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Six Tips for Navigating  the Fiber Festival of New England

Posted on November 22, 2015 in Detours

While many fiber addicts in New England make a yearly trek to Rhinebeck, NY each fall, there are plenty of fiber addicts who feel that the annual Fiber Festival of New England (FFNE) may have a few perks  and advantages: it is smaller in scope, it’s indoors so there are no weather worries, and the booths are roomier so there aren’t any missed opportunities or frustration. I recently made my first trek to the festival, located on the Big E fairgrounds in Springfield, MA.

I had a lot of questions before my first trip — after a bit of research, I’ve compiled this list of tips for those of you who have never been — the idea is to go in with a game plan and mazimize your shopping!

  1. Practical matters:  It’s held in the Mallory building on the Big E Fairgrounds — the floors are cement, so wear comfortable shoes. There were reusable shopping bags for sale, but I found my large Vera Bradley bag (all those pockets!) did well for me. There is an atm on site; most vendors take cash or credit card. I didn’t have any trouble with wifi in the building, which helped me check in with Instagram 🙂
    Katrinkles custom buttons and craft notions.

    Sure, Katrinkles Buttons looked cool online. But in person? OMG. Amazing & must-have!

  2. Online: The FFNE website is here, there’s a facebook page, and a Ravelry group with tons of first-hand info. Vendors will be listed on the site; try checking out a few to figure out what booths you might want to make sure to hit, but honestly, I just wandered up and down the aisles and saw what caught my eye. I did find a few old favorites, like Good Karma of Maine — and some new favorites, as well!
    Good Karma Farm of Maine at the FFNE.

    Good Karma Farm of Maine at the FFNE.

  3. Focus: The best tip I found on the Ravelry group? Look at the patterns in your queue beforehand, and make a wish list of what you are looking for. The number of yarns, fibers and supplies can be overwhelming. Are you looking for 600 yards of worsted, or would you be better off with aran for that baby sweater? (Did I veer off this wish list? Oh, of course… I am weak. LOL! But it helped me focus!)
    Raw fiber at FFNE.

    Raw fiber at FFNE.

    If you want to try your hand at processing fiber or spinning, there were many demostrations and fiber for sale at the festival.

  4. Food & Fuel: There’s fair food booths near the bathrooms/entrance to animals. Hamburgers, hotdogs, steak subs, baked potatoes, soup and pretzels — ie, lunch items. Lines can get very long; take along a snack and a bottle of water. There is also a restaurant on the fairgrounds that is nice for dinner.
    Big E baked potato.

    Oh, yes. The same baked potato that you love at the Big E? Perfect fuel for a day of yarn shopping.


  5. More than yarn: Besides yarn, there’s spinning supplies, rug hooking supplies and huge bags of fiber ready to be processed. I also visited a vendor, Dakini Yarns, that had working re-furbished spinning wheels from the 1830’s and vintage knitting supplies. And, not to forget — there are animals: alpacas, sheep and the fluffiest angora bunnies ever! Some animals are for sale; others are for show.
    Sheep at the FFNE.

    Love these two, totally in sync! And look at those sheepy faces!

  6. WEBS ( is 15 minutes north, and they had a special give-away if you handed them your ticket stub — a pair of circular needles! Yes, that’s right. I found a way to add more shopping to my day. But it was nice to see some of those yarns I’ve been wanting to try in person, or to make sure the shade of Spud & Chloe pink was right, you know?
    WEBS of Northhampton, MA

    Just 15 minutes north of the Fiber Festival of New England is the home of — WEBS. I hit this place hard!

Overall, I had a great first trip. I met lots of vendors and got to see a lot of unique yarns and supplies in person. I didn’t have much problem walking the aisles or getting into booths. The one or two booths I hit at the wrong time? I just came back a few minutes later. It was very manageable, but at the same time, gave lots of opportunities to find that special skein. And, since it’s only about 1.5 hours from Boston, I’ll be back for sure!

Lots to see at the FFNE.



Alpaca at the FFNE.

Alpaca at the FFNE.

Indiie dyers A Hundred Ravens at FFNE.

Indiie dyers A Hundred Ravens at FFNE.

Wile Carding Mill Museum | Nova Scotia

Posted on October 28, 2015 in Detours

While driving around Nova Scotia, I was reminded that my sense of direction is not the best — while I was gazing out the car window, I thought my husband was headed back to Halifax after a trip to Ross Family Farm. However, while I was in line buying a hand-made wooden apple basket made by the cooper at the farm, he was on the phone looking up a side trip. It wasn’t until I casually said “Hey, I just saw a sign for a Carding Mill Museum, they are truly serious about their wool here!” that he let me in on the secret — that was exactly where we were headed. (Side note: Best Husband Award)

We had seen a carding mill at the Highland Village in Cape Breton, but had used the building more as a nice, shady resting spot while we traipsed around the village, as no one was in that particular building that day.

