Guest blogger Sarah Jean Harrison returns to take us on a trip to the Twist Fiber Festival in Canada! This event is Quebec’s only fiber (fibre, if we’re being precise!) festival, and the only bilingual fibre festival in the whole country.
Are you planning on visiting Rhinebeck’s New York State Sheep and Wool Festival this year? Or perhaps you made the trip to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in the spring? Did you spin your heart out at Ply Away?
If you’ve been to a fiber festival, you can imagine the intense of amount of work that goes into delivering a successful event. From organization to location, from logistics to communications, from vendors to visitors, all of these pieces must be pulled together into one, cohesive whole. And ideally that cohesive whole comes with a particular je ne sais quoi, a little extra something that gives a festival its personality.
How does a festival acquire a personality? The answer, I have discovered, often comes from a festival’s creator.
Twist – Quebec’s Only Fibre Festival
This August I visited Twist Festival de la Fibre/Fibre Festival, Canada’s only bilingual fiber festival, in St-André-Avellin, Québec. Launched in 2011 by Amélie Blanchard, a hand-spinner and farmer raising cashmere goats on a small farm outside of St-André-Avellin, Twist is quickly gaining a dedicated following of fiber artists, vendors and attendees.
After a couple of years on her farm, Amélie looked around Québec and discovered precisely zero fiber events available within her province. While festivals were growing in popularity in Ontario and certainly in the USA, there was nothing available in Québec.
Amélie, like so many entrepreneurial fiber artists today, was unwilling to simply bemoan this hole in her local fiber universe – she had to do something. Her answer was Twist, a festival reflecting today’s modern taste in fiber and feeding the growing desire in Québec (and the world) for access to local fiber and the pursuit of textile and fiber education.
Starting a fiber festival, as Amélie discovered, was not as simple as it sounded. Launching the first Twist took a year and a half of research, planning and organization. At first, says Amélie, local business owners and potential sponsors were skeptical. “They looked at me like ‘who is this crazy yarn woman with this crazy idea?’”, she recalls. But her persistence and her solid research were undeniable.
Eventually, the Twist team took shape, bringing Amélie’s friends and neighbors on board and drawing upon local businesses and resources to fill the multitude of roles and tasks needed to get the festival off the ground. Volunteer committees were struck, sponsorships were secured and quality vendors were chosen. In August of 2011 the inaugural Twist opened its doors with a foot-fall of 4,000 people over the weekend.
A Bilingual Festival
Amélie, who was born in Ontario to a French-speaking family, is a francophone with one foot in the English-speaking world. While some might see the challenges of holding a festival in two languages as a problem, Amélie has deftly turned this challenge into the festival’s defining characteristic.
Her vision for Twist was a festival that pulled French and English speakers together over their shared passion for fiber. All written materials, from programs to signage, are provided in both languages. Classes and workshops are often offered in a bilingual format, either with a bilingual instructor or via English and French sessions.
Although St-André -Avellin is a francophone community, being only an hour north-west of Ottawa near the Ontario-Quebec boarder means that both languages are regularly heard in the streets and cafes. As an English-speaker with rudimentary French capabilities, I was welcomed warmly by the community and found the language barrier to be easily navigated. In fact, I left the festival with new francophone fiber friends, a handful of new French fiber-related vocabulary, and the feeling of being excited and inspired to learn more.
That je ne sais quoi
Wander around the booths and workshops and it quickly becomes clear that Amélie’s bilingual perspective is what gives Twist its je ne sais quoi. Her enthusiasm for bringing people from French and English backgrounds together over a mutual love for fiber makes for a lively and fun atmosphere that attracted 20,000 people this year.
Where else can you see folks acting out the word “soft” or clapping their hands with excitement when they discover they are both speaking about the same type of mouton? Because ultimately, when it comes to fiber, we’re all speaking the same language.
Raised on a farm and living in the big city, Sarah Jean Harrison is a digital artisan who specializes in translating rural realities for urban audiences. Through storytelling, photography and web design, Sarah Jean supports farmers and makers in sharing their unique story with an online audience. Sarah Jean loves to connect and can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @peaceflaghouse and at www.peaceflaghouse.com.