Every two years, the MidAtlantic Fiber Association has a biennial conference; MAFA 2019 took place last weekend. Ho hum, you say? Well… feast your eyes:
And that’s just my tiny sampling of the creativity on display and at work during MAFA 2019. Last week, close to 500 craftspeople flocked to a university campus in Pennsylvania’s gorgeous Lancaster County – Amish country! – to spend three days honing skills or learning new ones, enjoying the company of fellow artists, and networking in ways that will keep traditional arts moving forward into the future.
Printing with indigo, weaving with two rigid heddles, rug making, silk spinning, Scottish glovemaking, rural Japanese clothmaking, felted jewelry, temari balls, and much, much more… plus something unexpected: making socks using century old hand-cranked sock knitters! I thought they were someone’s steampunk imaginings but no, they were truly used in the late 1800s and early 1900s to make socks and have been given new life by BobbinBoy:
It all takes place at Millersville University, a Penn State campus that resembles NYU dropped into peaceful cornfields. We stayed in the spartan but very clean and new college dormitories; the cafeteria had everything from fruit salad to pancakes and bacon, burgers and pizza to salad bar and design your own grain bowls. The city of Lancaster is nearby if you prefer hotel accommodation.
Essentially, you choose a workshop and spend your daytime hours attending it. Up for breakfast, off to your classroom, break for lunch, back to your classroom. Evenings are funtime, although I’m not saying that class time wasn’t! I don’t have the time or space to go into everything at MAFA 2019, so let’s just say there was never a dull moment. The opening night keynote speaker – Tom Knisely from the Redstone Glen Fiber Arts Center, voted Teacher of the Year by Handwoven Magazine – set the tone of the conference right off the start. He was highly knowledgeable, fascinating, and downright funny. His talk was understandable and inspiring to all, regardless of craft.
The nerve center of the conference was the university’s huge gymnasium. One side was dedicated to the Marketplace. This wonderful – and I mean ✨wonderful with sparkles all around ✨ – marketplace was filled with a really lovely selection of vendors: farmers selling fresh fleece, a woodturner with crafting tools in rare woods, vintage buttons, super charming project bags, a high end publisher of craft books, a Saori weaving booth offering on the spot free loom lessons… even if you’ve been to a million fiber festivals, you would have been impressed by the unique range of wares on offer. My advice: put a vase in your kitchen and start dropping pocket change into it starting today for the MAFA 2021 marketplace!
Early Friday evening, a big crowd gathered in the gym to shop and view the art installation, fashion show garments, skein competition entries, and kitchen towel exchange display. Then the spinning wheel games and door prizes draw started up! All attendees were automatically entered into the door prizes draw, and there were so many prizes that one in 10 people were winners! Prizes ranged from products donated by marketplace vendors, to gift certificates, all the way up to a week at the renowned John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. And the spinning wheel games were hilarious! Can you spin tinsel while blindfolded with rubber gloves on?!
Saturday night was open studio time; teachers opened their classrooms to all. I spent 45 minutes chatting about the various types of indigo with John Marshall (“Singing the Blues” workshop) and the remaining hour and 15 minutes dashing from room to room but there was just so much fantastic work to see that I missed two entire buildings worth of classrooms.
Certainly I could go on and on about the wonders of MAFA 2019, but I’ll stop myself and simply end with my own experience. I have been making yarn on a spinning wheel for 14 years, I’m an intermediate knitter and a beginning crocheter. I’ve got an Ashford Knitters rigid heddle loom and I’ve been weaving for less than a year. I signed up for a ‘double weave’ rigid heddle loom workshop that welcomed “adventurous beginners” and crossed my fingers that I could keep up. My instructor, Deborah Jarchow, was as patient as she was professional; my 11 classmates were friendly and kind. I finished my two and a half day workshop with awesome skills, a new world of weaving revealed to me!
And lastly, I had no idea MAFA existed until last January when my crafting buddy Paige suggested that I join the New York Guild of Handweavers as a beginner weaver and then invited me to go to “fiber summer camp” with her. But I realize there are many people whose friends do not share their love of crafts. For those individuals, please don’t feel like you can’t go to a MAFA conference because you’d be flying solo. Paige and I signed up to be volunteers and it was a great way to meet a wide variety of people, especially the wonderful ones responsible for making the conference happen. (MAFA and their biennial conferences are entirely run by volunteers). So many volunteer slots were available that you could absolutely be busy all weekend! I assisted with the conference setup, the door prizes, and I also taught short sessions of chair yoga – Yoga for Craftspeople – and met so many nice and extremely inspiring people. Heck, just standing in a cafeteria line and complimenting someone on their scarf would start up an in-depth conversation on a particular style of weaving! So don’t be shy; sign up for fiber summer camp!