Wile Carding Museum Nova Scotia

We weren’t sure what to expect, but we were graciously greeted by Linda, who asked if we’d like a full tour of the museum. It’s one room, so I wasn’t sure what this “tour” would contain!

The History of the Wile Carding Mill

As it turns out, it was one of the highlights of our trip! Linda was so knowledgeable and told us quite a few stories about what life was like for the residents of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia starting in the 1860’s. The mill was in operation for over 100 years, not fully closing until 1968. The women who worked at the mill dealt with some dirty, dangerous conditions. There was a feeling that the Wile family hired young teenage women because they could pay them a lower wage. One woman who lived until the 1970’s gave the museum a lot of the information on what it was like day after day, including the tidbit that she had to “get new shoes every week” because of the filth of dealing with the oils.

At the peak, Wile’s Carding Mill ran six days a week and was known for being fair to the farmer — and for not mixing fibers so that each farmer got back their own product: whatever fleece you brought into the mill was exactly what was given back to you. I could see how this would be preferable, especially if you had taken care to raise a specific breed.

Wile Carding Museum Nova Scotia

Carding Wool by Hand

We learned that at the carding mill, a week’s worth of wool could be carded in just an hour. You may not realize just how amazing that is until you get to the part of the tour where you get to actually try carding by hand. Oh. My. God. Our arms were protesting after just a minute or so! And what did we get for this labor? After we learned to roll and spin the fiber, we had our tiny twist of wool:

Wile Carding Museum

You see that? It’s about 3″ across! I could easily see that I would have gladly been in line to have wool carded by the mill!!

Our tour guide was full of stories to share. My favorite was the story of  a crafty local squirrel decided the wool samples kept at the mill (the same ones we learned to hand card with) were being stolen by this smart little creature in order to line her nest. And, not only did she keep coming back for a little more, but she soon realized that there were two grades of wool — raw fiber, and the samples that had been processed a bit and was therefore much fluffier and softer. The workers tried to keep the squirrel out, but as any fiber addict knows, it’s impossible to keep someone so determined from getting her hands (uh, paws) on fine fiber. So, they allowed the critter to come in and take a little bit of wool. We had some good laughs at that.

Wile Carding Museum Nova Scotia

The squirrel soon learned to go for the wool that had been processed (further back) rather than the raw fiber (in foreground).

Rug Hooking

Towards the end of the tour, we were shown a few rug-hooking samples. I mentioned how I had first seen beautiful hooked rugs in PEI, and then all over Cape Breton and Linda smiled and said “Well, this is your lucky day, because now you are going to try it!” I sat right down and got the hang of it pretty quickly. I quickly realized my “I have so many projects in my Ravelry queue that I can’t possibly start another craft” excuse was not going to hold. By that evening I was searching for “Rug Hooking Kits” on the net.

Rug Hooking at the Wile Carding Museum Nova Scotia

Try your hand at rug hooking in Nova Scotia.

We ended our tour with a small purchase of locally spun yarn that still smelled of the pastures. I know that sounds horribly hokey, but it’s true! As Linda said “It smells like a farm… but in a good way!”


Posted on October 25, 2015 in Detours

Nestled high up on a hill in Iona, Cape Breton, the Highland Village is a look back at what it was like for Scottish settlers to arrive in a place that probably looked eerily like the place they had called home.

In any case, even without the living history aspect of Highland Village, it is just a beautiful piece of land where the green hills meet the blue Bras D’Or lake and the endless sky. The Village represents four different time periods in Cape Breton history, spanning from 1770 to 1920.

On top of a hill, with the Bras D’Or lake and the endless blue sky behind you.

Typically, on visits to attractions like Highland Village, my husband wants to hear all about the history. I, on the other hand, enjoy hearing about the history and how about people lived and survived, but I’m especially interested in crafts. (And, we both enjoy any animals that may be at the exhibit — bonus!) Highland Village did not disappoint on any of these three points. Case in point: a gorgeous spinning wheel.

In two weeks visiting the Canadian maritimes, I saw more spinning wheels than I’ve seen in my entire life. Not that I’m complaining!

Next we found a carding presentation, where we saw how wool would be carded by hand. There were two women at this location, and we had a nice long conversation about life in Cape Breton years ago, and life today as well. Everywhere we went, we found that just as Bostonians love to make the trek to Nova Scotia, many Nova Scotians have been to Boston. We truly are sister cities in many ways. We also ran into two fellow Massachusetts residents, who live on the Cape and spend weeks in an RV in Nova Scotia.

Carding wool in preparation for spinning into yarn.

