BURKITTSVILLE -- This weekend, rural central Maryland will again brace for a stream of cars and buses bringing thousands of customers to tour the studios of nine crafts people in the valley of South Mountain between Frederick and Hagerstown.

Off the beaten path, the tour winds through Jefferson and Rohrersville and down dirt roads to the rustic homes and studios of the working artists. For sale will be their decorative and functional handmade works including pottery and stoneware, jewelry, stuffed toys, wreaths and baskets, quilts, fabrics and miniature stoneware houses.

Visitors can talk with the artists and view their work areas and equipment, including Michelle Reilly's flock of 60 sheep for supplying the wool she spins into sweaters and other garments.

The annual Valley Craft Network holiday tour, and a similar one in April, is in its sixth year, with the participating artists sometimes changing.

The shopping tours provide a significant part of the artists' income, some said, but they also sell their work at craft fairs and stores in the greater Washington and Baltimore area.

Last year, potter Susan Hanson said, the tour brought 3,000 people and $100,000 in sales to the studios.

Most of the artists are not native to the area and settled there about 10 years ago, said Nancy Coker of Dava Natural Clothing in Burkittsville.

The South Mountain area "is absolute peace," said Reilly, who is originally from Garrett Park. Family and church are paramount among the local people and "if you need help they're here in five minutes."

The artists enjoy both the area's distance and proximity to Washington and Baltimore, Coker said.

On one hand, they are a group of artists who draw their inspiration from nature and the area's quieter life style.

But as business people, they also profit from the large city market. "The yuppies can come and buy from you, but you don't have to live with them," said John Coker of Dava.

In earlier days he and his partners would have been viewed as "hippies," but today would probably be appreciated as entrepreneurs, Coker said. For the past several years Dava has grossed $1 milion annually, and now even tries to rein in its growth, he said. "I don't want the business to get so big that it runs itself out of town," added Nancy Coker.

But Dava's size, with about 50 employes "relying on us to bring home the bacon" is the exception in the area, she said.

During the tour the studios will offer refreshments and the Burkittsville Ruritan Auxiliary will sell home-cooked meals at the community center (the old red brick schoolhouse) at the east end of Main Street.

Directions to the tour: Take Interstate 70 West to Frederick. Exit at Route 340 and follow the red "studio tour" sign. To reach the first stop (Catoctin Pottery), where tour maps will be available, take the Lander Road exit off Route 340, turn left onto Route 180 and follow the tour signs. For more tour information call Dava at (301) 663-4900.