10-Year Celebrations and Other Thoughts

A lot can change in ten years.

Ten years ago, I was single. Childless. Spent my disposable income on, well, yarn.

Flash forward to now:  I’m happily married. We have three children. I still love yarn, but disposable income and free time to knit are largely things of the past (and, I hope, the future; this too shall pass).

Ten years ago, there was no YarnCon. Can you even imagine?

And yet in 2017, we’ll celebrate our tenth show. So much can change.

This month, in preparing for a knitting/dry-felting class I’m teaching at my children’s school, I visited one of our longtime YarnCon vendors, Esther’s Place. I needed some wool for the kids to use in needle felting, but really I wanted an excuse for a quick trip out of the city on a gorgeous spring day.

Mother and daughter team Donna and Natasha have transformed a lovely Victorian house in Big Rock, IL, into a colorful playhouse for fiber fanatics. Lush roving dyed in every shade and whimsical felted creatures are all around. I was drawn to the curly fleece locks dyed like little rainbows. My three-year-old instantly spotted the needle-felted Star Wars figures. It’s a fun place.

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And guess what? Esther’s Place has been around for a decade. Another ten-year celebration! In fact, this weekend they’re hosting a Farm Days Open House to commemorate. If you’re in the western Chicagoland suburbs (and even if you’re not), head out to Big Rock this weekend for some fibery farm fun.

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Donna Lehrer and Natasha Lehrer Lewis


Newsflash: Kids Love Wool

Armed with a pound of roving dyed in 16 distinct colors, a bulk order of felting needles and foam pads, and a basket of cookie cutters, I made my way to the Chicago Free School, where two of my kids attend.

We talked briefly about how felting works: how the wool fibers are built to cling to each other, and that with a little help from an absurdly sharp and skinny needle, we can mold and sculpt the wool into shapes.

They loved it. They dove right in.

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There’s something about working with your hands, feeling the fuzzy wool and blending different colors together, and yes, stabbing something with a sharp object, that kids just GET. (Incredibly, in a room of kids ranging in age from 7 to 13, we only had one pricked finger.) As someone who works in the fiber world, I’m so gratified and rewarded at how excited these kids are about working with wool.

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We started out with simple cookie cutter shapes this week, and next week we’ll explore creating landscapes on flat felt “canvases,” as well as sculpting 3D objects and figures.

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Such a fun time.

Have you taught kids to knit, crochet, spin, or felt? How did it go? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

 

 

Admission is Free, But We Need Your Support!

Did you know that we used to charge admission to YarnCon? Yep, $3 to walk in the door. We weren’t crazy about it; charging admission gives you less money to spend with the amazing artists on the shopping floor, and we wanted even the fiber-curious to come check out YarnCon, without commitment.

YarnCon 2007 at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse

YC #1: 2007 at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse. We charged admission then; can you believe how we’ve grown?

 

But putting on an event in the heart of the city is not cheap, so we had to figure out another way. Rather than charging a flat admission, we came up with ways for you to show us the support you can, or want to.

Here are three ways you can help keep admission free for all:

* Enter to win! Our amazing vendors, sponsors, and friends of the show donate prizes that we raffle off all weekend long, and you don’t even need to be present when we pull your name! Raffle tickets are only $1 each or $10/dozen, so the more support you give, the better your chances to win! (Pro tip: the door prize entry just needs your name and email or phone, for those of you that like to print out labels for these things.)

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The raffle table in years past; what will our vendors and friends have for you this year?

 

* Get gear. Your t-shirt and bag orders, along with anything else in the YarnCon shop, go directly toward the costs of the show. Display your YarnCon pride! You can preorder anything from the shop to pick up this weekend, or get your gear at the event.

2016shirts

* Donate. YarnCon is officially organized by the non-profit Society for the Lost Arts. Your donation not only supports YarnCon’s continued existence and growth, but helps us develop workshops, programs, and community around the arts, and it’s tax-deductible!

YarnCon is 100% a labor of love. We organize the show for YOU: vendors, designers, crafters of all types. Your enthusiasm sustains and grows the show, and we can’t wait to see you THIS WEEKEND!

Damn Fine YarnContest – Prizes!

