Fiber artists drank colorful hand-dyed yarns, snapped knitting needles and flipped through quilt patterns at the annual Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival, held Aug. 25-27 at the Double Tree by Hilton at Green Tree.
For nearly two decades, the festival has brought professionals and enthusiasts from across the country to Pittsburgh to celebrate the fiber arts. This year is Laura Regan’s second time hosting the event, having bought the festival from Barbara Grossman in 2020.
When the pandemic hit, Grossman decided to retire, after 17 years at the helm of the festival. Regan, who for years was a salesman and freelance knitting, crocheting and dyeing instructor at Creative Arts Fest, couldn’t let the festival shrink to a ball of yarn.
“There’s a lot of…sheep and wool parties in Ohio, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York. There was nothing in that area, and it’s a crochet market really huge,” Regan said. “I just didn’t want to see it go. I just think our industry as a whole would have had a gap. I didn’t want the fiber community to miss this festival.”
The large fiber arts community turned out in droves. People from as far away as Kentucky and beyond, and as close as Canonsburg, settled in and chatted with other vendors and attendees about their wares and experiences creating with yarn.
“I didn’t expect it to be like this – it’s unbelievable. Nirvana,” said Linda Listing, who hand-dyes yarn and creates artwork at her studio, Ursula’s Alcove, in Canonsburg.
Listing’s passion for fiber arts began years ago when she was an assistant naturalist.
“We taught children how to make natural dyes. I was like, I could do it,” she said.
So she did. Although she’s been a fiber artist — yarn hand-dyed 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 it was here,” she said as she surveyed the scene. “Weaving is my passion. I hope to inspire people to weave.
People walked in and out of the Yarns Bits and Bobs truck, a Pittsburgh-area yarn truck (think food trucks filled with soft skeins of colorful materials instead) that debuted at the festival alongside Yarnbyrds.
Fewer than 20 wire trucks exist nationwide.
“North of Pittsburgh, there’s nowhere to buy yarn,” said Julie Pasquarelli, owner of YBB. “I want to fill that need.”
Yarns Bits and Bobs parks at various locations north of Steel City, selling trade fibers from the Shop on Wheels.
As festival-goers eyed the wares outside, Keri Fosbrink stood inside, crocheting at her stand as people browsed her display of yarn in varying degrees of sweetness.
“I do all the dying. Every skein that is here with me is dyed by me. I’m a one-woman show,” said Fosbrink, whose husband encouraged her to open Youghiogheny Yarns in Connellsville almost seven years ago.
While Fosbrink’s business is a one-man show, the artist enjoys hosting classes in his studio and connecting with other fiber enthusiasts at shows and festivals (this was his sixth time at the Pittsburgh Creative Arts Fest ).
It’s “the people,” Fosbrink said. “The face-to-face interaction, being able to talk to them, discuss their plans.”
Conversations – sharing stories, knowledge and role models – are the common thread that connects vendors, teachers and attendees.
Tony Lipsey, a rising crochet star who won his fiber arts crown when his first book, The Tunisian Crochet Handbook: A Beginner’s Guide, was released in November 2021, graciously chatted, signed autographs and posed for photos with fans.
“I learned from my mother when I was a teenager,” said Lipsey, whose mother, Gwen Jones (“I’m a proud mom,” Jones smiles) also attended the festival. “In my early twenties, I just needed a hobby. I picked up crocheting and never really quit.
Lipsey founded TL Yarn Crafts in 2013, and its online classes, patterns, and clothing have grown. In 2017, the effervescent Lipsey quit her day job for a career in crochet.
“It’s the perfect time to be a craftsman,” she said. “The pandemic has slowed us down. 2020 has been a very exciting year to be a crocheter. It’s…become a very creative process again.
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, packaged in hand-crocheted or knitted soap bags, to local food pantries, homeless shelters, veteran clinics and other social service organizations. Since its inception in 2017, Wiener estimates that over 250,000 bags of soap have been donated worldwide.
“We’re all about dignity,” Wiener said, noting that food stamps don’t cover the cost of toiletries. “The need is there, no matter where the people are. We have volunteers all over the world.
And fiber arts exist all over the world. People from different cities and states gathered in classrooms to showcase their skills. Classes included everything from traditional knitting and crocheting to color theory, English paper drilling and wine glass painting.
“We have polymer clay, we have weaving, macrame,” Regan said. “Usually an artist puts their fingers in a little bit of everything, so this festival offers, from a class point of view, a lot more.
There’s a lot more to come too. The next Pittsburgh Creative Arts Festival is already scheduled for August 2023, at the same location.
Until then, fiber vendors, teachers, and artists will hone and develop their crafts, and encourage anyone who wants to “do” to pick up yarn and needles and start creating.