Fledgling Fair – Georgia Mountain Needle Arts Festival

Things are finally settling back into some sort of routine that actually involves time for me to work needles and fiber through my fingers, and that makes me really happy camper.

rf0r2Through a bit of magic and a bit of telling my boss I was taking the morning off on Friday, I drove the hour over to the Georgia Mountain Needle Arts Festival in Ellijay. Ellijay is worth a drive on its own, especially during the fall when all the apple orchards are open and in full swing.

2019 was the sophomore year for the Needle Arts Festival, which is an important point to mention.  This is still a fledgling fiber fair, with the potential to grow into something pretty amazing.  This year featured around 18 vendors, a mixed bag of local yarn shops, independent dyers/spinners, and a smidge of other fiber related businesses.  For a fair of this size it was a pretty good selection, however, I feel as years go by there will be more independent makers.  This may come across as overly critical, but it’s not my intent, if I wanted to purchase main stream yarns like Berroco, Malibrigo, and Plymouth I would drive to the nearest yarn shop.  It is my opinion, for the fair to be successful and continue to grow the LYS presence will eventually have to drop off since they represented around a quarter of the vendors in attendance.  I would have been less critical of the LYS presence if they bought in more of the unique vendors and products that they carry in their stores. LYS owners will now probably beat me over the head, I know they struggle too.

Will I be back next year, of course, the balance will eventually improve and my hunch is this will be an excellent festival to support local dyers and spinners from the southeast.

What did I come home with? Well, I went on a mission for gadgets and unique products since I have more yarn than I can shake a stick at, so of course I purchase more yarn. Of the independent vendors, two really caught my eye.  Cameo Yarns and Stony Hill Fiber Arts.

ZB+JqyziSvCEk5X%XaDdcgCameo Yarns is a northwest Georgia dyer that had a booth full of absolutely gorgeous colorways that claims their inspiration is found in both the complex beauty of nature and the bright and tarnished aspects of the big city.  There was certainly some natural inspiration in the colorway Rainbow Trout.  If you ever catch a rainbow trout in the sunlight they are a surprisingly colorful fish in the often muddy waterways they around found in.  I came home with two skeins of their Oh So Charming Sock – so all the beautiful fishy color without all the icky fishy smell.  I don’t have a project in mind for it yet, but eventually the right pattern will call its name.

Stony Hill Fiber Arts also had some eye catching goodies for sale. They produce Pacolet img_3500Valley Cotton Yarns.  I’ve not been a huge fan of many cottons over the years, too many feel too rigid for garments and accessories unless they are heavily blended with another fiber, or I’m just too impatient to wait for the cotton to soften over time and use.  The Pacolet Valley yarns are cotton and cottina – which is a cotton processed in a way to accept color more efficiently – and it feels incredibly soft on the skeins and so smooth in the samples they had on hand.  Stony Hill also had patterns on featuring their yarns.  These fiber beauties are already assigned to projects.  The natural colored cotton in the back is going to be knitted into a wide brimmed summer hat – probably sooner than later, my pale self needs to be more conscious of sun exposure, and the lovely colored yarns in the front of the photo will be turned into fair isle fingerless mitts.

I walked in the door with a definitive budget and stayed within it.  I definitely could have spent so much more at the other independents featured at the festival but hopefully they’ll return for another year.

All in all….if you’re within driving distance of Ellijay, Georgia and want to support a growing entity, check this festival out next spring.

Woolly Wonders!

img_0069I’ve wanted to get a new knitting group going for a little while.  A couple of the ones I had participated in over the past few years either fizzled, evolved into other things, or real life kicked all of our asses at once and have been on a very long hiatus.

Between work, knitting shenanigans, slowly enacting my plan for world domination, and strong introvert tendencies, social commitments can be difficult at times.  I think everyone is in the same boat paddling for time, so setting up a groups that meets the second Sunday of every month sounded like a good plan.  To toss in a bit more fun, why not move the knit up location every time? The group wouldn’t stress one location consistently.  That also allows us group folk to support more than one local business.  I’m also a huge fan of crafting in public, when it feels like most of the world is staring at a smart phone, stitching away in public seems like an act of social deviance.  We can all use a bit of that in our lives.

