Deep sea swamp thing

February 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

deep sea swamp thing scarf

My WIP pile is getting out of control (well, more than usual), so I finally got around to tackling it, by adding fringe to a woven scarf. (Never mind the four WIP quilts and six WIP cardigans and jumpers…)

I called this scarf the Deep Sea Swamp Thing because that’s the name of both the colorways used. The yarn is a New England-spun and -bred Tunis intended for sock knitting, but I liked it woven. Dan, the owner of Gnomespun Yarn, helped me pick out colors at Rhinebeck this past fall, where the yarn debuted.

deep sea swamp thing scarf edges

Since I am not a sock knitter, the next project for the leftovers will probably be for a hat. I’m not particularly sensitive to wools, especially when it’s cold, so I think it’s perfect for many fingering/4 ply applications, but if you’re really sensitive do note that Tunis will never be as soft as Merino.

Here’s Deep Sea:

deep sea tunis yarn by gnomespun yarn

and Swamp Thing:

swamp thing tunis yarn by gnomespun yarn

I also particularly liked the reds so eventually I hope to get a skein or two of those colors for a similar scarf.

This one was woven on my Cricket loom with a 12 dent reed, using the teal as the warp and the forest green as the weft as I was inspired by some Oakshott shot cottons that I’ve been hoarding in my quilting fabric stash for quite a while.

I once read that there are two types of weavers: those who play with texture and those who play with color. In knitting I’m definitely more fascinated by texture, so I guess it makes sense that in weaving, where I often work with variegateds that are fussy knit up, I work more with color. It’s possible that one day, when wool mountain (a.k.a. my stash) has been conquered, I could become a texture weaver.

woven tunis scarf


A tree skirt

December 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

hexagonal tree skirt

I finished something before it was needed! Wooo! It’s a hexagonal quilted patchwork tree skirt for Christmas. We’ve never actually used a tree skirt before, we always used a gracefully wadded-up white sheet swathed around the base of the tree. It kind of looks like snow, especially when covered in presents.

This year, and from now on, we have a dedicated object for our presents to hang out on, which makes me feel very happy in the Martha Stewart portion of my brain.

hexagonal tree skirt

Anyway, so just before Thanksgiving I was reading Modern Patchwork from Interweave, designed by Angela Pingel, and saw the most darling tree skirt ever and I was like, “Self, I should MAKE THAT.” So self and I went shopping online and ordered a layer cake of Zoe Pearn for Riley Blake Christmas fabric, and then I stopped talking to myself in the third person and industriously sewed like crazy until it was finished.

I bought the binding and backing fabric from Hawthorne Threads, except then I realized how much I liked the backing fabric, and how much it made me sad to put it on the floor. So instead a green Ikea flat sheet took its place, and the gray scallop fabric can be used to back something else (that isn’t going on the floor).

quilting and fabric close-up

It was a lot of firsts for me:

  • cutting out fabric on the bias before sewing (I didn’t starch and it was fine)
  • using a layer cake (ok this was very easy, as I hoped, because I love pre-cuts)
  • using my new 1/4″ foot (it’s great!)
  • sewing non-90 degree angles on binding (surprisingly not much info on this online)
  • using the machine to sew on the binding (not too bad and very fast!)

quilting close-up

Overall the process went pretty smoothly. At first I planned on using my new walking foot to quilt the quilt sandwich, but by the time I got around to quilting this thing last week, my patience was sort of running out. So, after testing out my current fabrics in a mini baste-sandwich, I decided that it worked really well to do what I already knew, and thus I quilted this not with a walking foot nor with a free-motion foot. The quilting police did not show up.

The tree skirt did take longer to sew than anticipated (of course, it’s always that way), so it’s covered in presents now. Good thing we leave the tree up through Epiphany!

machine binding

Guide to fiber events in the US, part five

November 9, 2013 § Leave a comment


Fiber events are the highlight of my crafting year. I always look forward to seeing my friends and catching up on the news and seeing all the trends that are developing. Plus, the shopping is pretty fun too! While most of this advice about safety and comfort at all-day fiber events is pretty commonsense if you’ve ever attended a large gathering (I’m assuming that’s most of you), at many large festivals I see people struggling with their purchases or looking uncomfortable because of their clothing. A large outdoor gathering like Rhinebeck or MDSW is not like going to the mall; for one thing, there’s a lot of sheep poop around, which leads me to my first bit of advice.

What to wear:

I highly recommend wearing comfortable closed-toe shoes or at least sandals with ankle straps. Trust me on this, you don’t want to end up like the person at MDSW two years ago whose flip-flop got stuck in sheep poop. (Related: bringing some disposable napkins is not a bad idea.) Be prepared for slippery indoor surfaces and muddy outdoor areas if it’s raining or recently rained.

Dress in layers. Weather at events can be very changeable, and what was comfortable in a packed vendor barn may be not warm enough outside for watching a demonstration.

