MidAtlantic Fiber Association Virtual Conference: Weave, Spin, Dye and More

A couple of years ago, I attended the MidAtlantic Fiber Association (MAFA) Conference in Pennsylvania. It was such a treat to attend a conference as a fiber arts student, and I really enjoyed the in-depth exposure I got to a new-to-me technique: double-heddle weaving on a rigid heddle loom with instructor Deborah Jarchow.

Edie Eckman and Deborah Jarchow at the loom
Edie and Deborah at MAFA Conference 2019

It was a great experience, and particularly remarkable because it is organized and run completely by volunteers!

This year the conference is all virtual, making it accessible to so many more people. It runs June 24-27, 2021. If you have an interest in any of the fiber arts, I urge you to check it out.

Registration opens for MAFA members April 10 and for the general public on April 24.

I spoke with Margaret Briggs, the MAFA 2021 Conference Coordinator, to find out what’s happening with the conference this year. The questions are mine, the answers are Margaret’s.

A lot of fiber artists haven’t heard of MAFA. Tell us what MAFA is, and what those fiber artists have been missing.

Colorful woven scarves

The MidAtlantic Fiber Association represents a large community of fiber arts guilds in the Mid-Atlantic region with the mission of promoting fiber arts education. Our members are 50+ guilds extending from upstate New York to North Carolina, as well as over 100 Associate members. MAFA is best known for our biennial conference — usually held in June or July of odd years in Pennsylvania.

Our all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization also provides ongoing financial grants to guilds and associates. It provides fellowships and scholarships to promote education, development and outreach in the fiber arts. Starting in 2021, we are also offering virtual programs for members focused both on guild issues and fun fiber arts topics.

For many people, the highlight of being a MAFA member is attending the every-two-years conference. What types of fiber arts does the conference cover?

bright temari balls

And it really is a highlight!  The “normal” conference is unique in that we offer 2-1/2 day intensive workshops where you can really dig into a topic. The mix usually works out to be about half weaving, then spinning and dyeing, felting, basketmaking, and other topics like garment-making, temari, sprang, and knitting and crochet.

Who would be interested in attending? Do you have to be an expert weaver or spinner to get something out of the classes?

colorful felted balls and beads

We welcome students of all levels (must be 18 or older). We schedule a variety of classes to offer something for novices all the way up to advanced. It’s often a chance to try something new as well. 

Most people bring their own looms and spinning wheels, but we can help arrange for equipment if you need to rent or borrow something. For many attendees it’s not only a fun retreat but also a chance to hang out with a conference-full of fiber people and world-class instructors and speakers.

This year the MAFA Conference is 100% virtual. What is going to be special about the virtual setting?

hands making metal jewelry

Going virtual was a huge decision for us, and looking at it now we really think we made the right call early. We knew we needed to make the decision to have a virtual conference early to really make it a great event and not just what we could cobble together at the last minute. Most of our instructors who had planned to teach in-person were excited to participate, and then we added some new classes and instructors that work well in this short format that we can’t usually fit into our intensive workshop weekend.  

The conference will include some of our favorite events: a keynote address by textile artist Jane Dunnewold, a fashion show, a fiber art exhibit, woven towel exchange, and some social time at morning coffee and evening drop-ins. 

The heart of the conference is the nearly 80 classes ranging from 2-hour lectures to 2-day hands-on weaving workshops.  We have also added daily lectures at lunchtime and late afternoon that are included in the Conference Pass. The part that is most special to me is that so many more of our members may find the conference accessible and be able to attend.  Older, younger, and newer members will be able to join in. 

How can I become a MAFA member?

Woman showing yarn in dye pot

If you are a member of a MAFA member guild, then you are already a member. Check out the list of member guilds. If your guild is not a member, or if you are from out of the area, then find all the membership details and links to application forms on our website.

For the membership period that runs through September 2022, we have reduced our dues by 50% to help out guilds and individuals affected by the pandemic.

Can I attend the conference without being a member?

dyed blue fabric with floral design

Absolutely!  Members can register early, and get a small break on the price of classes, but all are welcome to attend.

Any final thoughts?

Margaret Briggs at the loom
MAFA Conference Chair Margaret Briggs

We really are excited about finding the silver lining of the situation we’re all in. We’ll get to meet new fiber friends from all over our area and all over the country. We’ll get to take classes with some new-to-MAFA instructors. And we’ll get to try some new things, all from the comfort of home!

MAFA 2021 Conference Details

MAFA Conference 2021 logo

Dates: June 24-27, 2021, online. 
Cost: Conference Pass $25. Pass includes all five lectures, the keynote, exhibits, vendor hall, twice-daily chair yoga sessions, and social gatherings.

Classes start at $40 ($35 for members) for 2-hour sessions, up to $160 ($140 for members) for 2-day workshops. 

All the conference details are on the website, and the downloadable conference brochure is available on the conference home page at https://mafafiber.org/conferences/mafa2021/.
Questions? Email [email protected].

A note from Edie: As a MAFA member, I’m going to be up and at my computer at 9:00 a.m. on April 10 to register for the classes I want. I love learning new things!

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