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Expert Advice on How to Be at a Fiber Festival

Writer, illustrator, and knitter Franklin Habit joins us for his monthly column featuring humor and insights into a yarncrafter’s life.

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I'm terribly sorry, but I don't have time to stroll around the mall sipping a Giganto Grande Pumpkin Spice Extra Foam No Whip Latte. I have to go to a fiber festival. If you are reading this, very likely you also have to go to a fiber festival, or are getting ready to go to a fiber festival, or have just come back from a fiber festival. Possibly all three.

October for most grown-up folks means Halloween. That's cool. Dancing around and getting squiffy on Pumpkin Spice Vodka Tonics while dressed as Sexy Nurse or Sexy Ghost or Sexy Claims Adjuster isn't my idea of a zingy time, but it doesn't matter. I have no room for Halloween parties. I don't know if you've heard, but I have to go to a fiber festival.

Perhaps you have not yet visited a fiber festival. Perhaps you have only recently been inducted into the enthusiastic, international group hug that is the fiber arts community. If so, you may be confused by the unfamiliar urge to walk out the front door and follow the scent of sheep dip and fried dough.

You may find yourself standing in front of a sign that says WELCOME TO RHINEBECK and wondering where you are, what you are doing there, and how you got so far from your home in Hickory Flat, Mississippi, without even realizing it.

Keep calm. You are going to be fine. In fact, you are going to have a ball, provided you observe the following.

Wear Sturdy Shoes.

The importance of sensible footwear cannot be overstated. Fiber festivals take place in and around dirt. If it rains, it will be muddy. If it does not rain, it will be dusty. Steel toes offer protection from the clomping feet of your fellow visitors, who will not hesitate to scale you like an Alp if it means getting first pick of the hand-dyed dryer lint everybody on Ravelry is talking about. Grippy soles will speed your escape should a band of rogue sheep break out of the ring and attempt to stampede for freedom, which happens all the time.

Dress for Comfort.

Not too much comfort. Don't show up in the stained, mismatched Michigan State sweats you wear to lie on the sofa eating ice cream after you've called in "sick" from work. Nobody needs to see that. However, neither should you feel obligated to dress as the mascot of your favorite baseball team or hamburger chain; this has not been the fashion since the early 1960s. Country casuals are the order of the day, especially if hand knit or hand woven. Tradition dictates that participants in the sheep-to-shawl competition appear in full evening or court attire.

Use the Buddy System.

Festivals are not only more fun with a friend, they're easier to navigate. When heavy crowds impede your swift progress through the vendor market, simply link arms and press forward like a human snowplow. Remember trying to get to the front of the piña colada line at Studio 54 in 1978? I don't. But do it like that.

Control Your Spending.

Many a careless festival attendee has regained consciousness the morning after Rhinebeck with an empty purse and a spare bedroom full of live llamas and remorse.*

Don't even put on your lucky festival underpants until you've decided how much you can afford to spend. And how will you keep yourself honest? Here's a tip: Give your credit cards to your festival buddy, understanding that you will not get them back until the festival is over; or until steady pressure on the buddy's windpipe has caused a tunnel of heavenly light to open up. Whichever comes first.

Have a Plan.

Before plunging in, take a moment to study the schedule and the map. Circle the events you wish particularly to see with a stout red marker. With a second (blue) marker, draw boxes around the booths of the vendors you wish particularly to visit. Now, connect the circles and boxes with wavy lines in the color of your choice. Does what you've drawn look anything like a duck? I hope so.

Mind Your Manners.

If you admire a handmade article of clothing being worn by another visitor, it is perfectly acceptable to ask questions about the yarn and the pattern. However, if she tells you to get out and close the door, it is not polite to steal the roll of toilet paper as you leave.

Know Your Fleeces.

Buying a raw fleece is tempting, but fraught with peril for the untutored. Caveat emptor!** Look closely at the fleece. Does it appear to be made of dust bunnies held together with duct tape? This is to be expected. Stop complaining. Is it full of chewing gum? If so, reject it. Leave the booth immediately. When you have calmed down a little, pause and give the vendor a frowny face on Yelp.

Don't Kiss the Sheep.

They're no good at it anyway.

*An exotic fiber taken from the rare East Andalusian Double-Coated Remorse–a sort of yak-like pig, only more fragrant and with frizzy hair. It's protected now, so you can't have any. But I've got piles of it in my stash that I'm saving for my wedding night.

** Latin,"I told you no whip, extra foam on this Pumpkin Spice Latte!".

—–
Writer, illustrator, and photographer Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008–now in its third printing) and proprietor of The Panopticon (the-panopticon.blogspot.com), one of the most popular knitting blogs on Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep. Franklin’s other publishing experience in the fiber world includes contributions to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Cast On: A Podcast for Knitters, Twist Collective, and a regular column on historic knitting patterns for Knitty.com.

These days, Franklin knits and spins in Chicago, Illinois, sharing a small city apartment with an Ashford spinning wheel and colony of sock yarn that multiplies alarmingly whenever his back is turned.

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  • Jillian

    All these points are hilariously true, I lost it at "hand-dyed dryer lint" (although I wont use the buddy system since that would hold me back from yarny freedom; I like to weave through the crowds).
    For money, bring cash! especially for the food vendors (and so you can't over spend), and if there is overspending (that kitten soft yarn was too luscious to resist), bring a debit card with a set amount of (yarn) emergency money. It's gonna happen. Yarn resistance is futile.
    Also, I recommend doing a semi-quick once over through all the booths to know where everything is at, while petting all the yarn. The yarn you like, write down the price, yardage, and location, and come back to it later during a second circuit. That'll give time to decide if you really love it. If it's from a popular vendor, same time on line and buy online (hence the petting to know how yum it is, unless it's limited edition, better get that fast).
    Also, go by car and go early. I went by bus, and lost a precious 2 hours from the beginning of the show, and the taxi took my yarn money. Never again on my part, I'll carpool or rent a car.

  • Deebee

    So so true. My DD and I went to a fiber Festival in the Berkshires, so much fun wanted an alpaca.

  • Shelba Durston

    Ahhh, Franklin. As usual you give hints that you are the son I was never able to adopt(cause your mom didn't bring you over for a cub scout meeting and fail to return for 3 months.) Thank you for stating the obvious in such a happy manner!

  • Hopefullworld

    I almost skipped to Ravelry to check on this new dryer lint trend I didn't know about!

  • Deepa

    I've never been to Rhinebeck, but I have always wanted to bring an angora bunny back from the Shepherd's Harvest Festival in Lake Elmo, MN. Franklin, as always, you make me literally LOL. :)

  • Meg

    I love this! I live a block away from the Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck and go every year! I hope all the newbies take heed and follow your advice...it will make a much more pleasant fiber festival experience!

  • Agent_J

    HA! My mother forwarded this to my wife and me just before we attended SAFF (first festival for either of us.)


    I came home with a spinning wheel, no less.

  • Anonymous

    Dryer lint - have you ever spun possum? It's like spinning the bits you find in the bottom of your cardigan pockets. Never again.