovenexpressions.com
Southern Indiana FiberArts Festival The town of Corydon, located near Louisville, Kentucky, draws fiber fans to the Harrison County Fairgrounds for handmade goods October 18–19, 2013. southernindianafiberarts.com
Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Fair The region’s biggest all-encompassing fiber-arts event takes place at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake, Illinois (45 miles north of Chicago) June 20–22, 2014. Admission charged. (815) 276-2537; fiberandfolk.com
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® September/October 2013. Prices, dates, and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)