My trip to the fiber arts festival

Pretty. Lovely. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Pretty. Cute. Pretty.

These are some of the words that were used to describe the goods on display at the sixteenth annual Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF) in Asheville, N.C. They were used mostly by me, repeatedly, as I ran out of ways to characterize the knitwear and other yarn creations about two hours into the day trip my wife and I took this past weekend.

SAFF staged the three-day event for knitting enthusiasts interested in seeing animal-sourced fibers transformed from simple coverings for goats, llamas and alpacas into elaborate shawls, wraps and socks for humans. It doesn’t seem fair for those of us who already have so many options in clothing to be denuding innocent farm animals. Organizers at least provided capes for the shorn sheep but it seemed like a poor substitute for natural wool, as you can tell by the perturbed look on the face of the ewe below.

sheepcoat “It’s not a cape if it doesn’t allow you to fly,” grumbled one sheep.

My wife has recently taken up the fiber arts as a hobby and, I must say (really, I must), she’s produced some excellent samples of woven accessories, two of which I wear on my feet as I write this. The least I can do in return is to be a supportive husband and accompany her to this huge gathering of thread-heads at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center on a gorgeous (lovely, beautiful) fall Saturday.

The fiber fair shared the fairgrounds with the Antique Farm Equipment and Engines Show. When we walked into the immense hall, I halfway hoped I’d see some cross-pollination between the two events — maybe a nice vicuna tractor cozy, or perhaps a diesel-powered loom — but the separate groups each stayed in their own separate worlds.

As we walked the circuit on the upper level of the main exhibition hall, I was astonished by the number of vendors who had travelled here from all over the South. Most sold items I hardly even knew existed, and my ignorance quickly showed through. “Look at the size of those number one needles,” my wife exclaimed at one point. “Wow, those are really big,” I responded, though in fact they were really small.

Amidst the tools of the trade, I’d spot an occasional item I was familiar with, and latched onto it with a carefully crafted enthusiasm. One merchant had dozens of scented soaps, many of which were made with extracts from some of the animals in attendance. Another one offered a goat-flavored fudge. One booth had a bank of caged rabbits, which I recognized primarily because they had carrots sitting next to them, not because they looked anything like rabbits under their heavy coat of angora fur.

“Can I pet him?” I asked, pointing at one of the open cages, and the owner said I could. “Kitty, kitty, kitty,” I cooed.


You can tell by the carrot there's a rabbit under there somewhere

After completing the upper loop, we headed downstairs to the floor of the arena, where many of the higher-end exhibitors had set up shop. I saw a nice mohair coat for $700 that I bet I would’ve enjoyed wearing, were it not for the steep price and my uncertainty about what kind of animal a “mo” was. Another lady sold cleverly inscribed t-shirts, including the popular “Yarn It All” model and the classic “I Knit … Do Ewe?” There was a dyeing demonstration off in one corner that disappointingly did not include any death. And everywhere you turned there was skeins and skeins of yarn which, despite a tremendous variety of unnerving, completely unnatural colors, still made me hungry for spaghetti.

The ground level was also home for the workshops and classes held in conjunction with the fair. Actual course names from the catalog included “The Perennial Indigo Vat,” “Nuno Felting: Unleashed,” “The Oops Workshop,” “All This Equipment” and “Fecal Testing.” (I’m hoping that last one had something to do with the healthcare of the fiber-encased animals, not a how-to on knitted toilet paper). For some reason, all the classes were held in a central holding area, behind bars. I don’t think they were trying to keep participants from escaping; I think these were probably used as stock pens when the state fair came to town.


Crafters behind bars at the "Fabulous Felted Hats!" workshop

After a lunch of lamb casserole, goat-head soup and llama beans (just kidding), we headed outside to see the live animal displays. I was becoming weary of all the polite women and soft fabrics inside, and yearned for a little action, maybe some sheep-fighting. A tired boy trudging along behind his parents probably had much the same idea as I did — when told by his mom that they were going to the “competition” in barn #3, he asked “are they going to race?” Unfortunately, it was a judged 4-H-style competition, with teenagers showing that you can become good at animal grooming even though it’s not taught in a videogame format.


Sheeps compete in the "Best Peak-a-boo Midriff" competition. I know who gets my vote.

At the end of the day, I was tired and ready to leave the world of knitting and pearling in the rear-view mirror as we drove back home. I’m reluctant to admit how good a time I actually had day-tripping like this with my wife. I built up a lot of spousal capital by being such a good sport as to accompany Beth to something as drenched in lanolin and estrogen as this event was. And yet I can’t deny that the chance to get away like that, to an exquisite mountain setting at the peak of leaf season with my lovely wife, turned out to be a “SAFF-tastic” time.

I’m looking forward to the next event on the professional fiber arts tour. Hope to see you at the Carolina Alpaca Celebration on Feb. 13, 2010 in Concord, N.C. Be sure to bring your party hats, preferably crocheted from organic wool.

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2 Responses to “My trip to the fiber arts festival”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    I have fond memories of the sheep-shearing contests I attended for two years at the Iowa State Fair. The goal is to shear off the coat in one piece, as much as possible, and to do it faster than the other shearer. If you nick the sheep’s skin in the process, you lose points. If you nick the sheep’s penis, you are disqualified. I thought that was fair. Especially the part about how the sheep owner would kill you if his sheep was really damaged.
    But seriously, it doesn’t hurt sheep to be sheared. They might feel kind of naked for a while, but they will get over it.

  2. Phillip Donnelly Says:

    No-one takes any interest when I have my hair shorn. Indeed, I have to pay for the privilege. These sheep are free loaders.

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