Well, this entry is bound to be long, I hope at least a few of you hang around for the end.
This year I went to my first Michigan Fiber Festival. I left Lansing on Wednesday around lunchtime and came home Sunday after most folks had dinner. This was the first time I had ever camped alone. In fact, I had given up any form of camping for at least 14 years and loved being rid of the dirt and discomfort. However, my recent life (post-divorce, which was around 1991) brought me first one single camping trip with a gang of friends, and then it brought me Brian. And for Brian, I have learned to sleep in a tent and be outdoors for a weekend a couple of times a year… in order to attend music festivals.
Michigan fiber festival is held at the Allegan County Fairgrounds in lower western Michigan (lower peninsula). The situation was better than music festivals in that it had flush toilets rather than porta-potties, which I really appreciated. I would not have tolerated porta-potties for five days, no matter how cool the festival might have been! That’s where I draw the line, I guess. Two nights is my limit without flush toilets. So that was very good!
When I checked in, I found that the one class I wanted to take most (Fun with Acid Dyeing, by Merike Saarniit) had a person drop out and so I could take it. I was delighted. That was to be on Saturday. Interesting, because when I got to the fairgrounds the first people I saw close enough to see their faces, were Merike and Anna Zilboorg talking to one another. I waved but didn’t interrupt their conversation. In a few moments, Merike rushed over to say hello. I told her I wanted to take her class and she confirmed that the Fun with… class would be just up my alley. It was wonderful to talk to her again. She’s such an enthusiastic person… not loud enthusiasm like me, but more like focused joy. I was thrilled I’d get to take her class.
I got to the festival early enough that it seemed there were abundant camping sites available to me. I noticed that there were two large trees making a lot of shade, and that was very near a lovely garden with ponds and artificial waterfall. I decided that was my place! My food was in a cooler in the trunk of my car, so shade would make it so that I could keep the food cool and safe all day. However, it turned out that the weather was miserably hot except for Sunday, and I ended up having to buy ice twice a day (off site, there was no source for ice at the campground) in order to keep my food healthy.
I put up my very nice tent (it’s by Eureka, a small two/three-person tent with a dome shape) with no problems, and in a very short amount of time. We just got a new air mattress that has a fan in it to blow it up quickly, which I really appreciated. Our old mattress I used to blow up with a compressor made to blow up tires on a car, and it would take something like 15 or more minutes to blow it up. This thing took just a few minutes. Wonderful!
After setting up camp I walked around a while to figure out the layout of the place. It was not as large as I had expected. Mostly the only thing going on was workshops (the vendors started on Friday) so it was pretty quiet. I made myself some lunch out of my cooler and sat and knitted a little on my Yarn for Ewe stole until the classes got out.
After class I knew there would be a few people around so I walked back up and saw Merike talking to a circle of women. The only other woman I knew in the circle was Suzanne Pufpaff, a feltmaker who is very active in the volunteer organization which puts on the festival. I’d met her twice before but was not at all sure if she would know who I was or not. I decided to see if I could join their conversation (hoping I was not barging in). In the end I was invited to go to dinner with them. Of course, I said yes.
Our group was Suzanne, Patsy Zawistoski (Spinning teacher), Jill Gully (excellent feltmaker and teacher from Texas, originally from Australia), myself, and a woman whose name I think I never heard, but who also was involved deeply in the organization of the Festival. Oops! I sure wish I’d caught her name. There were just so many of us all talking at once that I never found a good time to ask.
Jill remembered a good Mexican restaurant from a previous year so she navigated while the woman whose name I don’t know drove. It was a pleasant place and the menu looked wonderful, but when you’re allergic to corn and cheese, and you don’t eat red meat, it’s best to just have a cup of tea and enjoy everyone else’s company. I really enjoyed being with these folks. I tell you, I made sure to tip that waitress well after she refilled my tea a good many times!
That night I was sort of stunned to find that there was nobody to talk to after about 9pm. It got dark around then and the whole place was silent. I looked around for a circle of knitters or spinners to chat with. No luck. I guess part of it was that it was hot and people went in their Camper “boxes” with air conditioning or something. There were almost no tents there, and those I saw were mostly in a group with a camper. At one point I counted only 6 tents yet there were dozens of RVs and big camper trailers.
