As soon as you walk in the door of Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair, you see the colors just beyond the gate and hear the noise. You realize that this is a big show and that it’s probably going to overwhelm you and that you don’t care. It’s exuberating when you set out into the vendor booths because you know it’s all ahead of you: hours of joy. The more you lose yourself in this world, the better. This is why you work hard all week.
I had the pleasure of attending the MFFAF this past weekend with my cousin and her daughter, a beginning knitter (and as of Saturday, a spindler, too). Not having children myself, this was the first time I’d had the pleasure of seeing a young person take an interest in a craft I love. I had little to do with her taking up knitting, but it was a singular treat to be present as she discovered firsthand what the world of fiber arts has to offer.
The MFFAF is a good show to make your first because it showcases fiber artists along with musicians and knitters, crocheters, quilters, spinners, and rug hookers. As I’ve said before on this blog, we can’t lose sight of the artists. They inspire us and–I firmly believe–we inspire them. Just like my cousin’s daughter who has newly taken up her needles, I, a knitter of some twenty-two years’ experience, draw inspiration from her excitement over the new world she’s entered. As she discovered that she already knows all the stitches it takes to make a sweater, I was reminded that there are still many ways to push my own skills. No doubt the fiber artists who entered their work at the exhibits felt the same way when they saw so many hundreds of fair goers crowding the booths, enjoying their work, thinking up new projects.
Here are a few of my favorites.
Cynthia Boudreau fashioned this Felted Tunic from Nuno silk and merino wool. She used the wet felting technique to mesh the wool to the silk and then added beads. Besides the design, which reminds me a little of Monet’s waterlily paintings, I love the shape and presentation, which reminds me of Japanese kimonos. I wish you could see firsthand how light and refreshing this piece is–like a breeze. Here’s more about Cynthia:
Two entries in the handbag exhibit caught my eye. To gain entry, artists had to construct a handbag by riffing off an older pattern–this year’s pattern was from 1945. Click the link for a picture of the pattern and exhibit details. You’ll be astonished at how different these entries are from the original. But believe me: all the entries were wildly different. In fact, in all the years I’ve been attending, no two bags are ever alike, like–not even close.
The beaded purse (below), entitled Dancing Abundance, by Marianne Biagi, was made using an altered peyote stitch. Biagi describes, “I don’t have a plan. I design as I go, letting the colors and shapes of beads guild me.” And this I love: “I finish when the art tells me to stop.”
The reverse of this bag is in a different color scheme, which is equally beautiful.
Beyond color, texture plays an important part in Biagi’s work. Her beaded art deserves a more careful look. Here’s an article I found that provides more pictures and background information on this artist from thecity1.com.
Another piece that needs mention is Boa Bag by Judith Reilly. It’s a knitted and crocheted piece that uses Reilly’s own handspun wool along with commercial novelty yarn. I love the colors as well as the creative use of mitered squares. (Modular knitting is great for free-form knitters and satisfying for anyone who only has a small amount of time to knit each day.) Equally inspiring is Reilly’s description of how she created it: she started with the beads. In her words, “I thought they’d be a nice echo of the diamonds on the top of the bag. Then I found the perfect colors in the roving. . . and the rest is history.”
Just like Biagi, Reilly’s approach reminds us that we don’t always need a pattern or plan. What we need is to be open to inspiration. Fairs like the Midwest Fiber & Folk Arts Fair help us all–hobbyist and artist alike–find ways of pushing our craft and our skills. As important as it was for my cousin’s daughter to attend as a new knitter, so it is equally important for longtime practitioners to refresh ourselves, see the latest trends, and connect with the vibrant community that makes up the fiber arts.
Artisanal Flowchart Postscript:
Incidentally, all four of these pieces featured above are artisanal (did you expect anything else coming from me?). They all express the artistic vision of the fiber artists who made them and they all possess utility: they can be used. Will they be used is another question. Sometimes the potential for use is enough.