Atlantic International Fibre Fiesta



My experience with craft shows is less than positive: too commercialized, expensive, time consuming and held in an atmosphere of clinically-formulated booth spaces and an air of desperation as artisans wait to sell their wares, writes MARRIE BERKELAAR. Then along came alpaca.*



LUNENBURG -- THIS PAST SUMMER I was asked to participate in an alpaca show, The Atlantic International Fibre Fiesta and Pacafiesta, which Christopher Porter was organizing with others to highlight the North America fibre industry and the animals bred to supply it. Christopher and his wife Oona have an alpaca farm, Atlantic Seaside Farm, in Bayport, Lunenburg County, and also the Rumour Mill, where they process the Alpaca hair into yarn, as well as the wool from other animals such as angora goats and rabbits, camels, and the obvious sheep. I have a small weaving studio/showroom in Lunenburg, and had been doing some weaving for the Rumour Mill.

I do not do shows as a rule, so my first response was far from enthusiastic.

My experience with craft shows is less than positive: too commercialized, expensive, time consuming and held in an atmosphere of clinically-formulated booth spaces and an air of desperation as artisans wait to sell their wares. I find them dehumanizing. Naturally, in any situation where humans gather, there is social interaction as people meet acquaintances, which I believe is the main reason they attend these shows, but the show itself is not set up to facilitate this social interaction. A large, brightly lit, space divided up into ten feet by ten feet square cubicles with eight foot rod and curtains, is not a place I wish to spend my weekend, when I have a sunny 12 x 22 foot space with a door open to the outside; chairs to sit in for impatient husbands or people who want to stay a while to chat, be they customers or friends; and a loom to weave on if no one comes in.

It took Christopher a while but he did talk me into attending the show. His description of how he wanted to create an atmosphere of a ‘souk‘, an Eastern Bazaar, intrigued. But what really convinced me to go was his offer to take my loom. It would be be a show where Alpacas would be featured and sold and Alpaca breeders exchange information. The public would see the process of the fibre coming from the animals, to being spun and dyed and then woven and knit into the final product. And so on 7 September 2005 we partially dissembled and squeezed my loom into a van to be transported to the Halifax Exhibition Park. I followed the next day in my car stuffed with bits and pieces of my loom, what little stock from my shop that I could spare, and rugs and chairs to give my space the proper atmosphere, as I was told it was ten feet by twenty feet – the size of my shop!

Friday

After spending the night in Halifax, I headed for the Exhibition Park early Friday morning taking along a friend. We entered the arena to face the ordered chaos of a bazaar. The front half of the arena was being set up with the vendors’ booths. The back held the show ring and pens for the Alpacas to be sold. But amongst the booths were also pens holding not only Alpacas, but also Angora rabbits -- balls of fur needing to be brushed daily to produce one pound of fur a year; curly-haired sheep; a miniature goat which I felt would make a fine addition to my shop; and a llama. The llama was a bigger and more serious animal than the Alpacas. Small children were given rides on his back; he was docile enough.

The booths had a higgily-piggily effect without the 8' curtained structure. Curtains hid the area bleachers. Lower curtains defined spaces, and those ubiquitous 4 by 8 skirted tables. By and large it was a more open space than one usually sees at shows. The space was softened with roof-high drapery painted to depict mountains, birch trees and bulrushes to give a natural effect and some park benches around the trees inviting people to sit and view the scene and gossip.

We found my 10x20' space more or less in the centre of the room. It had one 10x8' curtain wall; the rest were marks on the floor. And there was my loom along with all the bits and pieces that had fallen off en route. I reassembled the loom, so as to start weaving Saturday morning, the beginning of the show.

Actually the Pacafiesta had already started with conferences and workshops for those in the Alpaca industry. I had decided to weave an Alpaca blanket, in three panels to make the warp narrow enough for the children who I expected would like to try weaving. I brought out my warp, which I had prepared at the shop, and my friend decided he would like to dress the loom, as putting on the warp is called. Now my friend is a computer person and had never set up a loom, but seeing that the loom is the precursor of the computer, and he is rather a clever fellow, I wrapped the warp threads around his left-hand fingers, as they should go, and cut the yarn. At this point he realized he had a fistful of loose yarn ends and would need both hands to thread them through the reed of the loom. This is difficult, even for me, and especially with Alpaca yarn as it is very slippery, so I got him to hand me the threads while I pulled them through the reed and the heddles. I usually dress the loom by myself, but there is something to be said about having help, both to cut the boredom and to make the task easier. In no time the loom was ready to go.

Saturday


The rest of the vendors were set up. These were all fibre-related; knitting, weaving, dyed yarns and other Alpaca related wares.