SUNBLOCK! Bring a kind you know you’ll apply. My personal favorite is mineral sunblock. Every two hours or so I apply it using the floofy brush that comes with it – no muss, no mess, no burns. There’s no waiting for it to soak in and I can apply it on the go. (My preferred brand is Peter Thomas Roth SPF 45, but there are many on the market at all price points.)

What not to wear:

In an ideal world, carry/wear items in front of you (e.g., baby carriers/slings) or at your sides. Large backpacks can easily knock over displays or other attendees.

What to bring with you:

A bottle of water is always a good idea – it’s expensive to purchase at a lot of shows, and often there’s a long line too. Most festivals I’ve been to have water fountains where you can refill (do check that it’s potable water first, as some fairgrounds have water pumps scattered around, particularly in barn areas).

Food lines can get long fast, so a small snack to tide you over is helpful.

If you prefer to shop with cash, bring a sufficient amount. Lines at ATMs (if the show even has one) can get quite long and there may be transaction fees.

Reusable cloth bags hold a lot relative to their size and they’re easier on your hands than the paper or plastic bags that vendors provide.

Wet wipes are handy especially if you’ve been petting animals. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers might be a good option too if you’re into that kind of thing. There are typically sinks available though if you need/want to wash your hands.

What not to bring with you:

Wheeled carts are typically not popular with other attendees because inevitably they run over someone’s foot (this goes along with that closed-toe shoe recommendation at outdoor shows), and they take up a lot of space in booths.

Please do not bring pets to shows. The only animals allowed at fairgrounds are service animals and the animals that are specifically there to be shown. Also, don’t leave them in your car either; at MDSW the police will break into your car to free your pet, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other shows have similar rules.

Miscellaneous advice:

You may want to call your credit card company before the show to alert them that you will be purchasing from vendors from various areas. The past year or so several of my friends have had their cards frozen until they called to verify the purchases.

If you see something suspicious, report it to a volunteer (typically they are wearing an ID badge and/or t-shirt) and/or the police.

If you have a camera or smartphone, take a picture of something near or in-line with where you parked. The red maple at Rhinebeck (shown above) really helped when I was lugging twelve pounds of fleeces back to the car.


Part one, featuring larger shows,

Part two, featuring medium-sized shows, and

Part three, featuring smaller shows

Part four, featuring dyer open houses, yarn crawls, and mill tours

If you have any tips and tricks to share about fiber festivals, or any fiber festival recommendations, I’d love to hear them!

Guide to fiber events in the US, part four

November 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

zeilinger's fiber mill

While fiber festivals are a lot of fun, there’s other great things to do and see if you’re interested in wool and how it is transformed from fleece to fiber. Here in part four of the guide to fiber events I cover yarn crawls, dyer open studios, and visiting fiber mills.

Yarn crawls are the fiber events with which I suspect most knitters are familiar, if only because they seem to happen in almost any region where there are at least three yarn shops.

Dyer open houses (and their hybrid relatives the dyer open house yarn crawl) are a varied bunch, reflecting the personality of the dyer and her studio. Some are like tiny fiber festivals, with outside vendors selling food and bringing animals, and others are like knit nights with lots of shopping.

Finally, there are fiber mills that offer tours. Many fiber mills do not offer tours for various reasons, but I know of two that do: Zeilinger’s in Frankenmuth, MI and Harrisville Designs in Harrisville, NH. If you like machinery and fiber they’re a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

cy skinny bugga!

Event: Yarn studio open houses
Date: Variable, depends on the dyer
Location: Dyer’s studio
Indoors/outdoors: Indoors
Outside pathways: Variable – some are in cities with sidewalks, others are in rural or light industrial areas with none
Inside pathways: Variable – typically cement if it’s a warehouse-y kind of place
Entrance fee: Free
Classes: No
Parking time: Max 10 minutes to find a spot (frequently these involve street parking)
Food/drink: Maybe; may not be vegetarian/special diet-friendly
Bathroom status: Clean, may or may not have bathroom hooks (but that’s because they’re mostly workspaces and not necessarily set up for visitors)
Number of times I’ve attended: 3

Rather than write up each open house, here’s a brief rundown of what typically happens at a dyer’s open house. Generally they have a lot of yarn for sale, it’s a great chance to meet local knitters/crafters, and sometimes there’s food and/or drink, either brought by guests or provided by the studio. Beyond that there can sometimes be sit and knits, charity events, or just general yarn drooling.

Pros: If you like a dyer’s work, nothing is more fun than meeting them in their “native habitat” and seeing all their gorgeous yarns in one place, with an even larger selection than at a show or festival. Often local designers will show up too, which is a great chance to meet and greet with them as well.

Cons: You see all the yarn and want to buy all the yarn. Generally there are no ATMs at dyer studios but they all take credit cards, cash, and sometimes checks.