First I tried to knit under the lights of a roof-only pavillion. There were too many bugs and I didn’t have any bug spray. So I ended up sitting in my car knitting in the dark. It was awful, probably the worst part of the trip. It was me and two mosquitos in that car. I found one and killed it, and the other one just kept buzzing… making me crazy trying to find it, and distracting me from knitting. Ugh. Then my little car would run out of good breathing air and I’d have to open the door to get more oxygen (and pray I wasn’t inviting in more mosquitos). I gave it up early! I went to bed in the tent and tried to learn to crochet out of a book while lying on my back. Gave that up, too.
At least I have the best flashlight I’ve ever had. It has elastic straps to wear it on one’s head, like a miner’s light. It even adjusts up and down depending on if you are looking at a book or knitting, versus walking to the restroom. I got the light at a local discount mega-store (Meijer) and it was the kids’ model. Because it was a kids’ model, it was a few dollars cheaper, and it is colorful: purple with elastic that has lightning bolts and stars on it. Much cooler than the more expensive gray one for grownups! This flashlight is always pointing the direction the eyes are pointing, plus your hands are free to open doors or knit… and it’s pretty darned bright. I love it no matter how dorky and silly I might look wearing it. Check out my picture wearing this wonderful gadget!
It was hot but I slept OK. Woke up with a miserable group of bug bites on my belly. I have no idea what bit me but it reminds me of the flea bites I once got when I had a cat who went outdoors. My bites still itch, and it’s now Monday night! So that first 24 hours could have been better, but I did at least get to connect with folks who were involved with running the festival.
The second day I talked to Suzanne and another committee member. We chatted a while because it turned out that somehow they had not been able to contact the woman who had been scheduled to teach polymer clay on Friday. They figured she would probably arrive as planned, but they had not been able to confirm that for sure.
They asked me if I would stand by as a second-string instructor if something happened. I had met this instructor once in my years of doing polymer, but it had been years. I didn’t wish her any harm at all, but I would of course be delighted to teach if I was needed. We made a few agreements and arrangements, and I drive home on Thursday (about 2 hours one way) to get my tools and handouts in case I got lucky enough to teach. This suited me just fine, as I love to drive and that also meant I could get my allergy shot which would help me get through the long weekend.
I went home the too-scenic route: I missed an exit and tried to take the back roads… they were faaaar too back road for me, my bug just bumpety-bumped along the rough pavement for miles. I got home, got my tools. Then I ate my lunch out of my cooler in the trunk of my car… while the car was parked out on the street in front of our house.
Then I went for my allergy shot. And as I was just ready to leave, the power went out. Mind you, I was about 11 blocks from the Capitol buildng, at 4:25 on a Thursday. Traffic chaos!!! It’s fine to say every stoplight becomes a 4-way stop, but when those four roads are up to five lanes wide, it gets mighty confusing. I “got the heck out of Dodge” as fast as I could safely proceed. I’m glad I wasn’t very far from the freeway.
Fortunately, Lansing was the furthest west that the power was out. All I did was head southwest out of town and the next exit outside of the city had power. I filled up with gasoline and got some money out of the ATM while I knew I could do it. At that point they had no idea what was up other than it was regional, not local. I figured it was the perfect time to be camping!
I got back to camp easily on the very lovely Vermontville Highway (it is absolutely gorgeous in the autumn, and almost as beautiful right now). I made it back for dinner. The planning crew for the festival put my polymer in an air-conditioned camper trailer. That way, the clay would not bake in my car, and I was all set in case I needed to jump into action.
That night, again, there was NOBODY to knit with. I had purchased some bug repellant when I went into town for ice, so I could sit outside instead of in my car. The bug spray worked great. Remember, I’m a citygrrl and we don’t really have mosquitos in our yard much. The last time I remember buying bug spray was when we went to Mexico a good number of years before. I’m not fond of chemicals if I can avoid them.
Even with my bug spray keeping mosquitos away, under that pavillion roof I constantly had bugs falling on me from above. The caterpillar that hit my leg actually scared me. The only people I saw walking around were the teenagers helping run the festival (they did a fabulous job) and one lone woman who said hello and asked what workshops I had taken. But at 9:45 she said she had to hurry up and go to bed! Wow!