After creating one of those infamous event things on Facebook I crossed my fingers and hoped a few people would show up to Mocha Moe’s in Flowery Branch.  One person came somewhat by force because I kidnapped her.  That’s not entirely true but a funny visual.  Three more people came!  Is that a huge knitting group, no, but it’s a damn good start.  Deborah, Kelly, Lia, DeAna, and myself had a good afternoon filled with knitting, coffee, and a few laughs.

We’re doing this again on March 11th at 1:00pm – 3:00pm at Left Nut Brewery in Gainesville, GA.  Keep an eye out for one of those event things, with the set up at the brewery I’m going to need a head count so I can beg them to reserve us one of the bench tables a few days in advance.

If you’re in Northeast Georgia feel free to drop on by.  Woolly Wonders (that name may change eventually) is meant to be open to anyone who enjoys any fiber craft; knitting, crochet, needlepoint, or anything else requiring fiber to make, with a welcoming spirit.  I hope for a diverse group of women and men, of all ages, walks of life, and skill levels.

We have very few rules.  Please leave the political debate at home, it has destroyed too many crafting groups over the years, and treat others respectfully.

There is no obligation to come every month.  There’s no rigid structure here, simply come and spend some time working with some crafty people.

All of us will have one thing in common, our love of fiber craft, everything else can be built on from there.

SEX at SAFF

That title got your attention didn’t it?

For anyone about to go into vapor lock, no, there were no shenanigans like that today. SEX in knitting jargon is a Stash Enhancement Experience. Let’s be honest, there’s a large portion of knitters and crocheters that fall deep into the nerd and geek spectrum and we get a kick out of acronyms that raise eyebrows.

SAFF, yep another acronym, is the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair, and it’s held in Fletcher, NC every year.

I’ve had fiber friends talk about if for a few years now, but I finally was able to make the adventure up today. Yarn Rhapsody (the local yarn store in my neck of the woods) arranged a charter bus to ferry about 30 of us up for a day trip. After a crazy work week this was an absolutely brilliant idea, because the last thing I wanted to do was drive about 6 hours round trip today. Big Bear Cafe (another local Gainesville, GA place) provided us with breakfast biscuits and a brown bag lunch for the trip too. Side note: If you come to Gainesville, first you need to stop at Yarn Rhapsody. Second, you must eat at Big Bear.

Alright. So after 3 hours, and wrapping up a project on the way. The bus pulls into the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center and drops us off at the main building. Then it was off to the races. After walking into the main building and pulling my jaw up off the floor, exploring began. There was fiber vendor on top of fiber vendor through the whole building. Need roving? It was there. Need bison or yak blend yarns? They had you covered.   Need project ideas? Samples galore! Virtually every type of animal fiber was available, AND then there was another building, also spilling over with more vendors. I was on a mission to find yarns that were likely to be hard to find in yarn shops, gorgeous hand spun or brilliant independent dyers for my stash enhancement experience. An attack plan was formed, walk through all the interesting booths, and then go back to the ones I loved the most, and make decisions from there. Impulse buys would have had the budget blown in seconds.

After the first walk through, several of us wandered over to the livestock barns. As much as I wanted to cram a pygmy angora goat into a bag and run with it, I realized this plan wasn’t entirely feasible and the bus driver probably would have been really pissed if I put it on bus. Despite my heavy use of animal fiber, I’m still amazed at how many animals produce beautiful wool or hair that we use, and then amazed a second time when I see how many different varieties of these animals exist.

Sheep and goats had their heads and ears scratched, bunnies were petted and then decisions had to be made. Budgets had to be stuck to. I’m on an alpaca kick lately. It’s soft, it’s warm, it’s squishy! I found two huge and lovely skeins from Taylored Fibers for what felt like was a steal. I huge shawl is in the future. Being a Harry Potter dork, I replaced a good project bag that went AWOL a couple of months ago, and I was more than happy with my haul. Then out of the blue, after disembarking the bus and heading to my car, I was ambushed by a friend who handed me a bag with more gorgeous yarn, including a Game of Thrones themed mini-color set and a pattern to boot. (Since she may read this blog, I’m saying thank you for a third time!)

So what’s the overall take away from SAFF?