DFYC-Final-logoBYou’re pulling out your favorite fair isle sweater or whipping up a tiny cherry pie for our Damn Fine YarnContest, right? We’re so excited to see what you’ll enter, whether designed yourself or from a pattern you’ve knit a thousand times. The range of skills in our fiber community is amazing, and we want you to show it off!

Even if you’re not entering — and even if you can’t make it to YarnCon at all! — you can follow along with the fun on Instagram, and vote for your favorites! Follow @rubysubmarine, where Leah Coccari-Swift of Great Northern will be posting pics of all the entries, and @yarncon, where we’ll be posting highlights. Judges will check out the fan favorites when they make their decisions.

And now, a peek at the prizes!

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Every category winner will receive one of the awesome new organic cotton box-bottom tote bags we cooked up for YarnCon this year, plus an additional prize unique to the category:

Best Twin Peaks Prop:

Winner of this category will receive a signed copy of the Great Northern Knits book that kicked off this whole contest idea in the first place. Since the book isn’t scheduled for publication until late this year, the winner will receive PDF copies of From Another Place (cropped version shown above, but we’ll include both versions!) and Cherry Pie, patterns that will appear in the book. That should keep them busy while they wait!

 

Best Garment:

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The winner of Best Garment will receive a kit to make judge Lisa Whiting’s Straight Edge Slouch Hat, a quick knit and a nice change of pace from the more technical demands of a full garment! But if they want to tackle another big project right away, we’re including a printed copy of Lisa’s stunning new Cabled Cardi pattern, along with a set of Balwen Woodworks Mulberry Branch buttons to finish it off.

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Best Use of Handspun:
What do spinners want, but more fiber? Best Use of Handspun winner will find that their YarnCon tote bag contains a full braid of hand-dyed fiber from one of our awesome vendors, along with samples of additional fibers from vendors past and present.

 

Best Toy:
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Best Toy winner will receive a signed copy of judge Anna Hrachovec‘s latest pattern book, Adventures in Mochimochi Land. With 25 new patterns inside, it will help our ultimate toy-knitter establish their own toy colony!

 

Best Accessory:
midwestern
Winner in this category will be the proud new owner of judge Allyson Dykhuizen‘s Midwestern Knits book, chock full of garment and accessory patterns from Midwestern designers and all featuring indie yarns.

 

But what about “Best in Show”?

The Best in Show winner, decided on by all five judges, will get the ultimate YarnCon prize package, which includes:

  • A YarnCon T-shirt;
  • A YarnCon goodie bag, this year’s cotton box-bottom tote with vendor samples and YarnCon swag included;
  • A signed copy of Great Northern Knits when available; PDF copies of From Another Place and Cherry Pie to tide them over;
  • A Work+Shelter project bag;
  • Two of the latest Mochimochiland toy kits: Ninja and Robot;
  • A Balwen Woodworks vintage ruler pin;
  • Plus plenty of shout-outs and the gratification of knowing they bested a hot field of incredibly skilled YarnCon attendees!

 

Damn Fine YarnContest – Meet Your Judges!

(We let Great Northern Knits co-author Leah Coccari-Swift have the mic today to fill you in on the latest for next weekend’s contest! Are you cooking up something fun to enter?)

Hello, fiber lovers! I’m here to tell you a little about each of our wonderful Damn Fine YarnContest judges, so you can get to know us before the Big Weekend. Each of us will be judging one of 5 categories, and coming together to decide on our pick for the Best in Show prize. Read on, won’t you? We can’t wait to see what you’re gonna submit!

 

Best Twin Peaks Prop Judge: Leah Coccari-Swift (that’s me)
Leah Log Lady
You may be wondering about the “presented by… Great Northern” aspect of this contest. Great Northern is my upcoming Kickstarter-funded knitting book with Teresa Gregorio, inspired by the early 90’s TV show Twin Peaks. The show was groundbreaking in many ways, and also happens to feature some amazing knitwear. The iconography of Twin Peaks lends itself nicely to yarn-crafted items, and I can’t wait to see what folks come up with for this category! Check out Great Northern here, and you can find my blog here. I can’t wait to see you at the show!

