"What's your book about?"
"Fiber festivals." (I have 30 seconds to make my pitch sound interesting to this individual during our random encounter.) "There are festivals all over the country," I explain, "for knitters, spinners, weavers, shepherds, alpaca farmers, dog handlers..." The person's eyes may glaze over...
"Some of the festivals have up to 50,000 people a day attending," I say quickly. I hope the person doesn't walk away in mid sentence. That can be embarrassing.
Yup, Fiber Gathering (that book I wrote, and which incidentally has nothing to do with oat bran) is only cool to the approximately 1 in 3 women in North America â?? that's approximately 53 million people who know how to knit or crochet. So, OK, I might not be writing for that guy whose eyes just glazed over. I'm writing this for his mother, sisters, wife, daughters, co-workers... and for his male relatives and friends, too. At least one of them probably knits.
Mention a fiber festival to a knitter, hand spinner, or weaver, and her eyes will light up. All of a sudden she'll get animated and confiding, mentioning what a good time she had last year at her local event. She'll define "good time" as an extraordinarily good deal on some hand-dyed yarn, a fabulous workshop with a well-known teacher, or...? Here the laughter and the answers diverge, because there's a lot to do at a festival.
Her family might have seen an alpaca or yak up close for the first time, or petted a patient sheep. There were sheepdog trials and sales for sheep fencing, and, if you're so inclined, lamb kabob for lunch. There's usually great live music and children's activities, too. From Black Sheep Gathering in Eugene to Maryland Sheep & Wool and everywhere in between, the fiber arts folk have it going on. We know a good party (perfect for small children, seniors, and lambs alike) when we see it. I mean, where else can you meet a bald man marching down the festival midway, dressed in a Harley Davidson T-shirt and a red plaid kilt, cradling a newly purchased pygora goat in his arms, and smiling like he just received the best birthday present ever?
Yet, most people can't swing more than one festival a year. The costs associated with travelling, taking a day off work, a hotel room â?? and the inevitable number of budget busting-temptations (that extra fleece, knitting book, or spinning wheel you just couldn't resist) can make this a very special and rare experience.
In 2007, I got to go to 10 festivals and several other fibery events across the country to write Fiber Gathering. It was a crazy ride! I, accompanied by my husband/photographer, got up early to catch fairgrounds at seven in the morning, and we stayed late to take part in Hoo-Rahs (That means "party" in Missouri) and the Shepherd's Lead (where knitters show off their new clothing masterpieces while leading semi-cooperative sheep around the show ring). We saw sheep, llamas, angora rabbits, cashmere goats, and other furry friends from Tennessee to Taos, from New Hampshire to North Carolina, and everywhere in between. While we got tired and even (gasp!) cranky from all the traveling, we also made a lot of friends, because knitters, shepherds, spinners, and their buddies are all fascinating and kind people. We were offered everything from lamb burgers to fried dough on the midway. At one RV in a parking lot, a spinning guild toasted our health and offered a glass of wine at 11 a.m. (On a Friday morning, just as a festival was beginning!)
In the end, this experience and the book became a great way to take every knitter along for the ride. Pull up your armchair, get out your needles, and check out all the amazing patterns created by well-known designers for this book. You'll be inspired to start making something new... or to consider raising sheep. You might just choose to travel across the country to a different festival next year. Who knows? And if your eyes glazed over at the beginning of this â??Â but you're still reading? â?? you might just learn to knit.
I look forward to meeting you at a festival. Meet you at the sheep barn?