It's taken a while, but after having been a knitter for 20 or so years, I finally worked up the nerve to attend a fiber festival. (Naturally, you are asking yourself, if I never attended these yarn fests and I rarely set foot in a yarn store, how did my stash grow so large, and the answer is, of course, the internets.) I have some theories about why I never could convince myself I needed to go to these things, but I won't bore you with them. (They mostly boil down to one incident when a somewhat crazed knitter threw an elbow straight into my chest at The Textile Museum's More Than Just a Yardage Sale* so that she could get to a box of old Vogue Knitting magazines before I did.) I did eventually convince myself that the few unpleasant knitters I had encountered in those early years by no means represented the whole of knitterdom and partly by chance, I started to meet knitters outside the context of bargain mania. I discovered that knitters are so much more pleasant when they don't think you're trying to abscond with that bag of Rowan yarn that has a price tag of $10. Anyhow, I eventually decided that I would in fact LOVE to attend a yarn festival but it happened to coincide with my deciding that I really should not be acquiring any more yarn until my stash was under control. So this month, after several years of yarn dieting, I decided it was safe for me to go. Please don't conclude that I have worked my stash down to something sensible. I have not done so. But I have learned to control my yarn acquisition problem.**
The fates have conspired to prevent me from attending the Knitter's Frolic here in Toronto for the last two years but I had heard about the Kitchener-Waterloo Knitters' Fair and decided this would be the fair that finally broke my moratorium on fiber festivals. I was a little worried that I wasn't picking the right venue for my very first foray into the world of knitting fairs since it was being held in a hockey arena--not exactly a visual delight***-- but, the timing was right, and most importantly, I was interested in seeing the wares of a few particular vendors and this was going to be my best opportunity to do so in person.
That handful of vendors I was interested in were, not coincidentally, all local Ontario wool producers and indie-dyers. I especially wanted to see some more**** of what my fellow Ontarians were creating because I am starting to feel pretty strongly about supporting the local economy and in particular, supporting new producers and craftspeople who are building their businesses on a model of sustainability and ethical practices. I wanted to see in person if their products were as impressive as their enthusiasm for environmental and social issues. To be perfectly honest, I was blown away by what I saw and by the vendors I spoke to. Some I had heard of, a few I discovered for the first time. What really struck me about some of these particular vendors was that sustainability of production and sourceable chains of supply were not just catch-phrases to them and these were concerns they took to heart. I.e., they weren't just talking the talk.
So let me tell you about the Fair vendors that really stood out for me. First, how nifty is it to meet an actual shepherdess! This was a lucky find, tucked away in the Fair's Micro Market. Laura Sharpe of Twin Oaks Farms was super charming and young as she is, she is shepherdess to a small flock of Romney sheep on her farm near Guelph. (I say "young", I just mean well younger than I am--not little Miss Muffet). She sells fleece and yarn which she has processed by Wellington Fibers in Elora. You can read more about Laura's fiber products on her website. (In fact, I hope anyone reading this clicks through to the farmers and dyers I link in this post--I'm excited about every single one of them!) She has chosen to sell her products undyed at this time but sometimes, those natural sheep shades are the best! I hope to get my pre-order in on time for a few skeins of worsted from her black lambs who were born this year and won't be sheared until 2017. (Pre-ordering yarn because it's still growing? Kind of awesome! I also find it so adorable that her yarns are named for the sheep who provided the fleece!) I was a little shy of getting in anyone's way just to take some photos so all I came away with was a snap of her business card (which she had already run out of by noon!) and a quickie of the yarn I would have bought had it been a worsted weight (which will be available in 2017, hence the pre-order):
Wellington Fibres happened to be one of the booths at the Fair that I really enjoyed photographing (quickly, so as to get out of people's way, although I somehow still managed to always be in someone's way. Forgive me, Fair goers.) The rows and rows of boxes of brightly dyed fibers were a fun touch.