I mean, when I teach at Foster Center, we eat dinner at 9:45pm. And I almost never go to bed before 1:30am… I often stay up until 3am. It was downright lonely being the only night person in a public space. I did have to get up early for me, in order to be ready in case I had to teach. So again, I went to my tent and tried to crochet lying on my back, giving up pretty soon.
Friday morning, it turned out that the polymer person did arrive just fine (I didn’t wish her any harm at all, but I was a bit disappointed… I mean, I love teaching, I know polymer backward and forward, and I would have loved spending a day in class). Since I didn’t have a class, that gave me a day to knit, which was fine, too.
I couldn’t find a cup of tea or hot water anywhere at the fairgrounds that morning, so I went into Allegan and found a deli/coffee shop where I could sit for an hour and knit my Yarn for Ewe stole. (See picture of downtown street, deli was at left side of green awning.) One customer at the deli came over and asked about my stole. She made me feel good, telling me how lovely it was. It turns out she’s a Home Economics instructor in the local schools. She took my card and said she’d write me because she was interested in the pattern for the stole. I guess I need to write that up soon!
Allegan is a pretty old town for Michigan, probably because it has a river winding through the town and that was a great way to get goods in and out. I enjoyed the one-lane bridge going in and out of downtown, which was dated 1886. It seemed all the promotional materials for Allegan had this bridge on it. I also enjoyed some of the buildings I saw in town. One corner restaurant had a lovely curved room on the corner. There was also a brick home on the street that led to the fairgrounds, with a hammock on the porch. One time I went by there was someone resting in the hammock. My kind of house!!! (See two pictures of these buildings.)
When I got back to camp, I sat in my lawn chair with a sun umbrella I just bought (at the pharmacy when I was buying the bug spray… that became a very expensive trip for bug spray, indeed). And I knit away again on my Yarn for Ewe stole. I enjoyed the knitting very much. Really, I rarely get long stretches of time to knit and it was as if I was waiting for a phone to ring or someone to tell me I had to do something else. I felt urgent though there was no hurry at all. How interesting my mind can be!
It was also odd to feed myself from a cooler for most of my meals. For the five days and four nights I was there, I ate all but two meals from that cooler. When we go to music festivals we tend to buy food from the wonderful hippy-dippy vegetarian places which always have at least something I can eat. But the first days I was at Allegan, there were no food vendors, and the last few days there were vendors but the food was not anything I could eat… they offered things like burgers and elephant ears. (I did buy a few diet Cokes just to get some cool ice in my body.)
I did pretty well packing food that I like which would do OK in a cooler. For breakfast every day I had either flour tortillas or ryevita (a sort of cracker) with almond butter or soy butter, and some delicious raspberry jam. For lunch and a couple dinners I ate italian-flavored baked tofu (yes, this is truly delicious unlike unflavored tofu) and either carrots or kohlrabi (a vegetable related to cabbage with a mild flavor and very crunchy texture), or fresh sugar snap peas. I know that’s odd food for others, but it was absolutely delicious to me. And it kept me healthy and strong, and no allergy problems. I brought other foods, mostly canned beans and olives and other canned goods, but I didn’t choose to prepare those.
Friday things got much more social, thank goodness. There were vendors in a big building plus the barn, so I got to check things out and touch things and ooh and aah. It wasn’t all that busy for vendors, so I got to talk to several of them.
I particularly enjoyed my interactions with Ellen from Ellen’s Half-Pint Farm. She does wonderful handpaints, and many of her colorways are right up my alley. So many folks who do handpaints are more interested in subtle colorways, which are lovely but not my style. She had a great assortment, subtle to vibrant. And she talked with me about dyeing for quite a little while. There were a couple of ladies there also helping her out and I liked them a lot, as well. I could have hung out there a long time if it were up to me. However, her work is very popular so I had to get out of the way so she could make a few sales! I bought a few dyes from her, which I’ve already played with since I got home. Great fun.
Friday night my friend Sue who is part-owner of the store In Sheep’s Clothing in Marshall, MI, arrived to work their booth. Sue and her friend Mary and I chatted a while and then went out to dinner at a little place that reminded me of a typical late 1960’s family-run restaurant. It was enjoyable. I was *so* glad to have company at last! They did go to bed early but at least I had dinner company.
Tomorrow I’ll fill you in on the rest of my weekend. You’ve been reading long enough!!!