Don’t miss: the chance to buy a custom-dyed pot or two of yarn! (Assuming they’re offering it, anyway.) Make sure you get yourself on the list ASAP as there is a limit to how many pots can be done that day.

skinny bugga! dyed at an open house

Event: Yarn crawls
Date: Variable, depends on who’s running it
Location: Yarn shops and/or dye studios
Indoors/outdoors: Indoors
Outside pathways: Variable – depends on yarn shop/dyer location
Inside pathways: Cement or other hard surface, typically.
Entrance fee: Free or paid, depends on the organizers (if it is paid, there’s usually coupons and gift bags involved)
Classes: No
Parking time: Max 10 minutes to find a spot (frequently these involve street parking) per location
Food/drink: Maybe; may not be vegetarian/special diet-friendly
Bathroom status: Clean; typically the stores will have bathroom hooks but the dyer studios won’t.
Number of times I’ve attended: 3

Yarn shop crawls often have a passport or other stampable item available so that at the end of the crawl, you have enough stamps to earn a pattern. Some, instead of doing stamps, offer part of a pattern. Most LYS crawls cost some money, although often you get the pattern, sometimes coupons, and often a tote bag. Some shops also offer a discount for that day at the shop.

Dyer crawls (well, the one I’ve been on) don’t tend to have an admission fee but you also don’t get a gift bag. The Maryland Hand-dyers’ Guild Crawl last year offered stamps, but I forgot my stamp booklet at home and so never really figured out what the stamps were for. I think it was a contest? Anyway, I was there for the chance to not only see the dyers’ yarns but to also check out some smaller local vendors, who were vending at the studios.

Pros: LYS crawls, especially if you live in an area with a lot of yarn shops, offer the chance to check out the wares at each shop and get to know the staff there. Going with friends or by yourself is equally fun in my opinion, as even if you’re shopping solo knitters and fiber crafters love to help others pick out patterns and yarns.

Dyer studio crawls offer similar opportunities as their open houses: a chance to see the whole line and meet and chat with the dyer and other local crafters.

Cons: There seems to be something about an LYS crawl that brings out the impulsive purchaser in me, and in others too I’ve noticed. In many groups and with my knitting friends, we’ve all grumbled about yarn we’ve purchased with no real purpose in mind. I don’t tend to participate very much in LYS crawls any more for this reason.

Studio crawls fall under the same pitfalls as the open houses do, with the side effect of realizing that after the crawl is over, you’ve bought a lot of yarn…at each studio!

Don’t miss: The great deals that often pop up for LYS crawls, sometimes up to 25% off regular yarn (not just sale-bin yarn). At dyer open houses, enjoy being able to find sweater quantities of indie-dyed yarn in large enough quantities that you can select the best-matching skeins.

wool at Zeilinger's

Event: Fiber mill tours
Date: Variable – call ahead
Location: Various – call or check the website before heading out
Indoors/outdoors: Indoors
Outside pathways: Variable
Inside pathways: Typically cement or wood
Entrance fee: Free
Classes: No
Parking time: Variable – can sometimes involve street parking
Food/drink: No
Bathroom status: Clean; may or may not have bathroom hooks as these are workplaces.
Number of times I’ve attended: 2

I have mentioned this before, but sometimes I think I like crafting because it’s the chance to see and use awesome new tools and machinery. I love a good educational tour, and putting fiber and scary-looking machines in a room together and I’m happy.

Pros: The two mills I have visited offer free tours – at Zeilinger’s they are self-guided, and at Harrisville you must call ahead (I’d recommend at least a week in advance – my family was unable to go on the actual tour itself because of time constraints, but the mill store staff were happy to tell us about the history of the mill). Being able to buy the yarn or fiber right where it’s made is very cool, and since it’s made right there there’s usually enough yarn in any one type/dyelot for larger projects.

Cons: Since these are working mills, be aware that they may not be suitable for children (Harrisville does not allow minors on their mill tours). The tours make take guests through areas that are not handicap accessible due to narrow walkways and/or stairs (especially at Zeilinger’s, where the sock machines are located upstairs). Also, they are dusty and loud places.

Don’t miss: The chance to see all the different machines in action! I loved seeing the machine that turns the fiber into large strips of roving. At Zeilinger’s they also have a bunch of sock machines running, churning out socks. (Learn more about Zeilinger’s in this post from 2011.)


Part one, featuring larger shows,

Part two, featuring medium-sized shows, and

Part three, featuring smaller shows

Up next:

Part five, featuring tips for safety and comfort at fiber events.

Guide to fiber events in the US, part three

October 31, 2013 § Leave a comment


Smaller shows don’t often get the attention of their larger and medium-sized brethren on Ravelry and other fiber craft websites, but they are some of my favorite events of the year. Many of these smaller shows have free or very low cost admission with reasonable crowds and great opportunities to speak directly with producers, dyers, spinners, and breeders. Beyond that it is hard to generalize; each show seems to focus on the fiber types common to that area, and as such each will have different activities, animals, visitors, and vendors.

