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Fiber festivals are held throughout Michigan, yet many are considerable miles away from knitters, crocheters, weavers, spinners and other fiber enthusiasts living in the thumb area who might otherwise attend, if only they were held closer to home.

Monica Cronin, a skilled spinner and self-described “mediocre knitter” who lives in Carsonville, where she and her husband (Barry) own an alpaca farm (Happy Stance Ranch), decided it was high time to make a change; so in 2016, she founded the “Thumb Fiber Festival,” an indoor event held at the Sanilac County Historic Village & Museum in Port Sanilac.

She said, “Last year, some friends and I got together and said, all the major fiber festivals were 2 1/2 to three hours away from where we live in the thumb area. It’s difficult for us to make that distance, pay the fees, and pay for people to take care of our animals. The thumb area has many fiber farmers. There’s alpaca farms, sheeps, angora goats and rabbits.”

As it turned out, organizers had an “outstanding response,” with nearly 800 people attending the two-day, nonprofit event run by a host of volunteers. This year’s festival, set for Nov. 7-11, is being held at a larger venue — Camp Cavell (3335 Lakeshore) in Lexington, along Lake Huron, near Port Sanilac. It’s expected to be bigger and better than last year’s event, with the addition of a workshop retreat, offering fiber-related classes that people can register for. “That’s where Kathy (Groustra) came in,” said Cronin. “She came in and lined up classes for this year’s event.”

Class fees range from $20-$90 each, and preregistration is required. Cronin said, “The $90 classes are all-day classes in spinning and weaving. They’re pretty intense, and all equipment will be provided.” Other classes include knitting socks, lace knitting, blending fibers, nuno felting, working with “exotic” fibers, and beginning wheel spinning. Classes will be held Tuesday-Thursday mornings, and there’s still space in each. The festival is set for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

As part of the festival, one instructor will be selling her needle-felted art dolls, ornamental heads, necklaces, bracelets and key chains. Groustra, who lives in Lexington, said, “Vendors will (also) be selling roving, yarn, equipment, looms for weaving, spinning wheels, needles and buttons — just about anything you would want for whatever you want to make. One lady doing a class will be selling her angora bunnies, and she’ll tell you how to care for them and spin with their fiber (hair.)”

Cronin said, “Last year, we had around 22 vendors. This year, we have about 28. We’re kind of keeping it small to make sure we have quality. It’s all natural fiber — wool, silk and even cotton.”

In addition to proximity, the purpose of the festival is to bring attention to farmers and creative folks in the area. “It’s all about celebrating our local fiber farmers, weavers, spinners, knitters and fiber artists. It’s a celebration of all the local talent we have here,” explained Cronin. “We have such a great resource of small fiber entrepreneurs and it’s really remarkable. I don’t think people know how many people in this area are creating beautiful fiber work.”

This year, the festival was awarded two grants. “One of the grants is from the Sanilac Consortium for the Arts. They’re providing local musicians to play their local music at the festival,” said Cronin. (With) a second grant from the Sanilac County Community Foundation, we are able to provide shuttle buses so people can park at the public parking in Lexington and in Port Sanilac both days. Buses will run continuously all day (9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.), and that’s free. They don’t have to worry about the weather. They just park in those towns and enjoy the towns, as well.”

Camp Cavell has heated cabins with indoor plumbing, and Cronin said, the area also offers bed and breakfast inns and small hotels for persons wanting to create a “slumber party atmosphere.” Groustra adds, “We’ll have activities at night for people, including a campfire. There’ll be plenty for them to do.”

Admission to the Thumb Fiber Festival is free both days, but donations are welcome. For more information, and/or to register for classes, visit thumbfiberfest.org.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact the Thumb Fiber Festival at thumbfiberfest.org, or on Facebook. Email: thumbfiberfest@yahoo.com.

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