 

Best Garment Judge: Lisa Whiting
Lisa
Lisa is a talented artist, knitwear designer, and creative director at the super-popular yarn subscription club Yarnbox. Her designs have been featured in many magazines and on TV, and she created one of my all-time favorite kid’s hat patterns, the adorable Kitty Hat for Blue Sky Alpacas. We’re delighted to have Lisa judging the garment category, as she’ll bring her creative eye and keen aesthetic sense to the task! You can find Lisa’s website here.

 

Best Use of Handspun Judge: Vera Videnovich
Vera
Vera is an amazing spinner, knitter, designer, and grower of superb vegetables. Her farm produces veggies in the warm season and wool from her sheep in the cool season (shorn and spun by Vera!). The love and care she dedicates to her creations results in beautiful produce, stunning knitwear (check out her men’s sweaters!) and luscious yarn. Vera’s spinning and design expertise will serve her well as judge for this category! Follow her on Instagram here.

(Ed note: Vera is our resident spinning guru; she taught all three YarnCon organizers how to spin. You can learn from her too next weekend in her DIY Handspinning classes!)

 

Best Toy Judge: Anna Hrachovec
Anna
Anna is an artist, designer, author, animator, and all-around creative force. Anna’s wonderful Mochimochi Land patterns are incredibly popular for good reason, they are incredibly cute and addictive to knit! Anna’s fantastic sense of color and design make each of her tiny, anthropomorphized creations a true work of adorable art, and we’re thrilled to have her as the toy judge! You can find Mochimochi Land on the web here, and Anna’s website here.

 

Best Accessory Judge: Allyson Dykhuizen
Allyson
Allyson is a designer, editor, author, and kick-ass lady. Holla Knits, her online magazine, is in its 5th year of producing challenging, unique, fashionable patterns. Allyson has been featured in magazines, co-authored the wonderful book Midwestern Knits last year, and is currently working on the 1Knit1Chicago kit club, which is producing fabulous original patterns. Her technical skills and design savvy make her an ideal accessories judge. Check out Allyson’s blog here.

All 5 of us will judge “Best in Show”!

When entries are dropped off, they will be photographed, posted on Instagram, and tagged with #damnfineyarncontest. For those of you who won’t be able to make the show, you can still see all the amazing work online… heart and comment on your favorite! The judges will take this into consideration when making their decision. Remember, judges’ decisions are final, and will be made according to their discretion; the amount of weight they give to online votes is up to the judge!

So, are you digging through your FOs yet?

 

Next week, we’ll be sharing a peek at the prizes in each category, and the big kahuna… Best In Show!

Sponsor Spotlight: Knit 1

Today we’re checking in with Knit 1, who is supporting this year’s YarnCon as a sponsor. I’m not sure how store owner Lynn found time to answer our questions, what with moving the whole store, even if just across the street.

The new, larger spot opens up Saturday, so go check it out and say hi!


Knit 1Knit 1
3856 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago IL 60613
http://www.knit1chgo.com/

What will folks find at your store?
Since we have a brand new store, they will find a beautiful, new space with lots of yarn! We stock things we love, natural fibers and unique brands in a range of prices. I particularly love color, so you can expect lots of that in our yarns! 

Do you carry any indie-dyed lines (or other handmade items) in your store?
   Yes. We have yarns from local dyers plus bags, yarn bowls, and needles made by (mostly local) artists.

YarnCon is, at heart, a party to bring together fiber lovers and encourage support for independent makers. How does this jibe with your store philosophy?
   There is so much local talent in this city! Knit 1 supports independent makers in several ways. We help by teaching and offering a variety of classes so artists and makers can learn new skills. We sell locally made goods – I mentioned the yarn bowls and bags – but we also hold book signings of local authors and host trunk shows for local makers. We love to see the work of local designers; supporting up-and-coming designers and giving them a place to show and grow their work is a win-win for all of us in the fiber community. In the new store we have a large class area designed specially so we can teach other fiber arts like dyeing, spinning, embroidery and weaving.

Tell us about the new 1knit1chicago project!
   I thought you’d never ask! We are showcasing 5 Chicago knitwear designers who will be designing exclusive patterns for Knit 1 in 2016. The 1knit1chicago Kit Club participants will have exclusive access to 5 fun accessory patterns designed by local knitwear designers. The way it works is, starting in April and debuting every other month through December, pattern club subscribers will get their pattern and yarn for the project in an exclusive 1knit1chicago project bag, plus an extra bonus gift! Adding needles to the kit is also available.