This year I’ve been fortunate enough to attend two, both for the second time each, and they did not disappoint. The first, Homespun Yarn Party, a show in the Washington, DC/Baltimore region, I look forward to because it is a chance to interact with local knitters and dyers that focuses on the community aspect of fiber crafts.

The second show, Lamafest in East Lansing, MI, I love because it focuses mostly on the animals and the fiber they produce. Many vendors at Lamafest bring a selection of goods that are entirely made in Michigan, with the wool (or fiber) having been grown, cleaned, carded, spun, and dyed within 75 miles of the show. Often you can see the animals from whom your fiber came standing just a few aisles away.


Event: Homespun Yarn Party (HYP)
Date: Typically the third weekend in March
Location: Savage Mill, MD
Indoors/outdoors: Indoors
Outside pathways: Sidewalks, with asphalt in the parking lots (some street parking may be quite hilly, but there is ample handicap parking in the actual parking lots for the mill complex)
Inside pathways: Wood and carpeted floors
Entrance fee: Free
Classes: No
Parking time: Max 20 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Yes, in other parts of the mill complex
Bathroom status: Clean indoor bathrooms with baby-changing tables. There are bathroom stall hooks and the lines aren’t too long.
Other amenities: Water fountains; small shops nearby sell everything from pastries to antiques to gourmet dog treats
Number of times I’ve attended: 2

Homespun Yarn Party is a small local show that features indie dyers, spinners, fiber producers, and fiber-related craft things (e.g., project bags, spindle bags). There’s also a charity knitting and crochet event, a spinning contest, and best of all it’s all indoors so no worrying about the weather (it always seems to be drizzly on HYP weekend).

Pros: HYP is a small show, so it’s easily doable in an afternoon. A lot of the big name dyers and vendors from the Maryland area are here, including Cephalopod Yarns, Dragonfly Fibers, Neighborhood Fiber Co., and the Verdant Gryphon. Other notable vendors include Space Cadet Creations, That Clever Clementine!, and Cavey Family Farm (they sell beautiful Montadale wool). If you’re a spinner you’ll be able to indulge in some indie-dyed fiber and many different types of handcrafted spindles. While no vendors sell weaving looms or spinning wheels, if you’re a weaver who enjoys working with handdyed yarns it’s worth a trip. There’s also a vendor who sells gigantic rug yarn (with accompanying huge needles) that can be woven or knitted.

Cons: HYP is a bit too close to MDSW (in terms of timing) for my liking; MDSW is about 6 weeks away and I feel sort of competes with that event for time and attention.

Also, the Great Room at Savage Mill can get really hot from everyone crowded in it, so dress in layers despite it being an indoor event. You may have to wait in line in a hallway outside the Great Room to enter if you show up right when the event starts; I prefer to arrive a bit later because of this.

Don’t miss: the half-hourly drawings for free gifts, typically yarns and patterns and project bags donated by vendors. (You have to be present to win.)

Do take advantage of the back deck (the exit is on the back right side of the room near Cephalopod Yarns’ booth) if you feel you need some fresh air. Also, sometimes spinners set up wheels out there and many break out their new spindles and fibers, so it’s fun to watch the demonstrations. You can also see Savage Creek that used to power the mill complex, although the wheel itself is not operational.


Event: Lamafest
Date: Labor Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday
Location: East Lansing, MI
Indoors/outdoors: Indoors
Outside pathways: Sidewalks, with asphalt in the parking lots
Inside pathways: Cement floors
Entrance fee: Free
Classes: No
Parking time: Max 3 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Yes; think sporting-event food
Bathroom status: Clean indoor bathrooms with baby-changing tables. There are bathroom stall hooks and no bathroom lines.
Other amenities: Water fountains
Number of times I’ve attended: 2

Lamafest was the second fiber festival I ever attended, and it is a very, very small show, filled with (surprise!) llamas and alpacas. There are only about twenty vendors but they all sell lovely merchandise, mostly featuring llama and alpaca yarn and fiber.

Pros: As the show is so small, it’s not very crowded and it’s easy to really get to look at everything the vendors have to offer. Many also sell wool products too, so even if you’re not wild about camelid fibers you’re sure to find something to tempt you. Most of the vendors are from very small farms so the merchandise is very special (in other words, if you see something you love, buy it), and the prices are really almost too reasonable. This year I was able to find some delightful Shetland fiber grown in Potterville, MI, and cleaned and carded at Zeilinger’s in Frankenmuth, MI, for only $2 an ounce. I also bought a dark gray llama batt – as I was purchasing it, the vendor’s friend walked by and said, “Oh, I recognize that, it’s from Thunder! He’s so soft.” Only at Lamafest!

