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Imagine the soft luscious feel of your favorite wool fibers against your fingers as you knit, crochet, weave, spin, etc.

As fiber enthusiasts, it's that feeling, coupled with our chosen technique to turn those fibers into something unique, that keeps us buying all those irresistible yarns. And it's also the reason behind that secret stash we keep at the office!

But before it reaches our hands and needles, a lot has gone into processing and producing those fibers into the yarn (and roving) as we know it. For starters, sheep were sheared to remove their gorgeous woolen fleece.

In case you've been itching to sink your tactile fingers into the thick wool of a sheep to learn how to shear the fiber producing animal, well -- opportunity awaits you at the Northern Michigan Lamb & Wool Festival, set for Sept. 28-29, at Ogemaw County Fairgrounds in West Branch. 

For $125, you can be part of a sheep shearing class, led by several shearers. "It's held Friday morning into the afternoon, and everyone gets to shear a sheep, if they want to," said Jeanie Prentice of West Branch, one of three originators of the yearlyfestival, which started in 1999. "By the time you leave, you have the rudimentary talent of shearing a sheep. Most of the sheep are pretty relaxed about being sheared, but some aren't."

And, if you're a woman, there's absolutely no reason to be sheepish about learning sheep shearing. Prentice said women are known to take the class, as well. In fact, she said, "One year, a young lady came from California to take the shearing class, and stayed with a female friend whose brother she ended up marrying!"

West Branch residents Jim Bristol, one of the sheep shearing instructors, and his wife Sherrie, are the other two originators of the festival. Prentice said, "The shearing school is currently held at Jim's farm, which is near the fairgrounds, and as far as I know it's the only sheep shearing school in Michigan." 

The festival will also feature a number of 30-minute technique classes offered at $15 each. To register for a class,visit lambandwoolfestival.com, however, there may be room for "walk-ins," as well.

About the festival, Prentice said, "The three of us dreamed it up and went to our local fairgrounds and asked if we could put on the event. That was 20 years ago, and we've been doing it ever since."  

Vendors sell a range of items, including yarn, spinning wheels, weaving looms, felting supplies, and roving. "We have one vendor from Frankenmuth with a fiber mill. They come and have a booth, but they also collect fiber from some of the farmers. We also have some finished products for sale, but it's more a makers' kind of event," noted Prentice, who knits, and spins silk and various wool fibers, including alpaca and mohair. "I make socks, hats, baby sweaters and scarves, and I give them as gifts because it gets real cold around here." 

Vendor booth fees are used to fund the festival. "We have around 80 vendor booths, and we try to keep cost of the booths affordable for small fiber producers. The booth fee is $70. It's gone up over the years because our rent and advertising has gone up," explained Prentice.

"We're a non-profit, and we do everything we can to keep cost down so people can afford to take classes. That's our goal -- to make fiber arts available to people. It (the festival) pays for itself. It's been self-perpetuating. We've talked about having scholarshipsfor sheep shearing and fiber art classes for those in need who've been frequent attendants, but we don't have the funds for that yet."

Prentice described the "kid-friendly" festival as enjoyable in a number of ways, including the surroundings. "It's an absolutely beautiful fairground. The setting is quite lovely, and the vendors are folks who are so accommodating and eager to share what they know and love to do. They really make our event friendly and not overwhelming. It's pleasant. You don't feel pressured. People stay at nearby hotels, and some have a summer cottage that's not that far away. We've even had folks from Canada come."

Near the festival area are other activities and things to explore, including canoeing, a park and a local farm that sometimes has a corn maze.

The indoor event attracts "probably a couple thousand" attendees each year. "It's been about the same right from the beginning. We have a steady following," said Prentice.

Festival hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat. and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun., and admission is free. Ogemaw County Fairgrounds is located at 2300 Rifle River Trail in West Branch.

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or Facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact the Northern Michigan Lamb & Wool Festival at lambandwoolfestival.com.  

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