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