Fiber enthusiasts throughout our region will be gathering this weekend at the Eastern States Exposition for the 11th annual 2021 Fiber Festival of New England.  

The two day festival takes place November 6th and 7th and features over 150 vendors, workshops, animals, and an array of handmade items all made from natural fibers.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Donna Woolam, the Director of Agriculture at the Eastern States Exposition, to hear more about why this festival began and what attendees can look forward to at this year’s event. 

Read the transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Fiber enthusiasts throughout our region will be gathering this weekend at the Eastern States Exposition for the 11th Annual 2021 Fiber Festival of New England.

This two day festival, taking place November 6th and 7th, will feature over one hundred and fifty vendors, workshops, animals, and an array of handmade items all made from natural fibers.

I spoke with Donna Woolam, the director of agriculture at the Eastern States Exposition, to hear more about why this festival began and what attendees can look forward to at this year’s event.

Donna Woolam, Eastern States Exposition: The Fiber Festival is made up of vendors who have — mostly from the area, we have some from outside the region, but mostly from the area — who have a product that they have created, on their own farm or in their own enterprise, for sale.

It was created to offer the opportunity to those involved in agriculture who were doing an added value product such as fiber, wool, rabbit hair is considered fiber, alpaca hair, llama wool is  — they’re all considered natural fibers, and this was an opportunity for these people to develop a market.

And that’s why this started 11 years ago with our partners, the New England Sheep and Wool Growers Association.

Zydalis Bauer: This year marks the 11th annual fiber festival. Why do you think that this event is so popular among fiber enthusiasts?

Donna Woolam: Well, it is the only event of its kind within a radius of our viewership. Snd it’s an event that allows you to come — it’s one stop shopping.

You don’t have to drive from yarn shop to yarn shop or button shop to button shop to create a garment that you would like to show off or to buy the fleece. You can start this project from the very beginning, and it’s all right here, in one environmentally controlled building,

Zydalis Bauer: There will be about over one hundred and fifty vendors this weekend with handmade items as well as other activities and educational experiences.

What can visitors look forward to at this festival?

Donna Woolam: So, we have an extensive workshop schedule. I would invite them to check it out on the website and sign up for a workshop. There’s everything from lace tatting to to knitting to spinning, weaving all those things. You can sign up for a workshop. We do sheep shearing demonstration, which is always popular with everybody.

This is how it all starts. This is where the fiber is created, is with an animal. And then this is how we harvest the wool off of a sheep. We have a very entertaining sheep shearer, who performs three different times each day. We actually have a fleece sale. You can come and buy your own fleece. If you want to start this project from the very beginning, you can buy your own fleece.

Those of you who are not as ambitious as that can find yarn to do for knitting and all sorts of vendors that will be here. We even have some vendors that are here that we’ll be selling the sheep skins and finished garments. We have several vendors that sell finished garments.

Zydalis Bauer: I can imagine that the animals are probably one of the most popular attraction at this festival. I mean, it fascinated me immediately just to hear how many different animals contribute to natural fibers.

We hear that term a lot, so can you just talk about what that exactly means and why that’s so important?

Donna Woolam: Natural fibers are our animal created fibers, their fibers that are created naturally. So, they would be sheep wool, llama, alpaca, rabbit, cashmere goat, mohair goat. Those are called natural fibers. They’re all created by an animal, for human use.

Zydalis Bauer: The other thing that you were speaking about was the workshops. That’s the other educational component to me, and that really also caught my attention because this is not just shopping, right?

There’s also other layers to this festival that you’ve incorporated. Why was it important for you to incorporate those educational moments into this festival?

Donna Woolam: Well, the mission of the Eastern States Agricultural Department and the Eastern States Exposition is to create an educational environment in agriculture, and this does it perfectly for us. These are agricultural producers, these vendors, and so we have created them an opportunity to share their knowledge with the general public in these workshops.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, you’ve been part of this festival for the 11 years that it has been taking place.

What do you look forward to most each year about the fiber festival?

Donna Woolam: I enjoy — we encourage people who are fiber entrepreneurs and to wear the garments of their work, that they might have bought the product for the previous year in this case, it would be in 2019. We encourage them to wear them and show them off.

And so, I just like walking through the event and seeing what people have created on their own with products they have purchased here at the Fiber Festival.

Zydalis Bauer: Last year, I’m sure due to the pandemic, it was probably challenging to have a festival like this.

How were you able to pivot and still offer something for the community? I noticed, as well, some of the workshops are even virtual.

Donna Woolam: Yes, we did a little bit of a virtual component last year and then we offered some of our own. We have a farmer’s market here on the fairgrounds, which will be open this weekend, also where we do sell some of these products. And so, we were able to offer those virtually for sale last year.

We are doing a virtual workshop this year for those who might not want to attend in person. And so, we have been pivoting. A lot of this industry has done a great job of pivoting on their own. A lot of them have outstanding pages on Facebook and Instagram, and they’re selling their product on their websites.

Zydalis Bauer: It must feel amazing to be able to welcome everyone back under the same roof at the Eastern States Exposition once again for the Fiber Festival.

How does it feel to be able to open your doors and have people be in the same space together once again?

Donna Woolam: This is — this is exciting for us. I mean, we had a year where we just had to make ends meet and it was really hard. We’re in the people business, we like providing events. It was really hard for us.

And this has just been a phenomenal fall for us to be open, have our doors open, and see people just really enjoying themselves here on the grounds of the Exposition.

Zydalis Bauer: And how can people attend this year’s festival? Where can they find information and what are the hours?

Donna Woolam: The Fiber Festival runs this Saturday and Sunday, Saturday, 9:00 to 5:00 and Sunday 9:00 to 3:00.

We do have a website, The Fiber Festival of New England, and you can also purchase tickets in advance on the Big E website.