At a few places in Cape Breton, I saw small hooked rugs for sale. At Highland Village, this exhibit in the general store shows a rug in progress. I can honestly say I’ve never given much thought to handmade rugs until this visit. It looks to be a great way to use up all the wool scraps in my stash.

After seeing many examples of hooked rugs, I’ve become obsessed with learning this craft. This is set up at the general store at Highland Village.

Ah, hello woolly friend!

Eight-month old pig at Highland Village.

After visiting with some of the well-kept animals at Highland Village, we were soon on our way to the carding mill, which you can see off to the left in the next photo.

On our way to the carding mill at Highland Village.

On the day we visited, there wasn’t anyone at the wool carding mill, so we didn’t learn more about how this worked until we visited Wile Carding Museum later in the week.

Also, we didn’t realize it at the time, but a friend of mine who is a designer/fellow typography geek asked to see a close-up of the text under the center wheel. When I enlarged it, we realized the mill was actually made in Worcester, Massachusetts!

Wool carding mill at Highland Village.

And, finally — I know I’ve been concentrating on wools and knitting, but in the 1920’s era house, there were also some bright, colorful patchwork quilts, such as this one stretched on a rack and awaiting hand-quilting.

Traditional block quilt, 1920’s – 1930’s era.

Definitely check out Highland Village if you are in Cape Breton — it would definitely be fun for fellow crafters, history buffs and it’s also appropriate for families. Just keep in mind that it’s a bit of a hike from the visitor’s center to the village, but I believe there’s parking further up the hill, which may help.

Cape Breton Highland Village Museum review.

Church at Highland Village Museum.

History & Handicrafts: Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Posted on October 21, 2015 in Detours

We’ve come to that point in October where you realize that Autumn is fleeting and winter will be here before you know it. It definitely has something to do with the skies getting dark before 7:00 pm and knowing that daylight savings is going to kick in very, very soon… never mind that I keep eyeing the calendar while checking the thermostat and making multiple cups of tea!

So, with that, I’m realizing that it’s a long time until summer vacation rolls around again and I’m reminiscing on our trip to Cape Breton and our visit to the Fortress of Louisbourg.

As I’ve mentioned, my husband is very interested in historical sites and “living history” type sites. On the other hand, I find these sites interesting but I’m mostly looking for three things: photo opportunities, traditional craft demonstrations and, of course, animals!

Handmade Bobbin Lace

The first sign that things were going to go well was we wandered by a demonstration of bobbin lace making. Ever make a simple dress or take an old pair of jeans and add just the right touch of lace that you found on Etsy? You were feeling pretty good about that, weren’t you? Yeah, well — once you see someone sit down and meticulously make a piece of lace, you won’t be feeling so smug anymore. I think my eyes would bleed after just a few minutes. It takes hours for this lace-maker to produce even a few inches of trim. Hours. I’m not exaggerating.

Lacemaker at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Fortress of Louisbourg Nova Scotia

I could’ve watched this for a long time, but while this woman calmly created beauty out of mere thread, my husband heard about some cannon that was going to be fired, so off we went. I admit it sounded pretty cool. I just wasn’t sure it was going to be make-thread-into-lace cool.

Drummers at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Drummers at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Canon fire at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

Canon fire at Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

After losing a bit of hearing (even though we were on the other side of the cannon shot… I honestly think I let out a strangled HOLYCRAAAAP! and jumped out of my skin) We began to wander around. I spotted a whole herd of sheep in a fenced in area, so with camera in hand I left my husband behind. But right before I got to the pen, I noticed this woman who was waiting for a signal, so I stopped. And then? She let the sheep go. Just opened the gate and:

The Running of the Sheep, Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

The Running of the Sheep, Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape Breton

The running of the sheep

The running of the sheep in Fort Louisbourg, Cape Breton

The running of the sheep in Fort Louisbourg, Cape Breton

The Running of the Sheep, Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape BretonThe Running of the Sheep, Fortress of Louisbourg, Cape BretonI got a few snaps after remembering to close my mouth. She looked at me and said “Easiest job in the world.” Um… okay. I’m pretty sure if I let sheep go, they’d scatter and that would be the end of any wool-dreams I had. But no, she was right. The sheep ran right into another pen, happy as… well, sheep. I guess.

Cape Breton Crafts

One of the best things about visiting Cape Breton was the sheer number of traditional crafts that you can find. Not only did I find great yarn shops throughout the trip (more on that later) but I learned so much about how wool is made into yarn, how lace is made, and saw multiple examples of weaving and rug hooking. Add that to the gorgeous scenery and you can understand why I can’t wait to return.

