This Saturday, knitters, weavers, dyers, spinners, and shepherds, and other fibre craftspeople and artisans will be coming together for the first annual Manitoba Fibre Festival at St. Norbert Community Centre, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. As part of Culture Days, this event is free and open to the public, and promises to offer a glimpse into all stages of fibre production, from finely crafted products all the way back to the sheep and alpaca that grow the fleece.
Duncan and Dale are two sheep who are new to the game. They were born in May. Duncan has already developed a signature farmyard strut. Dale has a twin sister who shares the same soft dark fleece that will mature into a steel grey, and is fond of chin rubs. They are part of the flock of Shetland sheep that festival organizer Margaret Brook shares with a friend.
“Contrary to popular belief, sheep have individual personalities and they are very entertaining,” says Brook.
Those who have already fallen for the charm of sheep and fibre arts will find themselves at home in developing and sharing their skills. Newcomers are also welcome and can enjoy workshops like “Learn to Knit in Thirty Minutes,” which is offered at three separate intervals throughout the day. Those who have harboured childhood dreams of picking up a shepherd’s crook can follow Randy Eros of Seine River Shepherds through the yearly cycle of shepherding, and maybe pick up some tips from the field.
“There is only so much you can learn from a YouTube video; actual hands-on advice is invaluable,” says Brook. Local experts will also share their knowledge in basket weaving, dyeing, weaving with beads, and more.
Before she started planning this event, Brook had never been to a fibre festival, which only made her more determined to start one.
“I’ve read about all kinds of fantastic events in other places and really wanted one here in Manitoba.”
She was also encouraged by the recent success of the Blue Hills Fibre Festival, held in June for western Manitobans and their neighbours in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The central, urban location of the Manitoba Fibre Festival promises to be slightly more accessible, and will bring fibre crafts to those who might not otherwise plan a road trip to revel in fleece for a weekend.
Brook also found a lucky co-coordinator in Joanne Seiff, who has not only travelled to many festivals in North America but has written a book about them, titled Fiber Gathering: Knit, Crochet, Spin and Dye More than 25 Projects Inspired by America’s Festivals.
“The fibre festival phenomenon in North America is growing by leaps and bounds,” says Seiff.
Judging by the level of interest from vendors, demonstrators, and volunteers, Brook is confident that this festival has room to grow and to continue building a community.
“People are going to meet and inspire each other. That can be as simple as a circle of people spinning together, and as lasting as a well-made sweater.”
The connections made between craftspeople and those who value and invest in their work is also important; it will help keep small farms sustainable so that they can continue to create socially and environmentally responsible products. A sampling of these products will be available for purchase at the festival, from homemade soaps and personal care items, to yarns, fleeces, knitting needles, spindles, and ready-to-wear wool and alpaca products.
And of course, tales of adorable and mischievous lambs are always free.