SAFF is a three day fair. I know people that leave Thursday evening, and will stay the entire weekend. I know people that like today, go up for a day. I’m going to firmly stay in the one day is enough camp. As much as I love supplying my knitting habit with amazing materials, multiple days may be overkill for most. With good planning, you can visit the entire site, and not feel rushed. I’m sure the Fletcher Chamber of Commerce will not give me a thumbs up for that assessment, by the size of the crowd SAFF does bring in a lot of money locally. Don’t get me wrong though, you can certainly make a weekend of it, Fletcher isn’t far from Asheville, and there seems to be plenty of good food, activities, and shopping within the area if that’s how you enjoy spending a weekend. It’s also fall, and it seems this festival hits autumn leaf change at just about peek, so there’s plenty of leaf peeping that can be done too. Some of us just need a quick change in scenery, this fair and the area is a good fit for that.

Will I be back next year? Of course it’s on the calendar, and it looks like Yarn Rhapsody may turn this bus adventure into a yearly event.

Did any of you folks reading this go? Leave me a comment, tell me your assessment of SAFF and what you added to your stash this weekend.

 

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Knitting on the Road

planeI’m escaping Georgia tonight for some shenanigans with friends this weekend.  Being the fanatical knitter that I am, there is always at least a pair of socks on needles in my purse and there is always a project bag tossed in my luggage for downtime on trips.

I’ve been asked at nearly every gate waiting for boarding about the legalities of traveling with knitting needles, so it’s time for a quick primer on air travel with projects.  My experience here is limited to domestic air travel, other rules may apply to international flights.

Are knitting needles and crochet hooks allowed in your carry-on bag?
The simple answer is yes.  But when is the simple answer ever the complete one?  All it takes is one misinformed TSA agent or a flight attendant to think your needles look intimidating and you’ve got a problem on your hands.  As much as some of us love our nice, pointy, metal ChiaoGoos or Addis you may want to leave those home.  Kick over to wood or plastic, and circular needles would probably be preferred over straight.  Besides using straights in a tightly packed airplane may be uncomfortable for you and the passengers seated next to you.

How about scissors?
This is another yes, but, answer.  Blades must be shorter than 4-inches, and the type that fold up onto themselves are recommended.  Those nifty thread cutting pendants, or anything that looks like it may have a razor style blade are a no-go.

Regular needles, you know the ones you finish projects with?
Ummmm this one is a bit gray.  I’ve flown with finishing needles with rounded points, but I’ve heard more than one person complain that theirs was taken.  So, you may want to leave those at home.

So what do I do if TSA tries to confiscate my needles or hooks?
The most important part of traveling with craft projects is to be prepared, just in case.  Carry a copy of the TSA policies related to your particular project, there are some agents that may not be clear on the guidelines, but screeners can confiscate any items they feel are unsafe despite of the guidelines.  You can find some help with this information on the What Can I Bring section of the TSA website.

If you think an item may be pushing a guideline, put it in your checked bag, or have a self-addressed, pre-paid mailer to ship your item to your destination or back home, and don’t risk flying with expensive or sentimental items.

Always be polite, and informed if questioned.  From personal experience here, I’ve only been questioned about my knitting once, and after showing the screener the policy from the TSA site all was well.

Now that the technicalities are out of the way, now what?

Bring something small with you, socks, scarves, and other items of similar size are perfect on adventures.  Just think about projects that don’t require grand gestures to manuver when flipping over to do the next row, since space is limited, and your row-mate may not want to be covered with a half finished afghan.  Simple projects are best for a couple of reasons.  Patterns that require you to reference printed patterns may become fiddly in a limited space, also it helps if your project is simple enough to be able to stop quickly (God-forbid mid-row but it happens) and is easily memorized.

Other things to consider…
Yarn:  try to have yarn caked or rolled into center pull balls so you can leave your yarn in a project bag while you work.  Having a ball fall to the floor and roll halfway down the plane isn’t as funny as it sounds. Trust me.

Needle Holders: Travel isn’t alwasy the safest things for needles, find a way to protect  your needles when they aren’t in use.

Project Bags:  I’ve always had great luck with project bags that have carry handles built in.  You can loop the bag around your arm and have the yarn feed from it while you work.  No worries about anything falling in the floor there.

