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Off the Beaten Path: Maine Fiber Frolic
Windsor Fairgrounds
Windsor, Maine
June 12-13, 2004

Last weekend, more than 80 vendors and exhibitors converged for the fourth annual Maine Fiber Frolic. When the gates first opened for this festival in 2001, it was a fairly humble event. I even wondered if there'd be a second year. Fortunately, I was wrong, and this year's festival was the largest yet.

a friendly alpaca

The most notable difference between the Maine Fiber Frolic and other fiber festivals is the near absence of sheep. This is because the festival is sponsored by the Maine Llama Association, who put llamas and alpacas at the forefront.

get your goat!Other fiber-bearing animals such as angora rabbits, angora goats, and cashmere goats were also well-represented.

From a programming perspective, the festival has all the usual trappings we've grown to expect in a fiber event: classes, competitions, sheep dog demonstrations, events for children, you name it.

Having attended the festival for several years, this year I decided to switch roles and help a friend in her Spirit Trail Fiberworks booth. While smiling people paraded by with enormous bags full of fiberly indulgences, I sat and tallied up sales, answering the eternal question, "What can I make with this?"

The Secret Life of Selling
I got a glimpse into the world of exhibitors, several of whom will be making the circuit of East Coast fiber festivals together. They had their festival setup down to a science, and many of them had been exhibiting next to one another at various festivals for years. It was a pleasant camaraderie.

I learned a few things while masquerading as a vendor: Even if you're acting as a salesperson, people will still come into your booth and try to sell you their wares or services; and would-be competitors have no qualms about asking precisely how you make your products. But I also affirmed my belief that knitters, spinners, and general fiber folk are among the kindest people on the planet.

The intimate setting of the Windsor Fairgrounds made animal encounters much more common. A stroll to the restrooms or water fountains almost always included an encounter such as the one shown here.

Two outside barns now accommodated extra vendors, many of whom have no Web presence and exhibit few other places outside of Maine. For me, that's the real reason to attend the smaller, often newer community fiber festivals.

Many larger vendors make a summer season out of attending the larger events (such as Maryland and Rhinebeck), which means you'll see them wherever you go. This isn't a bad thing—I look forward to seeing my favorite vendors year after year, stocking up on their products and seeing what's new. But at smaller shows, you still get a chance to see entirely new things and new people.

Have You Any Fleece?
While sheep were in small supply (or maybe it was their telltale "baaaaa!" that I missed?), their fiber was not. In keeping with fiber festival tradition, the Maine Fiber Frolic had a fleece tent where shepherds could leave their fleeces for judging and sale.

The selection of fleeces at this show was extraordinary. I kept distracting customers in our booth so I could examine their fleeces. By the time I was able to sneak away to the fleece tent, more than half of the fleeces had already been sold.

Mills for the Masses
Many people rely on fiber festivals for their yearly supply of spinning, dyeing, and knitting fibers. Either they bring the fleece home and process it themselves, or they send it out for processing.

I observed an exciting trend: more and more small-scale fiber processors (often called micro- or mini-mills) offering their services directly to spinners, knitters, weavers, and any other fiber artist with fleece that needs to be processed.

These mills will do anything from washing and carding the fiber to dyeing and spinning it into finished yarn. And while many of the larger fiber processors (notably absent at this show) impose multiple-pound minimums, these processors allow you to send away as little as one pound of raw fiber for processing.

Hope springs eternalI saw several such small-scale processors at the festival, including Indigo Moon Farm, Starcroft Fiber Mill, Wood-Stock Farm and Carding Mill, and—a truly exciting development—Hope Spinnery, a wind-powered mill committed to sustainable and environmentally sound practices.

The spinnery was selling naturally dyed rovings (i.e. dyed using natural dye extracts rather than synthetic dyes) for spinners as well as what they titled "rejuvenated rovings"—the collected and re-blended leftover fiber tidbits from processing and carding. The fiber itself was somewhat nubby and difficult to spin, but I loved the concept. I'll tell you more about Hope Spinnery soon.

Other Fiber Finds

Brushstrokes colorful and super-soft spinning fiber blends from Indigo Moon Farm, in the Spinner's Web Farm booth.

cozy angora fibers
Just a few samples of the succulent colors and angora blends available from Acker's Acres Angoras, one of my very favorite angora suppliers. Their custom millspun angora blends are heavenly. Although not available online, they do accept mail-order and email inquiries.

Because I was working at the Spirit Trail Fiberworks booth, I am too editorially biased to mention it in any detail here. But if you're curious, you can visit Jen's site and see what you think.
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