Every mid-March for the last 10 years or so, I have attended the Missouri Fiber Retreat in Jefferson City.

Every mid-March for the last 10 years or so, I have attended the Missouri Fiber Retreat in Jefferson City. I have also been teaching traditional wet felting techniques most of that time in addition to taking classes from other instructors. One of my favorite classes has been the weaving classes.

The instructor has a number of portable floor looms and he also has a number of table looms that work just as well for learning some basic weaving techniques. I have taken his all-day Saturday classes twice and he accommodated me by challenging me to more advanced techniques the second time around.

I have also learned basic soap making, taken some knitting classes from a very successful knitter who can afford to live in Manhattan and who has several very successful books on the market, learned to dye yarns in many different ways, and so forth.

The location is at Lincoln University at a very quirky campus on top of the mountain that overlooks Jeff City. The campus is actually a collection of farm buildings where they research small animal production for animals like sheep, goats, and bluegills. Needless to say, they are located on an old farmstead. The bluegills are actually raised in large round tanks in a greenhouse facility.

The retreat grew quickly in popularity and when it had well over 250 guests one year, they decided to limit registration to about 180. They even expanded the available facilities to include the 4-H camp about 10 miles away because they needed more room for classrooms. The retreat starts on Friday and ends on Sunday afternoon, so people do remain overnight.

Many just roll out sleeping bags on the floors or on cots or rent a room at the 4-H cabins and a bunch go for the creature comforts in local motels. I just sleep in the back of my car. Being one of the only guys at the retreat, I have both men's rooms and the shower all to myself.
I have to give Missouri Extension credit for developing this program that is meant to showcase small family-operations that have something to do with fiber. In fact, any Missouri person can set up a booth at no cost to sell any form of fiber and fiber-related equipment and supplies. The place is packed and we all like it because the prices are great along with an outstanding selection.

Kansas seems to be more focused on corporate farming and not terribly interested in small family operations. At least that is my observation and I would love for someone to prove me wrong about Kansas. What I would really like is for either Extension or some individual or group of individuals to establish a fiber retreat in Kansas.
You may remember that I tried to do it a few years ago and it was fairly successful as a first-year attempt, but I do not have the skills to follow through with an idea like this. There are people who drive from west of Topeka to go to the Missouri Fiber Retreat every year. There are plenty of Kansas residents who enjoy the weekend in Missouri for the learning, the camaraderie, and the opportunity to either sell or buy fiber-related stuff.

If anyone is interested in developing a Kansas Fiber Retreat weekend, give me a call. You would think that a small city with a few available buildings and some nearby motels would be interested in hosting an event like this. I think having 200 to 300 guests in town for a weekend every year would be great for that town. It would really be cool if there were also a bunch of sheep, goats, and bluegills for atmosphere, but that is just me.

Matt Nowak lives in Lansing and works as a natural resources manager.