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.

Previously:

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.

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