Chicago designers include Allyson Dykhuizen, Sarah B. Abram, Amelia Plunk, Leah Coccari-Swift and Stefanie Goodwin-Ritter. Yarns featured in these kits are Wonderland Yarns, Mrs Crosby, Hikoo by Skacel, Dream in Color and Mountain Colors.  Project bags are made at WORK + SHELTER.  

We’ll be hosting pattern launch parties at the store for every pattern. The designer of that month’s pattern will be there to answer questions and help everyone to get started!

What do you most want people to know about you?
   After 50 years of knitting I’m still as passionate about it as I have ever been! Creating a space and community for all fiber enthusiasts has been a lifelong goal.

Sponsor Spotlight: Yarnify!

We are rich in LYS options in the Chicago area, and we’re thrilled to have two of them supporting this year’s YarnCon as sponsors! We posed a few questions to Barbara at Yarnify! and Lynn of Knit 1, to let them introduce their stores to you in their own words. We were also interested to hear how YarnCon’s focus on independent makers, and the greater fiber community, fit in with their own philosophies.

Today we hear from Barbara, Yarnify! owner; on Friday we’ll check in with Lynn of Knit 1.


YarnifyfpYarnify!
47 W. Polk St., Chicago IL 60605
http://www.yarnify.com

What will folks find at your store?
   Our goal at Yarnify! is to carry a thoughtful mix of the best yarns we can find.  It’s no secret to fiber friends that this is the greatest time in the history of the world to participate in fiber crafts, so our challenge is to choose among the wealth of wonderful yarns and fibers available and stock something for every taste and budget. Brands featured include Cascade, Berroco, Classic Elite, Madelinetosh, Malabrigo, and Rowan, with selected gems from Baah, Sweet Georgia, Jilly, Frabjous Fibers and Misti Alpaca.  Oh, and let’s not forget the huge selection of roving!

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Do you carry any indie-dyed lines (or other handmade items) in your store?
   Yes indeed, and we are constantly looking for opportunities to showcase local artisans whose innovative products enrich our crafting lives. The mix of offerings varies over time, but recently has included yarns, as well as project bags, knitted accessories, amigurumi, and pins.  And we just started offering our very own Nonesuch American Worsted, 100% domestic superwash wool dyed in lively tonal shades by a local artisan! We are looking to collaborate with other local artists on limited-edition runs of hand-dyed yarns. Who knows, maybe we’ll run into a few at YarnCon!

YarnCon is, at heart, a party to bring together fiber lovers and encourage support for independent makers. How does this jibe with your store philosophy?
   Yarnify! exists because passionate crafters need two things: a place where they can enjoy the entire sensory experience of selecting yarn and projects, and a supportive community where they can learn about fiber and stretch their crafting skills through a lifetime of projects. Uniqueness is a strong motivator for crafters; we want to make something distinctive, something that reflects our personal tastes. So it’s no surprise that as novice crafters gain knowledge and confidence, they develop an appreciation for the beauty, sophistication and uniqueness of handmade products.  Part of our mission at Yarnify! is to awaken that appreciation and introduce these crafters to everything we celebrate at YarnCon! 

What do you most want people to know about you?
   That I’m crazy about color! Solids, tonals, gradients, multicolors, spatter-dyes, you name it. There’s nothing more enjoyable to me than helping someone find exactly the right shade(s) or tint(s) or hue(s).  

Anything else you want to share?
   That I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of YarnCon – so much beauty, talent, energy, and potential packed into an exhilarating weekend!

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What’s a Twin Peaks prop?

One of the most frequent questions we’ve gotten about the Damn Fine YarnContest is, “What’s a Twin Peaks prop?” So if you’re wondering, you’re not alone.

The contest was inspired by the forthcoming Great Northern Knits, a collection of patterns based on the cult-classic Twin Peaks series of the 90s. The show, which is currently filming a reboot, is full of quirky, eccentric, and downright weird characters. Netflix has the original series if you want to check it out.

