Sunday, October 23, 2011

Flying Solo at SAFF

            
     I left my home near Charlotte, NC in the dark, bolstering myself before and during the drive to mountains with two cups of coffee, one Starbucks Frappuccino, and a bottle of Coke Zero.  Needless to say, as I drove into the parking lot minutes after the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF) opened its doors, I was more than a little jittery.  Most of this excitement, however, did not come from the caffeine overindulgence, but, rather, from the anticipation of spending a full-day immersed in the colors and textures of this annual event. 

                Last year, I’d traveled to SAFF with a non-knitter friend and we’d made the event a weekend getaway—enjoying music and pub food at The Green Man and a trip to the farmer’s market on Sunday followed by delicious, albeit healthy vegetarian brunch at The Mustard Seed.  We’d stayed at The Acorn Inn, a bed and breakfast that definitely eschews the “less is more” philosophy in terms of d├ęcor and food.  (The teddy bears and Disney memorabilia were a bit overwhelming but the gourmet breakfast the gracious hosts provided was delectable.)  But this year, I found myself traveling by myself to Asheville.  My former travel companion who has a passion for music was busy singing in the chorus in a performance of Il Trovatore in Charlotte during SAFF weekend, and I really didn't want to spend the money to stay overnight, eat out, etc.   

     Also, as I always seem to be at work, at my children’s extra-curricular activities, at Costco stocking up on obscene amounts of food, or in the car (going to and from the aforementioned activities), I haven't had time to join knitting groups where I might make friends who share my interest in the hobby.  So rather than ask non-knitters to take part in an all-day marathon trip to SAFF, I went there unaccompanied.  Note:  I am not enough of a masochist to have brought my husband and my two sons (aged 11 and 14) along for a day of fiber gazing and fussing that would be torturous for all involved. 

     Even though I was alone, immediately after I’d gotten out of my car in the parking lot, I found myself talking to other people, sharing oohs and aahs as we plunged our hands in bushel baskets of fiber.  I know there have been studies of how the rhythmic process of knitting releases endorphins in the knitter (much in the same manner that meditation brings about this physiological change) and I wonder if the same effects don’t happen to the body when a person’s eyes take in a rainbow of colors and his or her hands engage in the tactile wonders of alpaca, silk, angora, or other heavenly soft fibers. 
Fiber at Southern Charm's Booth

     I started the morning in the outdoor shops (and sorely missed having some of my hand knit items on to keep warm) and immediately purchased a small bag of roving from Harmony Wools Alpacas (www.harmonywoolsalpacas.com).  The fiber—stuffed into a sandwich bag like some delectable snack—is a mixture of silk and alpaca and is so pleasing to the senses I’m not sure whether to simply carry it around and rub it for stress therapy or to spin it into yarn for an item I can wear.  I also bought a big bag of fiber from another of the outdoor vendors, Zeilinger Wool Co.  I had to return to this seemingly magical vendor this year, as at SAFF in 2010 I’d bought a large plastic bag of wool batting from this company.  This bag is like the purse Hermione Granger carries in Part 1 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  She digs in and removes books, clothes, a tent, etc. from the purse, but it always still contains endless items she needs for any possible contingency.  Like Hermione, I have been pulling multi-colored (but mostly purple) fiber out of the big plastic bag I’d purchased last year to spin, yet the bag never empties.  I couldn’t resist another opportunity at this year’s SAFF to have another year of an endless fiber sack (and seemingly endless spinning, washing, and winding).  This year, however, I bought fiber that has some angora in it and is a soft greenish color mixed with other hues.  The swirls of other colors mixed with the green, in fact, give the fiber a soothing turquoise feel, like that of a Caribbean Sea or a southwestern turquoise stone. 

Magic Bag of Fiber

     When I went to the shops inside the arena I stopped at Maple Row Stock & Wool and mulled over whether or not to purchase a yarn swift. The shop stocked two sturdy ones, made in Sweden. As I contemplated my bank balance (or lack thereof), I ran into some knitters and staff from Cottage Yarn in Matthews, NC. They welcomed me warmly and we went our separate ways. Laid back and ingratiating, in the manner of most knitters and fiber enthusiasts, they invited me to travel to Asheville with them next year. 

Fiber, Fiber Creations, and Livestock Were Awarded Ribbons at SAFF

    Ultimately, my day spent alone afforded me the opportunity to talk with vendors and increase my knowledge of my novice spinning habit.  Even though I own an Ashford Traveler wheel, until this year’s SAFF, I’d been ignorant about the difference between single or double drives.  I also learned what core spinning is and the best method to draft the Suri alpaca fiber I’d bought.  This purchase of fiber from an alpaca named Rummi marks an initial foray for me into the experience of processing raw fiber. 

     The highlight of my day, perhaps, was my visit to the livestock barn.  Not only were the warm and wooly alpacas, llamas, sheep, and goats utterly adorable, I had a chance to bond with an engaging llama named Ying-Yang—so named because of her face which is half black and half white.  The llama’s friendly owner, from Walnut Ridge Llama Farm and Store (www.qualityllamas.com), showed remarkable patience as I bonded with his creature.  I’ve always desired to own alpacas, but this so social and interactive animal has made me a llama convert.  I rubbed her long silky neck and when I hit just the right spot, she hummed appreciatively and gazed into my eyes.  What a pleasure it would be to have such a creature in one’s backyard, so that a kind look and warm affection is at hand for those moments when we feel sad or lonely.  As I live in a subdivision, though, I have to reserve such experiences for events such as SAFF. 

Alpaca Born this Past Summer
My New Friend, Ying-Yang, and Me

     As the day wound down, I found myself in the possession of a large yarn swift, a ball winder, a ball of deep purple roving, some sparkly bits from lunabudKnits (lunabudknits.com) to mix in with fiber while spinning, a tiny felted sheep, the aforementioned alpaca ball and everlasting bag of fleece—all food for the spirit throughout the long winter days and the months or at least enough fodder until I attend Vogue Knitting Live  in January.  More to come. . . .     
I tried out my new yarn swift and ball winder when I got home.  This yarn was spun from fiber from last year's neverending bag.