The theme being broader than Alpaca, to include all North American fibres, sheep’s wool, angora, etc were also included; my booth contained articles woven with Canadian sheep’s wool.

In the open space behind my loom, the Atlantic Spinners and Handweavers had set up their spinning wheels in two groups to give demonstrations. Beyond them was a group of women hooking rugs and beside that a woman with a knitting machine.

In front of me was a booth full of the most incredible colourful knitting I had ever seen, and several women knitting as they tended the booth, which also carried hand dyed yarns.

Behind my curtain and the spinners was the Rumour Mill booth with various woven and knit and felted articles and a hand knitter busy with her needles. They were between a pen of sheep on one side and a pen of Alpaca on the other. Beyond the machine knitter was a booth displaying Alpaca bat-filled comforters. And beyond that and near the entrance were the llama and some Angora rabbits.

On the other side of me was the too-cute miniature goat with some Alpacas and an entry table for the yarn and garment competition and the fleece competition.

Near the show ring was a large booth of sweaters, capes etc made of Alpaca. In amongst all this were various dyed yarns, beautifully handwoven scarves and blankets, hand knit sweaters and some things I most likely missed.

The atmosphere was truly bazaar-like. One poked around and found unexpected treasures. I naturally looked for weaving and was impressed with the quality. The place was under-lit, giving it a more intimate quality, although many venders found it difficult to show their wares and will bring spotlights next time. Music played, not as background, which lent to the hustle and bustle of the place.

As the public began arriving, it became quite lively. There was much interaction between the public and vendors and between the vendors as information was swapped. People watched and participated in the demonstrations, especially the children. Periodically one would look up and see Alpacas being lead through the crowd.

As I was clearly visible in the openness of the space and also as my loom had been given good lighting, people would soon surround the loom to watch whenever I began to weave. If I got a child to try her hand at weaving, more girls and boys would soon be lined up to take a turn. Often they couldn’t reach the pedals so I would have to treadle as they shot the shuttle. Also adults, men and women, had to give it a try. One elderly woman, as I started her on the right-hand side, said she was left-handed. I said, not to worry, as she would be using both hands. As is always the case, the first shot did not go all the way to the other side of the warp, so the shuttle had to be pushed. Usually by the forth shot, the shuttle will barely shot all the way across. In her case, her second shot with her left hand sent the shuttle across the floor! She was very apologetic as she explained that she was a bowler and a good one at that. One young girl came back several times and became quite good. I even tended customers while she wove. By Sunday her mother said that they would have to get her a loom of her own. This girl had also spun some yarn, which I let her weave. I think she tried everything as I had also seen her at the knitting machine. The other demonstrators were also attracting interested crowds.

Meanwhile in the show ring, the Halter show was being judged by Dr. Julio Sumar of Peru and Cathy Merkley of Lloyminster, Ab. The music would stop and we would hear the judges’ comments on the finer points of the Huacaya and Suri Alpacas. Behind the scenes, lectures were being held for those in the Alpaca industry. There was a telhotline animal sale where eleven Eastern Seaboard Alpacas were on sale with telephone lines for long distance buyers, filling the air with excitement as they were sold. Saturday ended with a fashion show with the catwalk set up in the ring.

Sunday

A shearing, sorting and grading seminar was held in the main arena, which was open to the general public and was viewed with great interest.

Over the two days I heard many comments from from both the public and the vendorson how much they enjoyed the show. There was positive feedback from the breeders. I was impressed how an atmosphere can be created to encourage social interaction. In our society, the commercial architectural space alienates humanity in order to gain greater efficiency and maximize profits; it needs to be humanized. The Pacafiesta also had an educational aspect, as the fibre producers with their animals were brought together with the fibre processors and their tools. For all of us participating in the show, as well as for the public who attended the show, this was a learning experience.

I managed to time my weaving to end with the show. My friend’s wife and their two young sons, arrived an hour before closing time on Sunday. With the boys’ ‘help’, I finished weaving the blanket within a half hour of the end of the most enjoyable show I have ever attended. Never once did I miss my sunny shop. Soon we had the loom partially dismantled and the car packed to return to Lunenburg, leaving the loom to be returned a few days later.

The Pacafiesta has left me with a wonderful experience and new ideas to think about this winter as I am weaving. Best of all I have a wonderful Alpaca blanket to keep me warm those cold winter nights.

*Marrie Berkelaar, a co-founder of shunpiking magazine, is a weaver and proprietor, Double Whale Textiles in Lunneburg, NS. She may be reached at dublwale@tallships.ca


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