Sunday, May 5, 2013

Fiber Weekend

It has been a very fiber oriented weekend. Months ago I signed up for a workshop at my local yarn store, Fibre Space (  in Alexandria, Virginia with one of my favorite knitting designers, Susan B. Anderson (found on line at who designs amazing reversible toys among many other things. I absolutely love knitting toys and reversible toys have become my favorite kind of toys to knit. There is just something that is so enchanting about a toy that turns inside out to become something else. It feels like a magic trick. In addition, reversible toys leave you feeling very clever and accomplished as a knitter. These workshop promised a brand new pattern, a reversible turtle and egg, which is not found in any of her books. It also offered me a chance to meet one of my knitting heroes.

It's an egg!
It's a turtle!
It's an inside out reversible toy! A turtle emerging from an egg!
I was a little nervous about signing up for a workshop after work, since I can’t always count on getting out on time. But with the support of my lovely colleagues I made it there. I was late, but due to delays in her flight and then terrible traffic, Ms. Anderson was even later so I was comparatively on time. The evening was just as much fun as I had hoped. I spent two and a half hours with a cheerful creative group of women, all there and determined to enjoy the event. Ms. Anderson was kind and gracious despite her dreadful day spent travelling and the prospect of another such day in front of her so she could be home in time for her daughter’s special event the next night. She showed us some great techniques not just on knitting the toys but on stuffing them and embroidering the faces which I really appreciated. Finishing toys is harder than knitting them sometimes, and really makes a difference to how the project looks in the end. She was even sweet enough to sign our books for us, since she had just published a new book all about reversible toys. I liked the project so much that I actually completed it in one weekend.

Then on Saturday I attended the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in West Friendship, MD. This is an annual festival that is held the first weekend in May at the Howard County Fairgrounds. This festival is a celebration of all things fiber. As you might expect from the name of the festival there are plenty of sheep that are shown in competition. There are also sheep shearing competitions, demonstrations of sheep herding with sheep dogs, and a sheep to shawl competition in which one shearer, three spinners and one weaver work to produce a shawl within hours. However, the actual sheep have become just a small part of the festival.

In the main exhbition hall and in most of the smaller barns there is a profusion of exhibitors selling anything you can think of that is remotely connected with fiber: handmade garments and blankets, angora rabbits, wool dusters, supplies for tending sheep, looms, spindles, garden plants, spinning wheels, books of techniques and patterns, knitting needles, special soaps for wool and fine garments, fleeces, needles and blocks for felting, portraits and landscapes made with tiny embroidered stitches, buttons, toys, alpacas, and, of course, yarn. Hundreds upon hundreds of skeins of yarn in every color and texture imaginable. Handspun, hand dyed yarn that is completely unique and not available anywhere else. Rows of commercially dyed and spun yarn that can work in any project. Chunky yarn and fine yarn and crazy yarn with elastic or tied threads or beads incorporated into the yarn itself. This year sparkly yarn seems to be in style, with most of the large exhibitors showing large swaths of yarn with strands of metallic color that glittered in the sunlight. The festival is absolutely a knitter’s dream landscape.

Every year that I am able I attend the festival with my mother-in-law, who taught me to knit. The sheep and wool festival is a crowded but friendly place. It’s the kind of place where people wear their own handmade garments and it’s perfectly acceptable to walk up to a stranger and let them know how much you like their sweater or shawl. In fact, twice when I did this the wearer gave me the name of the pattern and the name of the yarn she used to create her masterpiece. This year my two and a half year old daughter came with us to the festival for the first half of the day. We took her to see the demonstrations of dogs herding sheep, which I thought was impressive but which didn’t keep her interest. We fed her festival food, the kind of hot dogs, kettle corn, and boardwalk fries that you can find at any fair worth its name. We found a group of people spinning angora yarn directly off their rabbits and she was able to pet a real live bunny, which she later told me was her favorite part of the day. Then my husband took her back to my mother-in-law’s house and she and I continued on to see the rest of the exhibits.

Some of my favorites were the booth by “Going Gnome,” in which two sisters sold their handmade, needle felted wool sculptures of gnomes, birds and mushrooms and the booth by “Hunt Country Yarn” a Virginia store which features yarn made and sold by women owned businesses. Another booth featured alpaca yarn and had a large sign on its side offering two male alpacas for $800. They are beautiful animals but I wasn’t tempted; where would I put an alpaca? And what would I feed it? A third booth offered registration for a week long fiber arts retreat in New England, which is also impractical for me. It’s fun though, to imagine the different things I could do in another life. A life that involved less time spent at work and more time spent on interesting hand made crafts.