Knitting in airports and on the plane is an excellent way to pass the time and maybe spark the interest of your fellow passengers, so enjoy it!

Blips in the Matrix

It’s not unusual for me to pack up a knitting project and head to a local caffeine dispensary on Sunday mornings and get a fix and some people watching in.  You see a lot of the same types of people; the college student trying to wrap up a project due on Monday morning, the mother out running errands with kids in tow, the group of friends that obviously stayed out late imbibing adult beverages the night before, the couple heading to or from church, but occasionally some variations pop up.

These blips in the Matrix are the ones that make life interesting.  Knitting has been a conversation starter on more than one occasion with a stranger.

While working away on a class sample for May, a gentleman in a red hoodie (odd for springtime in Georgia) walks by and says it’s nice to see someone making something by hand.  I said thank you, he keeps walking, and I continue my constructive fidgeting.  A few moments later, he’s back with a small rose picked from the bush outside and says “to brighten your day”.  Okay, honestly, for me this is odd, blame it on my extremely large personal space bubble and my natural distrust of people that stand out in a crowd for odd reasons (red hoodie), my hackles are up but I remain polite and say thank you again.

He plops down in the chair across from me and begins to ask questions about the yarns I’m working with, what I’m making, and how long I’ve been knitting.  I answer.  He then spills into his story, I begin to let my guard down a bit, he’s not a threat.  From here out let’s refer to this gentleman as James.

James is homeless, and does what side jobs he can to make money.  He can’t seem to find a “good job” because he had lost all forms of personal ID and can’t seem to find the help to get proper identification again.  All James seems to have in the world is a backpack with some clothes and a few personal grooming items.  He’s a former felon, openly admits to making serious mistakes in his life, and is bound to the state of Georgia, but would rather go to North Carolina.  Most of his crimes sound more like they were committed out of perceived necessity on his part for self-preservation.   He makes it clear that he’s not asking for money, he just wants someone to talk to him for a few minutes and acknowledge he’s a person.  I’ve barely gotten a word into this conversation, he obviously needed to get some things off his chest.

One of the most fascinating things I learned about James in our hour long conversation is that he is absolutely passionate about “rock hunting”.  He has the talent and knowledge to recognize where precious stones and crystals can be found in the area.  I won’t discuss his methods, because I have a hunch some of these rock hunts are on private property or within parks that could lead to more legal woes if he was caught.  I could almost swear at some point he could have attended geology courses somewhere, or possibly have taught them.  He takes his finds and sells them to a few local shops.

We wrapped up our conversation when he realized I had stopped knitting for well over thirty minutes, he felt like he was bothering me at that point.  He wasn’t.   He says bye, thanks me for the conversation and walks out the back door of the coffee house.  A minute later, he passes back through, places a piece of yellow quartz on the table where I was sitting, waves bye and keeps walking.

img_0996I believe everyone is put into your path for a reason.  I’ll admit I’ve been a bit more stressed than normal, and have felt overwhelmed to the point it’s hard to focus for more than a few moments.  I think James was a reminder that despite what happens in life be passionate about something you enjoy and be positive.

That piece of quartz, left quietly on the table, will sit on a shelf near other memories of people that have momentarily walked down my path with me.

Knit your bit! Socks, WWI, and the Next Generation of Knitters

Yesterday, (April 8) a couple of fantastic knitters any myself combined forces to participate in an Family Day event at the Northeast Georgia History Center.   The History Center presented Over There: America Enters World War I, to commemorate the Centennial Anniversary of the United States entry into “The Great War” with living history interpretation and hands on activities.

img_0739So what does knitting have to do with WWI?

Quite a lot!  Knitting was more than a hobby during wartime.  It was an act of patriotism!  Thousands if not millions of women and children in Allied countries used their knitting needles as weapons of war.  What were they knitting? Socks.  Lots of socks. Millions of socks, to prevent a horrid condition called trench foot.  Take a moment, and google that, I’ll wait…….okay welcome back, and I’m a little sorry for the images that may be burned into your retinas.  Trench warfare was often wet and muddy, and the boots soldiers wore were not fully waterproof, or leaked like sieves.  Fresh dry socks were needed to keep trench foot at bay.  Knitters not only made socks but sweaters, vests, gloves, balaclavas and scarves, in attempts to keep soldiers warm.