Next to the vendors area you can walk around and admire all the llamas and alpacas (also this year there was a camel good-naturedly tolerating a swarm of toddlers), and don’t forget to check out the llama and alpaca show in the show ring. The Mid-Michigan Spinning Guild also does demonstrations in the vendor area too, and are more than happy to share some spinning knowledge with you. They also sell some of their gorgeous handspun too.

Cons: There aren’t any food options available for anyone who doesn’t want sporting event food. However, East Lansing isn’t that far away so if you’re hungry after the show, just drive a few miles north and there’s lots of restaurants on Grand River Avenue.

Don’t miss: the llama and alpaca fashion show! It is the hands-down highlight of the event and the creativity of the owners is unparalleled.

Also, if you drove from outside the East Lansing area, check out my favorite yarn shop in the entire universe, Woven Art. It’s just a few miles north of the MSU Pavilion where Lamafest is held and worth a visit for beautiful yarns and fibers for all sorts of fiber crafts. (Yes, even after Lamafest I drove up to Woven Art to go shopping and knit with my friends. It was the perfect end to a fiber-y day.)




Part one, featuring larger shows, and

Part two, featuring medium-sized shows

Up next:

Part four, featuring dyer open houses, yarn crawls, and mill tours, and

Part five, featuring tips for safety and comfort at fiber events.

Guide to fiber events in the US, part two

October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

fall trees

Welcome to part two of the guide to fiber events in the US, featuring medium-sized shows! Featuring all of the charm of the larger shows without the crazy crowds, medium-sized shows like Allegan, SVFF, and Ann Arbor focus on lots of regional shops. They’re a great chance to get to know your local sheep farmers and indie dyers. Some, like Allegan and SVFF, have lots of animals on display and retain a lot of rural charm. Ann Arbor Fiber Expo is less focused on the animals and more on the educational and social aspects of fiber arts, and its marketplace attracts a wide variety of fiber crafters, with a lot of focus on handspinning and indie dyeing.

Event: Michigan Fiber Festival (Allegan)
Date: Third weekend in August
Location: Allegan, MI
Indoors/outdoors: Indoor/outdoor mix – some barns are quite open to the elements
Outside pathways: Mix of pavement, gravel, dirt, and grass – not too hilly. The parking lot is grass with some paved and gravel walkways/driveways.
Inside pathways: Mix of linoleum, cement, and some dirt floors in barns.
Entrance fee: $5/day or $8 weekend pass – children under 8 free
Classes: Yes
Parking time: Max 30 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Yes – mix of fair food and BBQ
Bathroom status: Clean indoor bathrooms with baby-changing tables, with some port-a-potties. There are bathroom stall hooks and the lines aren’t too long.
Other amenities: first aid station, water fountains
Number of times I’ve attended: 1

Allegan is a medium-sized festival, with many of the same events and vendors found at larger shows like MDSW and Rhinebeck, but a bit smaller and friendlier with fewer overwhelming crowds.

Pros: A medium-sized festival, Allegan attracts both Michigan and Midwestern vendors as well as larger, more nationally known vendors, including Blackberry Ridge, the Fold, Yarn Hollow, and Miss Babs. Allegan was my first fiber festival ever and it was perfect: worth the almost 1.5 hour drive, but not so overwhelming that I missed out on everything I wanted to see and do. The tractor show and historical village are a lot of fun, and there’s an entire barn dedicated to kids’ activities and crafts.

Many of the vendors are more than happy to take the time to give demonstrations or even a quick lesson – I first learned to spin at Allegan from Pat Tirrell (Tirrell Centennial Farm). The lines aren’t too long at any one booth and with only about four barns there’s plenty of time to visit every booth if you so choose.

Cons: The parking situation was kind of crazy when I attended the show. While the ticket taker was really friendly, he couldn’t really direct traffic from his booth and there were a lot of people and cars unsure of where to go. Hopefully they’ve worked on this in the intervening years. Also, the food lines are really long, as there weren’t that many food vendors relative to the size of the show.

Don’t miss: the chance to see Miss Babs and other bigger vendors without the craze of MDSW/Rhinebeck lines. Take the time to chat with other knitters – there’s lots of seating available and many impromptu knitting and spinning groups pop up.

katahdin sheep

Event: Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival (SVFF)
Date: Last full weekend in September
Location: Berryville, VA
Indoors/outdoors: Indoor/outdoor mix – some barns are quite open to the elements
Outside pathways: Mix of pavement, gravel, dirt, and grass – flat terrain. The parking lot is grass with some gravel driveways.
Inside pathways: Mix of linoleum, cement, and dirt floors in barns.
Entrance fee: $5/day – children under 12 free
Classes: Yes
Parking time: Max 15 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Yes – mostly fair foods
Bathroom status: Clean indoor bathrooms. Most stalls do not have bathroom hooks. Unsure if there were baby-changing stations. Short lines.
Other amenities: first aid station, water fountains
Number of times I’ve attended: 1

SVFF is a smaller show in the Washington, DC region, taking place in the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley right at the beginning of the leaf-peeping season. This show gets larger every year, and features many of the same vendors that attend MDSW, offering a great chance to see them without the crazy lines that MDSW generates. The weather around this time of year is typically cooler than MDSW time, meaning there’s a greater chance of seeing beautiful handmade woolens on show visitors and vendors.

