Sheepish no more: Thumb Fiber Festival makes debut

Monica Cronin of Sanilac County's Washington Township holds a rabbit named Fred. She's the founder of the first Thumb Fiber Festival in Port Sanilac. About 30 vendors are expected, selling yarn and garments made from sheep's wool, alpaca fleece, or rabbit fiber, among other products. (Photo by John Cook)
Monica Cronin of Sanilac County’s Washington Township holds a rabbit named Fred. She’s the founder of the first Thumb Fiber Festival in Port Sanilac. About 30 vendors are expected, selling yarn and garments made from sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece, or rabbit fiber, among other products. (Photo by John Cook)

PORT SANILAC – Nothing against Ann Arbor, West Branch or even Allegan County. But makers of yarn, and garments created from sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece and angora rabbit fiber, have spun the first Thumb Fiber Festival on Nov. 4 and 5.

The event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days at the Sanilac County Historic Village & Museum, 228 S. Ridge St. in Port Sanilac, features “people with sheep, alpacas and rabbits, and spinners and weavers, and all of that,” said Monica Cronin, 45, of Sanilac County’s Washington Township, organizer of the festival.

“There’s really quite an active group in the Thumb and all over Michigan,” Cronin said. “There are three big festivals or shows in Michigan – in Ann Arbor and West Branch and Allegan County – so I decided ‘Well, why don’t we have one up here?’”

The festival offers the chance to buy Michigan-made garments – including hats, socks and mittens – and enjoy the folk music of Tom and Walt Schlichting, members of the Celtic music band Ourselves, who will perform at the festival.

“It’s really sort of an event featuring the handcrafted items of yesteryear,” said Cronin, owner of Happy Stance Ranch, which sells hand-carded, spun and dyed alpaca yarn.

“This is old-time stuff,” Cronin said. “It reminds one of the Colonial days, where you see the woman sitting at a spinning wheel and she has loose fleece in her hand. It’s the Rapunzel thing, the Rumpelstiltskin thing, and she turns it into yarn.”

Buyers of the yarn “can knit or crochet anything from a hat to mittens to shawls to cardigan sweaters – anything they’d like,” Cronin said.

A number of alpacas – the actual animal – will be brought to the festival grounds Friday, Nov. 4 and Saturday, Nov. 5.

“A lot of the vendors will have mittens, hats, scarves, ponchos – all kinds of things to be worn,” Cronin said. “There will be alpaca socks, I’m sure, and a lot of wearable goodies to buy.”

Beverly Thorne of Elmira will sell felted hats. “There will be a gentleman there who weaves table runners and placemats, really beautiful stuff,” Cronin said.

Prospective vendors may email Cronin at: thumbfiberfest@yahoo.com. Cronin expects about 30 vendors, and 1,000 visitors, for the festival.

“It’s pretty respectable for the first year,” said Cronin, owner of seven alpacas. Products from Smith’s Alpaca Acres near Gagetown, Back Alley Fibers in Caro, and Pinnebog Creek Lavender Farm near Bad Axe, will be offered at the Thumb Fiber Festival. Sue Baughman from the Deford area will sell spinning wheels and weaving looms, among other items.

Dick Smith, 82, owner of Smith’s Alpaca Acres, loves the idea of a Thumb Fiber Festival.

“I think it would be great – there’s nothing around here like that,” said Smith, who with his wife, Vivian, own 23 alpacas in Huron County’s Brookfield Township.

Alpaca yarn, dyed with Kool-Aid and white vinegar, is shown in various colors around the edge of the basket. Happy Stance Ranch will sell the items at the first Thumb Fiber Festival on Nov. 4 and 5 in Port Sanilac. (Photo by John Cook)
Alpaca yarn, dyed with Kool-Aid and white vinegar, is shown in various colors around the edge of the basket. Happy Stance Ranch will sell the items at the first Thumb Fiber Festival on Nov. 4 and 5 in Port Sanilac. (Photo by John Cook)

Other big gatherings of fiber artists “are in West Branch or further north or west – there’s nothing close here,” Smith said.

Vendors will sell items from the following locations in Port Sanilac, on the grounds of the Sanilac County Historic Village and Museum: the Ward Cottage, Huckins Schoolhouse, Museum Church and Deckerville Depot.

“There will still be a lot of large antique pieces that we cannot move out of these buildings, so it will be pretty cool for people to come and see the yarn and the weaving, and shop, but also to see some of the history,” Cronin said.

“The displays that are usually in the buildings at the museum, a lot of those pieces will still be visible to people when they come in.”

A knitting class takes place in the Loop-Harrison Museum. “We’re having two different levels of knitting classes on both days,” Cronin said. Other classes show students how to make mittens, or lace.

“There is a whole range of sheep breeds, and they will be pretty well represented (by products sold) at the festival,” Cronin said. “There’s a woman who makes fiber from all sorts of creatures. I think she even does some from camels.”

While Cronin, for example, sells alpaca yarn in natural colors – “a lot of shades of brown and a lot of shades of white,” she says – she also dyes some fleece.

“I’ve been dyeing with Kool-Aid, and white vinegar, to get some really beautiful, cheerful pastel colors and they’re non-toxic, so people can be assured they’re not going to have some sort of chemical reaction to it,” Cronin said.

Buyers of the yarn “can knit or crochet anything from a hat to mittens to shawls to cardigan sweaters – anything they’d like,” Cronin said.

Cronin is allergic to sheep’s wool, and said that’s why she uses alpaca fleece to make yarn by hand.

“I’m carving out a tiny little niche crowd of people who are sensitive to chemicals and sheep’s wool and that sort of thing,” Cronin said. “My customer base includes people who are sensitive to dyes or chemicals, because some of these detergents linger.”

The Thumb Fiber Fest is designed to “highlight all of us little fiber farmers,” as well as weavers, spinners, knitters, crochet artists and fiber artists.

“I have been selling my yarn at a farmers’ market in Port Sanilac, and people are amazed that anybody spins anymore,” Cronin said. “People are also amazed that there are people in this region with alpacas. There are actually, really, quite a few of us with alpacas just in Sanilac, Huron and Tuscola counties.

“I thought that should be celebrated. There’s something really special going on here that the general public is unaware of.”

Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.