The Best Twin Peaks Prop category pays homage to this creative TV icon and will be judged by Leah Coccari-Swift, one of the designers behind the Great Northern Knits book. Just type “Twin Peaks” into Google or Pinterest for a whole bunch of oddball ideas to get your creative juices going. If you’re looking for a little extra inspiration, here are a handful of patterns that would fit right in!

Coffee and Cherry Pie

Twin Peaks’ lead character, FBI Agent Dale Cooper, is passionately devoted to these items on the Double R Diner’s menu. His rapture over “a damn fine cup of coffee” inspired the contest’s name.

 

The Log

One of the more eccentric residents of Twin Peaks is Margaret Lanterman, aka The Log Lady, who carries her log around town and acts as its translator to those who “can’t hear it.”

 

 

Eyepatch

In honor of Nadine Hurley, inventor of the silent drape runner.

 

Jelly Donut

Agent Cooper once ate 12 of them in a day, as reported to the mysterious Diane.

A Damn Fine YarnContest: FAQs & Rules

Hey, yarn friends! We’ve already had an enthusiastic response to the contest announcement for the Damn Fine YarnContest, and folks have raised some good questions. Thanks, all! 

Here are some things you might want to know about the Damn Fine YarnContest:

  • Everyone is eligible to enter, excluding judges and organizers. It would be hard to explain if we made off with all the prizes.
  • You may enter up to three items per category (let’s not overwhelm our awesome judges!).
  • Items may be entered in more than one category (i.e., a toy made out of handspun yarn could be entered in both the Toy and Handspun categories).
  • Entries may be knitted, crocheted, woven, or felted.
  • The Handspun category must be made of yarn spun by the entrant. No restrictions on yarn used in any other category.
  • Sorry, no photos accepted. Judges have to be able to see the quality of your work in person.
  • Entries must be brought in person to the contest table at YarnCon on the designated day for your category:
    • Saturday 4/2, Drop off from 10am-2pm:
      • Best Twin Peaks Prop
      • Best Accessory
      • Best Use of Handspun
    • Sunday 4/3, Drop off from 10am-12pm:
      • Best Garment
      • Best Toy
    • Note: Entries in Sunday categories may be dropped off Saturday, but must be picked up Sunday after judging (see below).
  • Pickup
    • Best Twin Peak Prop, Best Accessory, Best Use of Handspun entries: may be picked up Saturday 4/2 between 3pm and 5pm.
    • Best Garment, Best Toy entries: may be picked up Sunday 4/3 between 1:30pm and 3pm.
    • All entries must be picked up by Sunday at 3pm, when YarnCon closes. Any entries not picked up by then will be held until 4/17 at YarnCon sponsors:
  • Entrants agree that pictures of their work may be posted on social media; winners’ names may also be posted.
  • There is no fee for entry; this is all purely for fun. You will have to fill out a small form for each item entered and be OK with us pinning it to your entry, though.
  • All judges’ decisions are final.

Still curious about something? Let us know! 

A Contest, YarnCon-Style!

Ready to dig out your best work, or whip up a little something new, and win prizes for it? In partnership with Great Northern, the upcoming release of knit patterns inspired by the evergreen Twin Peaks TV series, we invite you to enter a Damn Fine YarnContest.

DFYC-Final-logoBWe have five categories to enter, with outstanding judges in each category:

  • Best Twin Peaks prop, judged by Great Northern author Leah Coccari-Swift
  • Best Accessory, judged by Midwestern Knits author Allyson Dykhuizen
  • Best Toy, judged by Anna Hrachovec of Mochimochiland
  • Best Use of Handspun Yarn, judged by Vera Videnovich, spinning instructor and proprietor of Atelier Videnovich
  • Best Garment, judged by Yarnbox creative director Lisa Whiting

One winner will be declared in each category, with all five judges conferring on one Best in Show grand prize to rule supreme (and get a extra-special prize package).

Further entry details will be announced on the blog next week, but start thinking about what you want to enter or make, and get ready to strut your stuff!

(Clarification note, since you asked: the Great Northern book does focus on knit patterns, but all fiber arts are welcome to enter; knitted, crocheted, woven…we want to see ALL your awesome work!)

Check out more about the Great Northern project here. And remember: the Log Lady‘s log may not judge, but we will!