Pros: A show on the smaller side, it still has that rural charm that many like about MDSW. It also takes place in the latter half of the show season, meaning the weather is generally on the cooler side and we can all begin stocking up for fall/winter knits – plus with fewer vendors, I feel like it is easier to really spend time lingering and making decisions in each booth. Vendor highlights include Dragonfly Fibers, Gourmet Stash, Neighborhood Fiber Co., Lovelyarns, the Verdant Gryphon, the Spanish Peacock, and Solitude Wool (who are VERY local to the show). The fleece show is small but worth a visit if you like to buy whole fleeces. The prices are reasonable and I was able to find a California Red fleece and a Dorset x Ile de France.

Cons: There are no hooks in many (possibly all?) of the bathroom stalls, so if you have merchandise with you I highly recommend dropping that off at your car before using the facilities, or have a friend hold things for you.

There are also no wool processors at this show so if you like to drop off your fleeces right after buying them it isn’t possible at SVFF.

Don’t miss: the animal barns. At larger shows sometimes the animals aren’t as social due to the overwhelming commotion, but at SVFF they’re more eager to interact, especially the mohair goats! They’re so soft to pet and very sweet. Also try the apple tea from the kettle corn vendor – it’s sort of like apple cider but not, and very good. Wish I’d bought a second bottle for the drive home after eating all that kettle corn. (FYI, kettle corn freezes really well in an airtight container. Just thaw it at room temperature and extend the kettle corn season.)

handspun yarns

Event: Ann Arbor Fiber Expo (AAFE)
Date: Last full weekend in October; Spring Expo: last full weekend in March
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Indoors/outdoors: Indoors
Outside pathways: Parking lot asphalt and cement
Inside pathways: Cement floors
Entrance fee: $4/day, or $6 for both days – children under 12 free
Classes: Yes
Parking time: Max 10 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Maybe? I can’t remember, too much yarn.
Bathroom status: Clean indoor bathrooms with stall hooks.
Other amenities: first aid station, water fountains
Number of times I’ve attended: 1

The Ann Arbor Fiber Expo is a great local show that features wonderful vendors and classes. It is primarily a show for those wishing to take classes or shop, and does not have the same amount or variety of animals like at Allegan. However, I classified it as a medium-sized show as it is held twice a year due to its popularity (likely due to the incredible local talent it attracts).

Pros: The vendor list at AAFE features some of the most talented dyers ever, including Happy Yarns, Fiberstory, Frankielove Fibers, and Icemelon, and there are several spinning guilds and collectives selling lovely handspun too (seriously, this place is handspun heaven!). If you don’t want to buy handspun, there’s a lot of beautifully dyed fiber available too. It’s also an indoor show, which is convenient if the weather isn’t cooperating.

Cons: There’s no fleece sale and there aren’t very many animals for a show of its size.

Don’t miss: the indie dyers! They’re the highlight of the show.


Part one, featuring larger shows

Up Next:

Part three, featuring smaller shows,

Part four, featuring dyer open houses, yarn crawls, and mill tours, and

Part five, featuring tips for safety and comfort at all-day events.

The incomplete but hopefully useful guide to fiber events in the US, part one

October 27, 2013 § Leave a comment


Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to attend more than my fair share of fiber events, from small local shows to huge national fairs, from dyer open houses to two cities’ yarn crawls. My stash has grown considerably despite my coldsheeping efforts (really, who was I kidding attending all these events?), but I thought it shouldn’t just be my stash that benefits, so here it is, the incomplete but hopefully useful guide to fiber events (that I have attended).

Here in part one I will cover the two largest shows on the East Coast, Maryland Sheep and Wool (MDSW) and New York Sheep and Wool (NYSW), more commonly known as Rhinebeck.

The goal of this guide is to make your visit as fun as possible by clarifying the small details that when wrong can so easily ruin a good time – I know I’d rather not worry about needing to pack extra toilet paper (I mean, it can’t hurt, but so far all events I’ve been to have had clean bathrooms, thankfully). Additionally I’ve noted food/drink availability, parking times, public transit options, pathway accessibility, fleece shows, vendor variety – even down to the availability of hooks in the bathroom stalls as this is a pet peeve of mine.

Note that for parking times I am including the time you may spend waiting in line to enter the lot, being directed to the spot, and then parking. I do not include walking time from car to entrance due to variations in walking speed and how far you may be from the entrance(s). I tend to arrive within an hour or so of a show’s start (if it’s a morning event) so your time in line may vary.

Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, I hope, but please feel free to comment or ask questions.

fleece sale

Event: Maryland Sheep and Wool (MDSW)
Date: First full weekend in May
Location: West Friendship, MD
Indoors/outdoors: Indoor/outdoor mix – some barns are quite open to the elements
Outside pathways: Mix of pavement, gravel, dirt, and grass – quite hilly terrain in places. The parking lot is grass with some paved walkways/driveways and some gravel walkways/driveways.
Inside pathways: Mostly dirt in the barns, with tile in the classrooms and a few vendor areas. The demo barn has small gravel pathways.
Entrance fee: Free
Classes: Yes
Parking time: Max 30 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Yes, but not many vegetarian/special diet options – mostly fair food and lamb products
Bathroom status: Clean indoor bathrooms with baby-changing tables, with some port-a-potties. There are bathroom stall hooks and the lines aren’t too long.
Other amenities: first aid station, water fountains
Number of times I’ve attended: 2

Maryland Sheep and Wool is probably the largest sheep and wool festival in the US (although I haven’t attended Estes out west so I could be wrong). Despite its size, this is the show to come to when you want to celebrate sheep and wool and the American sheep farm. MDSW is all about the fluffy creatures, with the largest animal exhibition areas, judgings, and even a parade of sheep. This is the show that many shepherds and farmers attend to do business, and not just vend to the fiber artists.

Pros: MDSW offers the most comprehensive focus on sheep and wool of any festival I’ve attended, with a breed barn filled with all sorts of sheep, even down to rare breeds like Soay. There are more vendors even than Rhinebeck (I think?) and enough demonstrations that you could spend all day learning and never even buy anything (I don’t recommend this, though!). The for-pay classes offered include courses from teachers such as Deb Robson, so if you’ve got the time I highly recommend taking one at MDSW.

Vendor highlights include the Verdant Gryphon, Cloverhill Yarns (for Dragonfly Fibers and smaller local indie dyers), the Mannings for weaving and spinning supplies, the Spanish Peacock, Jennie the Potter, Spirit Trail, Solitude Wools, Little Barn for great deals, and more. MDSW also features many lectures (often free) on sheep husbandry (mostly aimed at shepherds/breeders/shearers, but the free ones are open to anyone), and a large demo area in the Rabbit Barn for spinning, machine knitting, tatting, and angora rabbits.

I also recommend watching the Parade of Breeds, which includes every breed of sheep at the fair and also some alpacas and llamas. Food and non-wool vendors include Mark Supik Woodcrafting, the Bee people (try their great honeys), and even an herb vendor who sells some plants for natural dyeing.

The Saturday auction features used equipment, tools, books, and magazines for often great prices. Spinning wheels seem to go for about what they normally go for; if you’re in the market for a floor loom some great deals can be found. You do have to take home your purchases that day – the fair will not store merchandise for pickup. The Sunday auction (that I’ve never attended) is for farm equipment.

The fleece sale is a lot of fun – be prepared to dig around! Prices are reportedly more affordable at MDSW than Rhinebeck although in my experience the prices are pretty similar.

The sheep dog demonstration is comprehensive and very popular. Arrive early for a good, shady spot.

Cons: The fairgrounds where MDSW is held are probably the least handicap accessible of any show I’ve been to; many of the paths to major vendor areas and the demo barn are not paved well, or at all, with a mix of dirt, gravel, paved, and grassy paths. (However they do have clearly marked handicap parking.) It is also the largest fairground and it is built on a hill; if you’re concerned about tiring out I recommend starting at the bottom of the hill and heading up rather than getting to the bottom of the hill with lots of purchases and a big hill to face. There is not much seating at this fairground; some people bring folding chairs and set up little campsites with friends and family, which is nice in good weather.

Don’t miss: trying out lots of different kinds of lamb and sheep products, if you’re a meat eater. My favorite meal at MDSW is the sausage from the Frederick County Sheep Breeders. I also like the lemonade with the half-lemon stuck in it. Oh, and the demos are great too, although I may be biased since I demo there.

seacolors yarns

Event: New York Sheep and Wool Festival (Rhinebeck)
Date: Third full weekend in October
Location: Rhinebeck, NY
Indoors/outdoors: Indoor/outdoor mix – some barns are quite open to the elements
Outside pathways: 90% or more paved pathways, the rest is small gravel. The parking lot is grass with some paved walkways/driveways.
Inside pathways: Hard-packed dirt or linoleum tile floor, possibly some small gravel in the animal barns
Entrance fee: $12/day at the gate, $9/day weekend ticket (with $1.50 online service fee if bought online)
Classes: Yes
Parking time: Max 30 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Yes – think gourmet food truck (with a bit of classic fair food available too)
Bathroom status: Cleanest of all (there are bathroom attendants!) with baby changing stations; there are bathroom stall hooks. The lines can be quite long especially at the bathrooms near the food vendors.
Other amenities: first aid station, water fountains, nursing parent area
Number of times I’ve attended: 2

Rhinebeck is one of the largest fiber shows in the US, probably second to MDSW in terms of size. It’s the Fashion Week of the knitting world to MDSW’s sheep-focused state fair vibe. It offers swanky amenities (restroom attendants! paved walkways! food trucks!), eye-popping autumn foliage, and handmade woolens from head to toe. The vendor list is long and varied and the food is incredible.