Sock knitting hasn’t changed greatly in 100 years, many of us still use double pointed needles to create them.  More recent methods include knitting them on circular needles.  The patterns needed for soldiers were fairly simple, and had nothing fancy included.  Many of the free, top down patterns with heel flap constructions that you see on Ravelry (knitting heaven for the uninitiated) or how-to knitting sites, are very similar to the patterns used by WWI knitters.  These millions of hand-knit, no frill,  socks were collected by the Red Cross in the US, inspected, fixed by more experienced knitters if necessary, loaded up and sent to the military for issue.

So three brave souls did some research, packed up our socks and goodies from our favorite local yarn store, Yarn Rhapsody, started making historically accurate patterns to work on while at the event, and set up shop at the History Center.

 

I believe the three of us were left amazed by the interest our little tables drew in.  We had set up a bit of yarn on straight needles to show children how to knit a few stitches, the three stations we set up stayed full for the entire event.  One child would finish their row, and the next would sit down, occasionally an adult would make their first attempts.  Some of these children were knitting prodigies from the moment they sat down and learned the mechanics of their first knit stitch.  We had a blast showing the next generation of future knitters that they were capable of learning this craft.  At the end of the day, the three of us packed up, and left exhausted, we had no idea we would be so busy.  I’m hoping to see a few of these children pop up again with needles and yarn in hand.

 

 

Social Knitting?

When knitting comes up in conversation the image of a matronly woman sitting in a rocking chair often comes to mind.  There she sits, alone, needles clicking away at some beige colored yarn.  This is the reality of some, well, maybe without the rocking chair, or the age….or the beige yarn….

It’s the norm for some of us knitty types to just work in the comfort and privacy of  our own homes.   At the end of a stressful day I’m absolutely guilty of grabbing a project and heading for the couch, with a cup of tea, or something harder depending on just how stressful that day was.  I knit alone for the first four or five years after picking up needles for the first time, and then there was the discovery of whole knitting social networks out there.

It happened after I moved to the current homestead and stumbled into a local yarn shop.   In the center of this shop was a long table with chairs set all the way around it.  No one was there that afternoon but the owner brought up she had several times a week where other knitters would come in and work on projects together and invited me to come.  The concept was a bit foreign to me, it took a few weeks to take her up on the offer, but I finally packed up a project into a bag and headed back down to the shop on a Saturday afternoon.

No joke, my social life changed.  This introvert found her tribe! The shop was filled with a group of vibrant and varied individuals, both male and female, working away and laughing their asses off.  All ages, and walks of life were sitting around that table.  I was made to feel welcome within minutes after getting grilled with the typical who-are-you and what-do-you-do questions.  You know, the typical initiation into any group.  After meeting these people, my knitting began to travel with me wherever I went, and if there was more than a few minutes of waiting time, out the needles would come.

Sunday mornings would  usually begin with a caramel macchiato, people watching, and yarn manipulation at the local coffee-house.  That led to another invitation to a knitting group on Thursday evenings packed full of more amazing people after being discovered knitting in a corner.  For the better part of a year and a half, Thursdays and Saturdays had standing plans to meet up with these knitting nuts.  The Thursday group began to disolve after jobs and life began to impact schedules, but both groups have introduced me to friends that have become family.  I really don’t know how I’ve survived without some of these people in my life, and we all have one thing in common, we love making things out of yarn.

All that said, there have been studies pop up over the years (just google them) that have shown crafting with others can improve confidence and self-esteem, reduce stress, and help with feelings of isolation (well duh on that last one).

If you are in northeast Georgia, or north-metro Atlanta wander into Yarn Rhapsody  in Gainesville, on Saturday afternoon, we’re a welcoming kind of people, and don’t bite.  Claudia (owner) also carries an amazing selection of yarns.  Side note: there has been no payment for this endorsement, this shop has turned into my home away from home.

Grab your yarn and tools of choice and get out there.  Find a group!  Or just start knitting at your local coffee house, the group will find you.  Thank me later.