Traditional crafts can be found all over Cape Breton

Traditional crafts can be found all over Cape Breton

Speaking of scenery, I’ll end with an obligatory lighthouse image. This one is very close to the Fortress and is on the site of the first Canadian lighthouse. The views were amazing, even with the wind whipping around. Definitely worth a stop after visiting the Fortress!

Louisbourg Lighthouse, Cape Breton

Louisbourg Lighthouse, Cape Breton


Posted on September 15, 2015 in Detours
Prince Edward Island. Land of green gables, red roads, crashing blue seas and rolling hills dotted with farm animals. It’s just utterly gorgeous. But beyond a life-long quest to see the island that Lucy Maud Montgomery described in her books, I had an inkling that I might be able to find some interesting yarn shops.


The seacoast, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.

My search first led to Ravelry (of course!) where I quickly found a like-minded soul who had just been to PEI. I sent a message through the forum and then went off to my next source — Google. And guess what? I found a fellow blogger who had just been to PEI and found a brochure titled the “PEI Fibre Trail” It took me only a moment or so to realize these two leads were the same person. So, thank you to Lesley over at Get Your Knit Together for providing such helpful tips.

Time was of the essence as I only had a couple of days on PEI, so I took down some addresses and hoped for the best. One tip I should have paid more attention to was just how messed up the GPS would get when trying to punch in addresses. Luckily we figured it out in the end!

I was able to visit Green Gable Alpacas, and Julie’s Yarn Shoppe. (Lesley also made it to MacAusland’s Woolen Mill and Belfast Mini Mills — read about her experiences at both places on her blog.) MacAusland’s was closed, and Belfast Mini Mills too far, but we did find two very worthwhile stops on the island.

Grazing on sweet grass on Prince Edward Island.

First up: Green Gable Alpacas. This was very entertaining and informative! I’ve knit with alpaca fiber before but I didn’t know a lot about the animals. We parked the car and immediately spotted more alpacas than I’ve ever seen in one place. To be fair though, I think I’ve only seen three together at once, many years ago! With my camera strung around my neck, I was ready to go. What I didn’t know was that my husband would become fascinated with these fluffy animals and have tons of questions for Janet, the owner of Green Gable Alpacas and our tour leader. We learned a lot about both the animals and their fiber, including:

  1. Alpacas carry their babies for a full year and come in a range of colors, from fawn to black.
  2. If you do get some of their um, droppings, on the bottom of your shoe, you’ll find out that there is no rank smell.
  3. Their fiber is warmer than wool (and — this I knew — it’s incredibly, incredibly soft and has a beautiful drape.)

Janet of Green Gable Alpacas with unprocessed alpaca fiber. So incredibly soft!

There is a small gift shop on the premises with lots of alpaca items, including the scarf I purchased (pictured above, crocheted by Janet) but — where was the yarn? Sadly, Janet had run out, and was waiting for her next batch to come in from the mill. But still, I had a gorgeous new scarf, handmade on PEI, and we’d had a great time. And, let’s not forget, not only did we meet and pet some very cute alpacas, but we met a mischievous cat, Mickey, who was chased by a few alpacas — that was a sight to see. We also met a hysterical little pug named Otis, and we got to feed Grizwold, the Guard Llama.

Otis the Pug waits to see if he can get any of the yummy treats Grizwald the Llama is having (apples!)

Little Mo leads the way.

Our tour completed, off we went to go visit with Anne, Marilla and Matthew. The next morning, on our way off the island, I mentioned that Lesley had mentioned that Julie’s Yarn Shoppe was worth a visit, and it was on the way to the bridge. However, I had little hope of actually finding it, because of the aforementioned GPS issue. I had tried to find another stop on the PEI Fibre Trail, but never located it, so I wasn’t getting my hopes up.

But luckily, Julie’s Yarn Shoppe really is on the main road to the bridge, and even though my husband overshot it a bit, we were able to back up ever-so-carefully and guess what? (I know, I can barely contain my excitement.) The first thing I see is…YES! Green Gables Alpacas yarn from six-time champion, Keswick. SCORE! Two skeins, right in my hands. After I was able to get my breathing under control, I was able to look around a bit more, and found a nice skein milled in New Brunswick — Legacy Lanes. Not satisfied until I really checked around though, I came upon this strange wooden contraption, and as I turned to Julie, she said “That’s a drop spindle!” I remembered Lesley talking about looking for one on her blog, but I wasn’t sure exactly what the tool did. Julie sat right down and showed me how it worked. I called my husband over and we just stood there like a couple of city folk, mouths agape at something so simple yet so useful.

That spindle is spinning & spinning as Julie feeds yarn onto it. She says it is easy enough to do while in a car, or walking around.

PEI was just as beautiful as I could have imagined — and I will definitely return. Next time, I’ll have a long list of Fiber Trail destinations to visit.

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