On October 26-28, 2018, fiber enthusiasts gathered at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center for the Southeast Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF). This year’s show was no ordinary year, though, as SAFF organizers and attendees celebrated the 25th anniversary this year.
New to the show this year was a SAFF app that attendees could download on their phones to make the most of their visit. SAFF Board President AnneMarie Walter also pointed out that the former Skein and Garment competition grew so much that they renamed it the Fiber Arts Competition to include not just clothing but also sculptures, woven items, and household items.
SAFF continues to grow every year, but because the event falls on the last weekend of October each year, that means it always happens the weekend after Rhinebeck. Many attendees said they were disappointed to find that some of their favorite companies can never attend SAFF simply because they are either exhausted from Rhinebeck or completely sold out of their stock. But there were still plenty of amazing vendors in attendance, particularly local indie dyers eager to meet their local fanbase.
Purls Yarn Emporium brought along the TARDIS display from their shop.
A few local yarn stores were even represented at SAFF. Both Purls Yarn Emporium and Friends & Fiberworks secured spots in the main building. Purls even brought along their famous Doctor Who TARDIS display full of their very own dyed sock yarn dedicated to each Doctor. Though Black Mountain Yarn Shop did not have a booth, they did offer a discount in their shop to customers who showed their SAFF programs.
For many attendees shopping for fiber, another advantage of attending SAFF is the ability to feel the yarn and meet the people who make it. “One of my favorite things is seeing all the samples so I can see the yarn in action,” said knitter Katie Ybarra. “I got introduced to new designers, too.”
The Miss Babs booth displayed samples such as (left to right) Comfort Fade Cardi by Andrea Mowry, Montis by Irina Anikeeva, Tracery Pullover by Veronica Parsons, and Pocket You, Kangaroo by Hanna Maciejewska.
Melanie Trivette, another knitter who was wearing her own The Weekender sweater designed by Andrea Mowry, agrees. “I like seeing all the sweaters in person from Instagram,” she said. Vendors like Miss Babs feature dozens of samples, placing them above their yarn selection with the pattern names clearly displayed. It makes it easy to immediately choose yarn for a project you fall in love with or vice versa.
The Buffalo Wool Co.’s sign is always a favorite. They change it every year, and you’ll see many attendees snapping photos of it.
The ease of buying yarn with a project in mind is why many stitchers find themselves at SAFF. Katie Ybarra said she loves that so many SAFF vendors give customers cards with pattern ideas on them. Katie bought a set of mini skeins from Canon Hand Dyes, but she wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. Luckily, the skein set came with a card that had pattern suggestions. “I’m one of those knitters who just buys yarn because I like it,” she says. “But those cards help me choose a project so the yarn isn’t just sitting there in my stash.”
Dragonfly Fibers offered the exclusive Hipster colorway at SAFF this year.
Exclusivity also drove customers to many vendors. Each year, several vendors offer colorways that customers can only purchase at SAFF. Dragonfly Fibers, for example, offered a SAFF colorway called Hipster.
While speckled yarn was definitely just as popular this year as it was last year, there was a new dyeing trend: saturated colors. Saturated colors dominated many of the booths and may just overtake speckles next year.
Another trend that swept SAFF this year was progress keepers. Many knitters use the terms “progress keeper” and “stitch marker” interchangeably, but the one noticeable difference is that tools advertised as progress keepers seem to have a lobster-claw opening. Progress keepers also seem to be a bit more complex in design, with vendors like Wee Ones offering polymer clay progress keepers in everything from sheep to cats and flowers.
SAFF attendee Emilie Gate, who had her eye on a couple of the keepers, says she’s noticed a lot of people using progress keepers simply because they’re fun. “Progress keepers are really big now. A lot of people like to use them instead of a stitch marker, too, because they’re so decorative,” said Emilie.
Even on the heels of Rhinebeck, it doesn’t seem like anyone at SAFF was tired of shopping for fiber. Fiber fans poured in and out of the buildings, many with multiple shopping bags filled with felt, yarn, and even tools to inspire their next fiber project. We’ll anxiously await next year to see what changes the steady growth of this show will bring.
Ashley Little is a craft writer and knitting/crochet technical editor by day, serial crafter by night. She is a regular contributor for Bluprint and the author of Chunky Knits. You can find more of Ashley’s work at TheFeistyRedhead.com.