 

YarnCon: Past and Future

As I excitedly added the link to the Request for Workshop Proposals application to the front page of our website today, I got to thinking about how every year I tweak the process just a bit (thanks to the great feedback from our teachers!) and just how far we have come since our first show in October of 2007. That’s right, for those of you who have not been with us since the beginning, we used to be a one day show in October. Although you won’t really see it if you attend YarnCon, there have been some big changes recently behind the scenes. I want to tell you about those changes and where we are heading, but I feel like talking about how we got started should come first. I can get really chatty when it comes to talking about the past, (just ask my adviser about my Master’s thesis! Yikes!) so I will try to not overdo it.

Past:

In the Summer of 2007, Sara came to me with an idea. Let’s start a yarn craft fair, like Renegade, but just for yarn. She already had a name for it: YarnCon, like the comic-cons, but again, for yarn. I thought it was just crazy enough to work, and said yes. That summer we started an LLC called Yarny Goodness to be YarnCon’s parent company, and to give us room to grow. I think that before we even had the first show under our belts, we were already looking ahead for what else we could do with this idea of gathering fiber artists. We talked about magazines, online market places, other events throughout the year, and dreamed while we got our first show up and running. That October, we held our first YarnCon at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse, with 25 vendors, a couple of free workshops run by friends who volunteered, and a photography project in the corner which was the idea of a local knitter and blogger named Franklin Habit. It was the 1000 Knitters Project, and we gave him a corner to set up his photobooth. We also had a book signing (Susan Strawn’s Knitting America) and the author sold out of her books before the day was over. At least 2 of our vendors were yarn stores, one of which has since closed, and the other has changed hands. We broke even, and in our minds it was a huge success, and the reviews were very positive. I think we had almost 300 shoppers that day.

YarnCon 2007 at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse

YarnCon 2007 at the Pulaski Park Fieldhouse

With the exception of 2012, we’ve hosted YarnCon every year since 2007. First in October, then  in April after the move to the new location. It has grown from a one day show in a park district auditorium to a two-day affair in the Plumber’s Union Hall, with a large parking lot and loading docks and elevators. We quickly brought on one of our first volunteers, Lindy, to help us run the show (she was already helping so much it only made sense to make it official!)

Our first year at the Plumbers Union Hall

Our first year at the Plumbers Union Hall

But, we never stopped thinking about what else we could do.

Future:

Still with me? Excellent! As I mentioned earlier, we had created an LLC to manage the show. But, we still had this desire to do more throughout the year. YarnCon does a good job of paying for itself, but not much more, since we try hard to make it affordable for both our vendors and our community (what other yarn show has free admission?) So, what to do? Last Summer, Sara and I started looking for a location to work out of, and hopefully share with other fiber artists. A place where we could hold workshops and events all year long. In the process of figuring this out, we came to the conclusion that the best way to approach this is as a not for profit. We talked to Lindy and some other very smart yarny people in our community and decided to create a new non-profit: The Society for the Lost Arts (or SLA for short.) Now we can use this new organization to raise funds not only to host more programming during the rest of the year, but also to host YarnCon! After so many years of being first a 2 person and then a 3 person team, we now have a Board of people who care about the fiber arts community in Chicago as much as we do, and who love learning and teaching about some of the older art forms we all love. Let’s face it, knitting, crochet, weaving, spinning, this stuff is not new. And if we don’t keep sharing it, learning about it, doing it out where people can see us and get excited, it can be forgotten. Right now the fiber arts are hot, and we love it! We want to contribute with shared knowledge, and a shared space to spread the knowledge, and to share the tools we need to make the things we love.

Exciting, right? How can  you help? One way to is share this (lengthy) post and spread the word. The other is by contributing to the Society for the Lost Arts. We want to keep YarnCon as it is, an affordable venue for talented fiber artists, so in order to add programming and a shared space we need to make money in other ways. We will soon be sharing all kinds of sponsorship opportunities, and upcoming programs. But, in the meantime, if you can, please head over to http://societyforthelostarts.org/support-our-work/ and contribute whatever you can. We have a tiny space now to hold our looms, spinning wheel, sewing machines, and even antique printing presses, but we want to move into a space that we can share with all of you. Please help make this a reality for all of us. Thanks!