In addition to the delights that usually lure us to Asheville for a long weekend — the hiking trails along the Blue Ridge, the permaculture and natural building scene, and the abundance of farm-to-table restaurants — this time there was something else: the Southeast Animal Fiber Fair in the small town of Fletcher, just outside of Asheville.
This fair is where the knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, dye artists, felters, tattlers, fiber farmers, and designers of the Southeast gather every fall for four days of workshops, animal shows, contests, and just plain old browsing and admiring of iridescent yarns, fluffy balls of wool and roving, fiber crafts of every sort you can imagine, shiny wooden spinning wheels and looms and… It was enough to make a first-timer like me wide-eyed and a little dizzy. I spent an entire morning touring the vendor booths and the animal shows. In the afternoon, I attended a workshop on “Flax Plant to Linen Thread” — but more on that later: it was so perfectly in the spirit of “gather and grow” that it deserves a post of its own.
At this fair, one could see the entire journey that fiber makes, from the furry or woolly animal…
… and finally, to the craft and art that then renders those locks and strands into beautiful things for us to wear and decorate our homes with:
I came back with some lovely, regionally grown fiber to spin this winter: alpaca from Waxhaw, NC, and merino wool from Morgantown, NC. I am transitioning more and more to using fibers and dyes that are from my region, that is, my fibershed, the Southeastern United States. Nothing feels better than being able to talk and work directly with the farmers who raised the animals whose wool becomes the clothes that keep me and my family warm. It makes sense to me in just the same way that trying to eat locally grown food does. One day, I hope to raise my own fiber flock — maybe Icelandic sheep and Pygora goats? — but until then, I want to work with fiber suppliers from my region.
As for dyes, there are so many that I can grow or forage myself. Right now, there’s another harvest of marigold waiting to be picked just outside my front door, and a packet of nettle seeds waiting to be planted for the spring. In fact, natural dyeing was the one thing I would have liked to see more of at the fair. To me, those soft, fluffy fleeces of real, warm-bodied farm animals that you can touch, raised by people you can talk to, in all their earthiness are at the heart of what I call “slow fashion.” To bring synthetic dyes — characteristic of the world of “fast fashion” — into the picture just seems off somehow… when there’s a rainbow spectrum’s worth of color spread out all around: non-toxic, free of cost, ours for the taking.