Sunday, September 25, 2016

There's a fiber festival? Alpaca my bags.

Autumn may have started last week, according to the calendar, but today was the first day that really felt like fall in the mid-Atlantic. So of course, I used it as an excuse to trek west for the annual Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival.

We've been attending this little sibling to Maryland Sheep and Wool for the past couple of years. When I say they're siblings, I don't mean to say they're run by the same people; what I mean is that they both cater to fiber arts enthusiasts -- knitters, spinners, and weavers. However, there are also a few exhibits for farmers who own sheep or other fleece-producing animals, like these alpaca, as well as contests for sheep farmers and sheepdog trials.

Maryland Sheep and Wool happens at the beginning of May. It's an easy drive from my house, but every year, we talk about making a weekend of it because the fair is so darned big. They have more than 250 vendors (and, according to their website, more than 600 sheep). By the time you've seen the whole thing, you have to think long and hard about whether you want to go back to get the perfect yarn you saw but didn't buy because it was at the first booth you visited -- a booth that's now about a mile away, on the other side of the fairgrounds. Well, maybe it's not quite a mile away, but it feels like it.

Dude, comb your hair...
The Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival is much smaller -- only about 125 vendors, and in a much smaller area. You can scope out all the booths before lunch, if you push it, and then have plenty of time to weigh your purchasing priorities before heading home. Plus it's fall, not the beginning of summer. And the part of the fairgrounds where the festival is held is mostly under trees. In all, it's a less overwhelming experience.

That's not to say the selection is lacking. I still saw a lot of yarn today. A lot of yarn. And I managed to find everything I was looking for (and a few things I wasn't, like a beautiful new wooden spindle with a Tree of Life design etched into the whorl).

I find myself buying most of my yarn at festivals these days, rather than at boutique yarn shops. The selection is wider and the prices are about the same, And at a festival I'm typically buying from small producers who not only spin and dye the yarn they sell, but are also behind the cash register (well, the iPad with a credit card reader attached). Which is not to say that local yarn shops are a bad deal; they're convenient, they have knowledgeable staff, and they're small business owners, too.

I used to be frugal -- okay, cheap -- when it came to buying knitting patterns and yarn. But after I became an indie author, I realized that knitting pattern designers and yarn spinners and dyers are in the same boat I am: we're all producing a quality product, and we deserve to be compensated for our time and effort.

These moments of fibrous blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

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