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Knitting, crochet festivals weaving together in Pittsburgh

| Tuesday, March 1, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Karen Page unwraps a hand-painted silk panel during a demonstration of the dye technique, arashi shibori, at her North Side studio on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Karen Page unwraps a hand-painted silk panel during a demonstration of the dye technique, arashi shibori, at her North Side studio on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Page plans to bring 9 panels to the Knit and Crochet festival in early March.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
A hand-painted silk panel is displayed in Karen Page's North Side studio during a demonstration of the dye technique, arashi shibori, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Page plans to bring 9 panels to the Knit and Crochet festival in early March.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Julie Stunden, a collaborator from the East End, hangs a hand-painted silk panel in Karen Page's North Side studio during a demonstration of the dye technique, arashi shibori, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Page plans to bring 9 panels to the Knit and Crochet festival in early March.
Jason Mullett-Bowlsby
Shannon and jason Jason Mullett-Bowlsby of Shibaguyz Designz
Jason Mullett-Bowlsby
Cloaked Hood Hoodie by Shibaguyz Designz
Jason Mullett-Bowlsbys
Fillagree Lace Tunic by Shibaguyz Designz

Crafters will find the best of two worlds at the 12th annual Knit and Crochet Festival and Creative Arts Festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center from March 4 through 6.

This is the first year show owner Barb Grossman is merging the festivals and holding them at the Downtown convention center.

“We combined the shows because there's great overlap among the arts,” says Grossman, of Monroeville, about her decision to launch a mixed venue. “Creative people aren't necessarily married to a single craft these days. They're blending all kinds of techniques and materials. They like to explore.”

They'll find plenty of opportunities, with more than 100 classes and workshops slated in quilting, sewing, fabric dyeing, knitting, crocheting, paper arts and other crafts; an open studio for experimenting with new technologies; and fun events like the annual PJ party with celebrity knitter StephenBe.

There's a lounge where folks can cool their heels and indulge in the adult coloring-book craze.

Show headliners include long-arm quilting expert Linda Calle; sewing, quilting and felting artist Lynda Hall; and Shannon and Jason Mullett-Bowlsby, the duo behind the Shibaguyz Designz knitting and crochet brand.

The authors of countless patterns and nine books, the Mullett-Bowlsbys — who named their brand for their three, beloved Shiba Inu dogs — will teach a variety of classes, ranging from pattern design to photographing finished products.

The men have built their following almost exclusively through social media, and have watched the explosion of other crafters showing and selling work online through sites such as Etsy. That makes good imagery crucial, says Jason, a photographer who takes all of the images for the couple's books.

“Nobody is going to buy an item if the picture is lousy,” he says from his Seattle studio. “But if you post a good photo, you don't even need a written description.”

The beauty of technology today is you don't need to invest in a special camera, he says. “You can use your iPhone to take great photos. But no matter what you're shooting — whether it's pottery, jewelry or knitwear — you do need some basic skills.”

One of the biggest mistakes people make is to over- or under-light their subject, Jason says. “Often the best advice is, ‘Turn off your flash.' ”

The Mullett-Bowlsbys each learned crochet from their grandmothers, but have innovated techniques — such as cabling, which typically is associated with knitting — that give crochet a fashion-forward spin.

“People are rediscovering crochet, or they're figuring out it's there and it's not what they thought it was,” Shannon says. “We're making beautiful fabrics out of crochet.”

The surge in crafting in recent years, aided by social media, has inspired new approaches to creativity, and makes it easier for folks to awaken their inner artisan, Grossman says.

“In the 12 years that we've being doing the festival, I've noticed a new freedom in people's artistic expression,” she says. “They're not looking for structured classes as much as bursting out of restrictions.”

Bringing ideas to fruition has never been easier, with online companies such as Spoonflower enabling people to design their own fabrics, and independent yarn producers offering customized colors.

Keri Fosbrink of Connellsville recently launched Youghiogheny Yarns, an online company that sells hand-dyed and hand-painted fibers in small batches. A lifelong crafter, she decided to go pro earlier this year.

“Color is very personal and people want things they can't buy in a store,” Fosbrink says. “It's also somewhat regional. Bright colors are big around here. We had a lot of attraction to red, lime green and hot pink at a recent show. Our hand-painted rainbow yarn was also popular … maybe because the weather can be so gray.”

Fosbrink is an avid quilter who will teach classes this weekend in jelly-roll quilting — a technique for piecing together pre-coordinated colors and patterns — and memory quilts, which are hugely popular now. She recently made a king-size quilt for a woman who had collected her son's baseball T-shirts from the time he was in elementary school.

Baby quilts are trending, especially as wall hangings, says Fosbrink, who helped a woman make a quilt for her first baby out of her husband's infant wear from the 1970s.

In addition to classes, the work of local fiber artists will be on display to provide inspiration, Grossman says. Karen Page of the North Side and East End fiber artist Julie Stunden collaborated on a wall hanging of silk fabric hand-dyed in the shibori, or Japanese tie-dyeing, tradition. Measuring 50 yards in all, the installation piece will be hung in nine separate panels.

Page will lead a class in wet-felting, a simple technique for transforming wool into felt.

“It doesn't involve equipment. You use water and the pressure of your hands,” says Page, who uses the process to create large pieces with layers of colors. This weekend's class will make dimensional flowers.

While most classes are fee-based, freebies are planned at a make-it-and-take-it booth; a studio for experimenting with sergers, long-arm quilters, embroidery machines and other state-of-the-art equipment; a spinning booth; and the coloring lounge.

Besides workshops, show-goers will find a marketplace filled with soaps and sundries, hand-woven baskets, handcrafted jewelry and beads, glass mosaics, pottery, knitting and sewing notions, quilting supplies, and artisanal yarns, including yarn from June Cashmere, a Kyrgyzstan-based, fair-trade cooperative making its U.S. debut.

Deborah Weisberg is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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