Speaking of displays, Kylie of Agrestal Yarns (which I hadn't realised is based in Toronto) had a really wonderful booth. Everything about her yarns, her colours, her displays, and the fact that Kylie herself was knitting so nimbly while standing and chatting with visitors apparently without needing to look at her work just created this magical aura! I probably took the most pictures here because I just loved the thought and artistry she put into each area of her booth.
I can thank the KW Fair for introducing me to the colours of the Georgian Bay Fibre Co. which is operated by Carla Pletzer in Parry Sound. Carla has an incredible range of beautiful kettle-dyed colours in bases ranging from fingering to aran which were all on glorious display in her lovely booth, minus those which had already sold out. I only packed a 50mm lens with me and backing up far enough to capture the whole booth meant stopping traffic. You do not want to be the obstacle between a knitter and yarn. Believe me. (You can check out Carla's Instagram for a better view and just because she takes nice photos).
I very nearly made off with the only two remaining hanks of Bayfield Fingering BFL in the colour Windermere Hollyberry right ahead of the Fair's guest speaker, Anne Hanson, but I was pre-empted by the lady standing next to me by a matter of mere seconds. Anne, in my defence, no one knew they were reserved for you and you are welcome to blame that lady who was hightailing it out of the booth with her spoils. I was the one left standing there, mouth agape, mourning my loss. (I had temporarily forgotten about the internet and the existence of online shopping.)*****
I have forgiven myself for this yarn diet transgression. I loved the colour even under those arena lights, and now that it has arrived via mail, I have zero regrets. Though, if I don't get it knitted up in the next few months, I'm going to start feeling a bit silly about my eagerness to have this yarn right now. Especially because in my grief, I stumbled over to The Gaynor Homestead's booth and bought two skeins of their absolutely perfect 3-ply Rambouillet, despite not having had that type of yarn on my list of allowed purchases. (Having a list really works--if you stick to it.) It's on my needles right now, which is a good sign, but I have done the thing I was never to do again which is buy more yarn than I can knit in the foreseeable future. (I still have hopes though. I just have to resign myself to purely selfish knitting from now until the new year. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made.)
I admit this might have been a rebound purchase, but seriously, I get goosebumps when I squeeze the yarn, it's that nice. Bonus, the Gaynor's were a really lovely young couple and they raised the sheep themselves. They chose to have the yarn milled in Michigan, I think to achieve the precise result they were aiming for. I haven't decided if I'm going to dye this yarn or not because it is my idea of the perfect shade of cream and it is the natural colour of their sheep. I almost feel it would be a shame to obscure it.
There were of course many other vendors and I did snap a few pictures of other things that caught my eye, but it seemed to me that there was something there for just about everyone, even someone as particular as I am! Now I'm really looking forward to the Woodstock Fleece Festival on October 15, 2016 and I might even accompany a group of knitters. I feel like there has been some personal growth here, somewhere.
As an aside, my worries about the arena venue ruining the vibe were completely unfounded. I don't think my eyes really ever strayed from all the beautiful yarns, fiber, and sample knits. Plus, a hockey rink is about as Canadian a venue as one can get.
*The Textile Museum receives so many donations from companies and private individuals that they are now running drop-in sales throughout the year. They have a list of upcoming events if you like sifting through old stuff in search of treasures or just marvelling at what other crafters had in their stashes
**Mostly under control. I'm not made of steel. But I have definitely made progress, mainly in identifying my shopping triggers
***I'm going to pretend the wholly unattractive quality of arena lighting is a valid excuse for the quality of my photos
****I only recently became aware that there were so many yarn producers in Ontario through my friend Kerstin of Alpaca Avenue. I don't know if there is another yarn store in Toronto like Alpaca Avenue that carries products based on both the beauty of the product and the sustainability of its production and use, with an emphasis on Canadian and American origination. Worth checking out if those things are of interest to you!
*****I have been working so hard to retrain myself to not shop for yarn online, which I think explains this cerebral glitch