Fiber book review: Fiber Gathering, by Joanne Seiff

posted in: Books, Knitting, Sheep, Spinning, Travel | 4

As of today, this year's schedule for the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival has not been posted online and the catalog has not appeared in my mailbox. Even when I don't get to go to the festival, I read through what's happening there, including the whole catalog and all of the ads (just FYI, advertisers . . . ). Yet it's close to time for the announcements and the dreaming.

I'm not big into bumper stickers, although this is what the back of my car—with a home base 1,679 miles (2702km) from the Howard County Fairgrounds—looks like:

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Most of my experience at wool festivals has been through working at them—staffing the Spin-Off booth (spinning all weekend! meeting spinners! giving impromptu spinning lessons!), teaching workshops, giving talks. Yet the festivals have always felt more fun than work, and here's Joanne Seiff's new Fiber Gathering: Knit, Crochet, Spin, and Dye More than 25 Projects Inspired by America's Festivals to do a good job of capturing why.

I'd have subtitled the book differently: something like Fiber Gathering: Get Your Festival Fix Any Time, with Projects and Recipes to Stoke Your Anticipation and Enjoyment, Even Get Encouraged to Start Your Own. That's too long for the book databases, but gives a better idea of the book's tone.

Disclaimer: I've been egging Joanne for several years on as she outlined, researched, and wrote this book, and then went through the trial of finding the right publisher for it (she succeeded). My daughter and I and a few other folks even had dinner with Joanne and her husband while they were documenting the Estes Park festival. Nondisclaimer: I hadn't seen any of the material until I got my copy last week.

I started writing this post at the local coffee shop on Monday, enjoying the book's reminder of how many good memories I have of Maryland and Taos and Estes Park and Black Sheep, wondering when the catalog will show up in the mailbox, thinking about the wisdom of using the free airline ticket (about to expire) that I got for being bumped from my return flight from last year's festival, pondering whether a trip to the festival will help me fill the information and supply gaps for a book I'm working on (it probably will, and that will probably be the factor that most influences my decision).

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Anyway, whether I go or not, I love the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, and Taos, and Estes Park, and Black Sheep, and New York, and the other festivals I've had the good fortune to participate in or, occasionally, just attend. Joanne's book, with her husband's terrific photographs, captures the magic and diversity and community of these seasonal, yet stable and recurring, events.

The book is as diverse and story-filled as the festivals themselves. Joanne gives a personal introduction to each of the ten festivals and the sheep-shearing event she and her husband traveled to and documented. The book is also packed with sidebars—about food, and sheepdogs, and spinning techniques, and an introduction to dyeing, and tips for washing the WHOLE fleece that might follow a visitor home—and ends with thoughts about building your own fiber gathering.

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Fiber festivals bring together more creative energy than I encounter in any other setting. The communities they form extend over time and space, belying their ephemeral nature. In addition to Joanne's personal comments, there are lots of sidebars here that include recipes and bits of knowledge that festival-goers come across. You never know what you'll learn when you stay at a fiber festival long enough to go beneath the surface.

There are also a number of appealing projects in a variety of techniques from designers across the United States. Some will show up better in a blog photo than others. Like Annie Modesitt's alpaca ruana:

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You'll need to go to the book itself for a number of others, like Terri Shea's Fishtail Vest.

I was especially drawn to the crocheted projects, including Cathy Adair-Clark's socks:

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And when I took my copy of the book to my knitting group on Monday night, a clear winner among those present was Chrissy Gardiner's baby set:

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Seeing those baby toes reminds me to mention that I like the "real people" and "real places" quality of the photos. They add an enormous amount to the flavor of the book as an integrated project—in part because, as Joanne notes, the most important part of the festivals is the people.

Thanks to Joanne Seiff and Jeff Marcus (and everyone who helped them out) for logging so many miles and sorting through so many ideas, words, and images to let more folks bring home world of fiber festivals. It's great to have this appear as winter wanes: time to think of what to plant in the garden, and to wonder what fresh fleece and other tools and materials will enrich the coming year.

In short: This is a fun book. And it catches the spirit of the festivals, which is quite a trick to pull off.

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4 Responses

  1. LynnH

    Thanks for the review.

    LynnH, whose turn it is to have computer problems. My main laptop is not getting power. Praying it’s not the power connection to the motherboard…

    Thank goodness I have the tiny EeepC to surf with tonight but I can not get to my files.

    Worst case, I put the Toshiba’s hard drive in an external case and plug in a keyboard and monitor to the Eeepc (or go back and use the old VAIO laptop with XP until the bad fan goes out completely… that fan is really expensive).

    Meanwhile I can’t get to my files or old emails tonight (my email is offline/POP mail, not web mail). Sigh.

    LynnH who will spend time at a computer shop tomorrow.

  2. Linda Cunningham

    I, too, have been waiting anxiously for my MS&WF catalogue — I have this lovely collection of them stretching back to the first one I went to in 1995. They’ve followed me up here from suburban VA, and it’s not spring without it.

    (Plus it came in handy last year when I actually *went* and even entered the garment competition, so I’m assuming that I’m still on the list for this year.)

  3. CAT

    Thanks for the tip on this book Deb! I’ve always enjoyed going to MDS&W as well as Rhinebeck (although we definitely get to Rhinebeck more often as you can see from our Video Podcast Let’s Knit2gether)
    Looking forward to making some of the projects as a memory of these festivals

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