Pros: Rhinebeck weather is generally a lot more wool-wearing-friendly than MDSW, meaning this is when you see everyone decked out in their finest. If you like spotting knitting celebrities, Rhinebeck is the place to see them: this year I spotted Laura Chau, Ysolda Teague, Ann Weaver (actually I saw Ann like 5 times because we seem to like the same vendors), Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Jonathan Bosworth (I think my friend and I ate lunch next to him), Laura Nelkin, Clara Parkes, Jess and Casey of Ravelry (with Eloise), Mary-Heather Cogar, I think the new Ravelry programmer Christina, Melanie Falick, and Shannon Oakey. I’m sure I’m forgetting some too.

Rhinebeck has sheep dog demonstrations, the famous frisbee dogs, a petting zoo, and a science show that’s really popular with the kids. The food selection from vendors is great: try the falafel, pierogies, artichokes French (also try fried), apple cider, apple cider doughnuts, kettle corn, lamb gyros, fish sandwiches, maple cotton candy, and that’s just the food vendors outside. Inside the food barn they have local-ish wines and hard alcohol for purchase, along with Pennsylvania Dutch breads and pretzels, pickles and mustards, candy, cheeses, and meats.

The fleece sale is fun too, with a wide variety of fleeces for sale. There was loads of Romney this year, accompanied by complaints that it was priced quite expensively. However, even though I didn’t arrive right at the start, I was still able to buy a lovely CVM/Romeldale and a beautiful Finn fleece.

Many of the vendors are the same ones at MDSW, although I would guess that at least 1/3 only go to Rhinebeck or MDSW, not both.

Cons: Rhinebeck is an exceptionally crowded show, especially on Saturday, due to its popularity and the fact that the fairgrounds are really not laid out very well for large crowds. If you do not like crowds, go on Sunday. While one of the great things about Rhinebeck is how handicap accessible it is, this is sort of limited by the sheer number of people on Saturdays, especially in the packed vendor barns.

Be prepared to wait in line a lot. Some lines you can avoid by buying tickets online, for instance, but others are inevitable, like the bathroom line after lunch.

Don’t miss: the apple cider, apple cider doughnuts, maple syrup, and maple cotton candy. There are two vendors for each of these but after extensive taste testing (oh the things I do in the name of research) I have concluded that the best of these are located up by the numbered barns past the falafel stand. (On the map these vendors are marked as the sugar shack.) Also, I really love the author alley; it’s a great chance to buy some lovely books and meet with authors and publishers.

rhinebeck fiber festival

Travel/lodging notes for out-of-towners


MDSW has the advantage over Rhinebeck in terms of traffic and hotel costs. The show is right off I-70, which places the show in-between two cities with lots of hotel choices, Frederick to the west and Columbia to the southeast. Both are about 30 minutes away by car. Public transit to the show is essentially nonexistent. You could take the train or a plane to either Baltimore or Washington, DC and then get a taxi to your hotel (I’ve heard there’s a hotel not far from the fairgrounds that runs a shuttle bus), but this is really a show geared towards people with cars, or who come on a bus from an LYS or run by a fiber guild. Gas costs are higher than many parts of the country although for me it’s what I normally pay so I can’t complain.


Finding a place to stay if you’re not from the area can be expensive. Hotels and motels are not cheap and most are located on the Kingston side of the river, meaning you will be paying a toll to cross the bridge each day. Renting a house may be a slightly (slightly!) more affordable option if you have a large group with which to split costs. Gas is also not cheap in this part of the country.

However, Rhinebeck has the advantage over MDSW in terms of public transit: there’s the Metro North train from Grand Central in NY to Poughkeepsie, and a shuttle bus from there to the fair. There’s also the option of taking Amtrak to Rhinecliff station. If you opt for public transit and a stay in the area (as opposed to taking Metro North and the shuttle bus for a one-day trip) I recommend having at least one car in your party – meaning when I did public transit in 2011 and when my friends did it this year, one of us had a car to pick up the others from the station to get where we were staying, and then from there to the fairgrounds.

Finally, while the Hudson River area is gorgeous, most of the roads to the fairgrounds are country roads. Expect to run into a lot of traffic when entering and leaving the parking lot.

Up next:

Part two, featuring medium-sized shows,

Part three, featuring smaller shows,

Part four, featuring dyer open houses, yarn crawls, and mill tours, and

Part five, featuring tips for safety and comfort at all-day events.