Fiber artists drank colorful hand-dyed yarns, clicked knitting needles and flipped through quilting patterns during the annual Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival, held Aug. 25-27 at the Double Tree by Hilton in Green Tree.
For nearly two decades, the festival has brought professionals and enthusiasts from across the country to Pittsburgh to celebrate fiber arts. This year is Laura Regan’s second event after purchasing the 2020 Fest from Barbara Grossman.
When the pandemic struck, Grossman decided to retire after 17 years at the festival’s helm. Regan, who spent years selling and teaching knit, crochet, and indie dyes at Creative Arts Fest, couldn’t let the festival run out like the curled end of a ball of yarn.
“There are many … sheep and wool festivals in Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York. There was nothing in that area and it’s a really huge crochet market,” said Regan. “I just didn’t want it to work. I just think our industry as a whole would have had a gap. I didn’t want the fiber optic community to miss this festival.”
The larger fiber arts community came en masse. People from Kentucky and beyond, and even from around Canonsburg, opened stores and chatted with other vendors and attendees about their wares and yarn experiences.
“I wasn’t expecting this – it’s amazing. Nirvana,” said Linda Listing, who dyes yarn by hand and creates artworks in her studio. Ursula’s nichein Canonsburg.
List’s passion for fiber art was sparked years ago while serving as an assistant naturalist.
“We taught kids how to make natural paints. I thought I could do that,” she said.
She did. Although she’s been a fiber artist—dying yarn with natural ingredients like tarragon and lemon balm from her garden—for about 20 years, this was her first Creative Arts Fest.
“I just didn’t know this was here,” she said, surveying the scene. “Weaving is my passion. I hope to entice people to weave.”
People weaved in and out of the Yarns Bits and Bobs Truck, a Pittsburgh-area yarn truck (think food trucks that are instead filled with soft strands of brightly colored material), which made its festival debut alongside Yarnbyrds.
There are fewer than 20 yarn wagons nationwide.
“You can’t buy yarn north of Pittsburgh,” says YBB owner Julie Pasquarelli. “I would like to satisfy this need.”
Yarns Bits and Bobs is parked in various locations north of Steel City and sells commercial fiber from the shop on wheels.
While festival-goers eyed the wares outside, Keri Fosbrink stood inside crocheting at her stand while people browsed her selection of yarns in varying degrees of softness.
“I do all the dying. Every strand that’s here with me is dyed by me. I’m a one-woman show,” said Fosbrink, whose husband encouraged her to open the show Youghiogheny yarns in Connellsville almost seven years ago.
While Fosbrink’s business is a solo show, the artist enjoys hosting classes at her studio and meeting other fiber enthusiasts at shows and festivals (this was her sixth time at Pittsburgh Creative Arts Fest).
It’s “the people,” Fosbrink said. “The personal interaction, being able to talk to them and discuss their projects.”
Conversations—the sharing of stories, knowledge, and patterns—is the common thread that connects providers, teachers, and participants.
Tony Lipsey, a rising crochet star who earned the fiber art crown with her first book, The Tunisian Crochet Handbook: A Beginner’s Guidehit shelves in November 2021, chatting friendly, signing autographs and posing for photos with fans.
“I learned from my mom when I was a teenager,” said Lipsey, whose mom, Gwen Jones (“I’m a proud mom,” Jones smiled), also attended the festival. “When I was in my early 20s, I just needed a hobby. I started crocheting again and never really stopped.”
Lipsey started TL Yarn Crafts in 2013 and her online courses, patterns and clothing grew. In 2017, the bubbly Lipsey quit her job to pursue a career in crocheting.
“It’s a great time to be a craftsman,” she said. “The pandemic slowed us down. 2020 has been a very exciting year for crocheters. It has become … again a very creative process.”
Creativity abounded at the SACK (Supporting A Community with Kindness) table, where the nonprofit’s founder, Stacy Wiener, knitted alongside volunteers and festival attendees.
SACK donates soap, wrapped in hand-crocheted or knitted soap bags, to local pantries, homeless shelters, veterans’ hospitals, and other charities. Wiener estimates that more than 250,000 soap bags have been donated worldwide since it was founded in 2017.
“We’re about dignity,” Wiener said, noting that food stamps don’t cover the cost of toiletries. “The need is there regardless of where people are. We have volunteers all over the world.”
And the fiber art is all over the world. People from different cities and states gathered in classrooms to demonstrate their skills. Classes covered everything from traditional knitting and crocheting to color theory, English paper piercing and wine glass painting.
“We have polymer clay, we have weaving, macrame,” Regan said. “Usually an artist sticks their fingers in a little bit of everything. So this festival offers a lot more from a class perspective.”
There is much more to come. The next Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival is already planned for August 2023 at the same location.
Until then, vendors, teachers, and fiber artists will hone and expand their craft, encouraging anyone with a desire to “make” to grab some yarn and needles and start creating.