Fiber Arts: A Long-Standing Appalachian Tradition

Published on September 21, 2015
Written by Ray Access

People have always appreciated the beauty of Appalachian fiber arts, going way back to the settler days. What began as a necessity, when mothers took great pains to stitch their children’s clothing with precision and pride, became an art form. Young women respected the hours and hours their forebears spent at quilting bees. Brides admired the handiwork in a fine-knitted afghan handed down from one generation to the next. And no home was complete without a carefully crafted needlepoint sampler hung in every bedroom.

As the mountains grew less isolated thanks to new highways and the advent of modern media, people across the country and around the world had more opportunities to enjoy mountain fiber arts. Before long, fiber arts were being represented at craft fairs everywhere. These days, fiber arts have become so popular that there are entire fairs dedicated to the art of working with natural fibers.

Stitching Together Fabric Fairs

Most fiber fairs allow visitors to observe the process of creating fiber art, from beginning to finished product. Some even feature demonstrations in which sheep or alpaca are sheared. You might see someone spinning yarn, an artist dying long strands of natural yarn or a knitting demonstration using natural fibers. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch artists talking about how they got started making fiber arts.

Friends of Fiber Art, a non-profit organization started in 1991, explain on their website: “Works called ‘fiber art’ include (but are not limited to) sculptural baskets, quilts made for the wall and the first fiber art: tapestry.” In addition to exhibitions and demonstrations, most fiber fairs feature a variety of vendors, selling just about anything you’d need to work in fiber arts.

At a fiber fair, artists display work such as shawls, sweaters, jewelry, wall hangings and more, most of it for sale. As you browse among the eclectic offerings ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde, you’ll soon agree there’s no limit to the creativity you’ll see.

A Day at the Fair

The beauty of a fiber fair, like any craft fair, is that each one is different. You could visit a dozen fairs and see something unique at every one. Here’s a brief rundown of some upcoming Appalachian fiber fairs:

Kentucky Wool Festival: Falmouth, KY, October 2, 3, and 4. The Kentucky Wool Festival is a fiber fair that focuses on the beauty and versatility of wool, but there’s much more to see here too. In addition to viewing the exhibits and learning about various fiber arts, you’ll enjoy the true fair experience with lots of live entertainment and classic fair offerings to whet your appetite. Find the wool festival at 48 Concord Caddo Road, Falmouth, KY. Admission is $5 per day; kids 5 and under are free.

Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands: Asheville, NC, October 15–18. The Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands isn’t just a fiber fair, but fiber artists are featured alongside many other craft styles, from old-fashioned doll making to pottery and more. The fair is held in the heart of downtown Asheville at the US Cellular Center, 87 Haywood Street. Hours are 10:00–6:00, Thursday through Saturday, and 10:00–5:00 on Sunday. Admission is $8, or $12 for a two-day pass; kids 12 and under are free.

Fiber in the ’Boro: Murfreesboro, TN, October 24. Fiber in the ’Boro is a one-day fiber fair packed full of classes, vendors, and demonstrations in the heart of Tennessee. This fiber fair is held at Lane Agricultural Center, 315 John R. Rice Boulevard, Murfreesboro, TN, and is open from 9:00–5:00. Classes and demonstrations are priced individually.

Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair (SAFF): Asheville, NC, October 30 and 31 and November 1. The Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair is held at the WNC Agricultural Center, 1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher, NC. Featuring workshops, livestock, demonstrations and more, you’ll find plenty to do at this three-day event. Hours are 9:00–6:00 Friday and Saturday, 9:00–4:00 Sunday. Admission is $3; children 13 and under are free.