Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fiberly Adventures: Fiber College on Penobscot Bay

I've had mixed feelings about taking knitting classes due to a very bad experience at an unnamed (and now defunct) LYS in Austin several years ago. The experience has colored every subsequent thought I've had about taking another class anywhere. But time does heal, or at least make us somewhat amnesic. So when Amy Herzog announced she would be teaching her amazing Fit to Flatter class at Fiber College, the capstone experience to the series of the same name on her blog so many knitters have been raving about, I signed on, forked over my credit card, and never looked back. The long, intensive six hour format was the hook.

That the class was in MAINE was irrelevant. What's a few miles?

Well, it was a good excuse to tie in a vacation at the very least. Then I started looking at the other Fiber College classes, and there were so many enticing offerings: After agonizing for several hours, I chose Beth Brown-Reinsel's 6 hour Traditional Scottish Ganseys class, and Mary Jane Mucklestone's Fair Isle workshop. I pulled out my credit card and clicked the 'submit'  button once again.  Kent was thrilled at the prospect of fly-fishing to his heart's content and I would be knitting. A perfect vacation.
The next day or so was a flurry of logistics: I got a steal of a deal on air tickets to MHT (Manchester, NH), reserved a rental car, booked a cottage for a week right on Penobscot Bay about a mile from Fiber College,  ordered several books on fly fishing in Maine from Amazon for Kent, gathered the needed class materials from my stash, packed up a separate class knitting bag, and waited for the next three weeks to pass. That's when the old voice about taking classes began bedeviling me once again: The fear that I'd just spent a lot of money for classes with a vacation built around them that would be clunkers. I was more than a little apprehensive.
Mary Jane gets into teaching
I need not have been: Fiber College was fabulous! I learned that a class is not a class, and each of the teachers of my chosen classes was engaging, well prepared, thoughtful, open, receptive, and eager to share their knowledge, techniques, and experience. I loved every exhausting minute. So much to process, practice, and retain for use in future projects. Lots of hands-on guiding and encouragement. Lots of patient practice coupled with technique and idea packed hard copy handouts. Interesting, friendly, and like-minded classmates. Weather in early September in mid-coast Maine is about as perfect as it gets: We had beautiful days with brisk ocean breezes in the upper 70s, with cool nights in the low 50s. It rained twice: Once the second morning of Fiber College and all of late Saturday night. Perfect. I was grateful to have packed a windbreaker.

Amy and Nicki after FtF class
I'd never heard of Fiber College until I read about it as the location for Amy's class on her blog. Googling it, I discovered it's an annual event in its sixth year. It runs for four days on the weekend immediately following Labor Day on the grounds and buildings of the Searsport Shores Ocean Campground. The site has 42 gorgeous treed acres right on Penobscot Bay in Searpsport, Maine. Owned by Astrig Tanaguay and her family, it houses her home, gardens, fiber studio, community buildings, and of course tenting and RV sites. Astrig is energy personified, and the driving force behind Fiber College. She is everywhere at once, coolly and calmly seeing to last-minute logistics with a cheerful, able group of volunteers who make the event run like clockwork. Offerings encompass the wide spectrum of fiber arts: Knitting, crochet, ethnic fiber techniques, felting, quilting, dyeing, spinning, batt creation, tatting, sewing, fabric creation, weaving, rug hooking, embroidery, silk painting, photography, shifu, bookbinding, Russian punchneedle embroidery, needle felting, and woodworking for fiber artists. There are over 60 juried classes ranging from 3 to 6 hours.
A large component of the Fiber College experience are the social events that wrap around the class schedule, from morning to late night. A pot-luck supper on Friday is a highlight, where everyone brings a whacking big dish to share and then dines at long communal tables in the ice-breaking atmosphere of great food and drink. There's a charity fashion show benefiting a local women's shelter highlighting various fibery creations by class participants, teachers, and local community members. There's also a benefit cocktail party, a hootenanny, fiber swap, a Saturday night banquet honoring the Artist-in-Residence (this year, it's Mary Jane Mucklestone), fiber gabs, ongoing demonstrations throughout each day, and of course, a shopping arcade with dozens of marvelous and unique vendors from Maine and beyond. Many participants choose to pitch a tent or park their RV right on the campground, a distinct advantage to socializing and immersion in the entire weekend experience. Camaraderie is what it's about at Fiber College. There are many  motels, inns, and rental cottages nearby, too, if roughing it isn't for you, or, like me, you make a split-second, last-minute decision to attend. Campground spaces are reserved early and sell out fast. The more popular lodging spots sell out early too, with The Yardarm Motel being a favorite among repeat participants.
Think you live too far away to join the fun? Plan your vacation around Fiber College; everyone will find something to do in the beautiful mid-coast Maine area:
There are kayaking, sailing, and fishing excursions available in nearby Belfast, a scale model ship building workshop in Searsport, yarns shops to explore in Stockton Springs, Belfast, Northport, Camden; antiquing in all the little towns that
string together like coastal jewels, shopping, galleries, ice cream stands (John's on Rte. 3  in Liberty,  is a MUST!), beautiful picturesque drives along the shoreline, great little eateries, and local parks. Less than 90 minutes away is the majestic Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, a day or so unto themselves. My spouse opted to fly-fish on the beautiful St.George River and surrounding ponds, and had a great week tromping the inland waters. Or just grab a girlfriend or three and have a fabulous girls getaway. You won't regret it, and will likely find yourself retracing your steps back to Fiber College year after year. I know I'll be back.


  1. Nikki,
    Your blog article is great. Really captures what FC is all about...camaraderie. Sorry we never officially met. There is always next year! (BTW: I am the one in the first picture on the right!)
    Suzanne (aka puppylove)

  2. I wish I could have come this year...I definitely hope to go next year. I took that gansey workshop last year. I found the miniature sweater in my stash last week! Would love to take the fair isle class. I'm looking forward to getting Mary Jane's book when it comes out.

  3. Sounds like a very good experience! Glad you had a good time.

  4. Beautifully said. I agree with everything!

  5. Coming upon this late--but you totally described Fiber College, I agree with it all. Seems like ages ago already!


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