After a hiatus of a few years, I finally made it back this past Saturday to the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, held at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, NY (and hence it’s nickname of just “Rhinebeck”)! The festival has grown dramatically in attendance in the last 10 years or so due to the uptick in knitters/crocheters and the impact of Ravelry, and you can see the effects of this growth not only in the expansion of the parking lots but in the vast variety of booths and vendors available.
It’s really an easy and fun drive to the festival from NYC, and I left before dawn to get there right at opening time. (Not many things will get me up before dawn, but this is definitely one of them.) There are lots of options for which route to take, but I chose the Taconic Parkway because it’s a quiet road that twists and turns through the foothills of the Catskills and offers a lot of scenery during the 2 hr+ drive. Especially at this time of year when the tree colors are nearing their peak at the higher altitudes, it’s a stunning drive. But because I was by myself, you’ll have to take my word for it that it was beautiful because I couldn’t drive and take photos 🙂 The majority of the trees were either yellow or orange. I could swear that I read something once that the colors/brilliance of the fall foliage are tied to the type of weather that the trees experience in the early fall, so I can report that because of whatever weather they’ve had in Dutchess County the past 2 months, the colors were a bit duller than in years past, and with very little red foliage. In fact, I was so mentally engaged in trying to remember what I read while I was driving that I nearly missed my exit for Poughkeepsie!
Anyways, enough of my mental ramblings – back to the stuff we really want to talk about. When I arrived at the fairgrounds, there were already easily 100 cars in place, with scads more waiting to get in, and folks were already streaming into the festival.
As I wasn’t gunning for a particular booth/vendor (e.g., some people literally RUN into the festival and head for their favorite booth to be first in line to buy) and was planning to visit all of the vendors, I took the time to bolster my energy levels after a “long” drive. That’s right, I found the first cider donut available and wolfed it down with some apple cider…don’t say you wouldn’t. Thank you, local 4-H kids, for keeping my blood sugar at a functioning level.
As the morning was clear and crisp, I took a minute or two to capture the surroundings because I think that an obviously large part of the charm of the festival is its fall setting that we don’t get to see enough of in NYC.
My appreciation for the day sufficiently satisfied, I just chose an aisle of vendors and dove in. Little did I realize that I had picked the aisle with two of the most hectic vendors that the entire fair would see all day. First off was Briar Rose Fibers, where there were more than 2 dozen people crammed into the booth grabbing at the displays to get sweater quantities of their favorite yarns before 9 AM! It was definitely a cramped mob scene, albeit a very polite and knitterly one!
I didn’t even attempt to go in that booth, but positioned next to it was another hot booth, thanks to her large online following. It was the booth of Jennie Lanners, better known as Jennie the potter.
Having never seen her wares in person, I was definitely intrigued enough to brave the crowd! I was also surprised to see that she had a booth there, because she just had a baby last week, but her staff did an amazing job of helping customers and checking folks out quickly. She had all manner of pottery, like vases, jewelry, yarn bowls, and generous coffee/tea mugs, with adorable hand-carved and hand-glazed designs. She also had some beautiful pewter Xmas tree ornaments and I chose a cute mitten to add to my growing collection. Although I was drawn to the designs with the cute owl sitting on a branch, I dove for the mug below instead (which was drawn into immediate coffee service, as you see):
We have a very large and very old oak tree in the front yard of my family’s house, but it was this critter who sealed the deal….
Ask me sometime about the squirrel who tried to launch an aerial attack on me during my freshman year of college because I walked under his tree carrying an orange. Seriously.
So after I survived those two crazy booths to start the day off, I was able to wander through most of the other booths at a leisurely pace. (I did check out The Sanguine Gryphon yarn booth because her yarns and colors are always gorgeous, but I heard that there was a 2-hour wait to checkout! Clearly, she’s making an amazing product!) The Sheep and Wool Festival is still largely an agricultural event, where sheep/llamas/alpaca are shown off, entered into competitions, and bought/sold during various auctions. Many of the handlers of these animals are children associated with the 4-H program, and it’s so fun to get up close to the animals and see how the kids take good care of them. I thought the alpaca barn was probably the cutest and grabbed some candids of these cuties in all of their various colorings.
This last little pairing of alpacas was the cutest – they were “talking” to each other with grunts and whines – trust me, it was much more adorable than I’m making it sound! Nearly as adorable were all of the angora rabbits that were scattered throughout various booths. Did you know that the males and females are called bucks and does? You learn something new every day. And yes, they were as soft as you would imagine.
After that, I hunkered down and focused on the yarn and chatting with all of the friendly vendors. There is every form of yarn, from raw fleece that has yet to be cleaned/combed/processed into yarn, to yarn of every variety from every plant and animal source, to finished garments/accessories and home items that have been knitted/crocheted/woven from the yarn. And sometimes, you’ll be shocked to find out where the yarn comes from. I give you: yarn made from the hair of seven Samoyed dogs!
I didn’t take the plunge to buy any dog hair yarn, but the same booth (Still River Mill in Eastford, CT) had a very unusual product: American cashmere! America isn’t known for having sizable herds of cashmere goats, so it was great to see this local product that was also gently processed in an eco-friendly matter. The mill’s supply of this gorgeous yarn was going fast and I’m glad I struck while the iron was hot! (please excuse all my yarn pics today – it’s a smidge dreary here right now.)
It’s obviously a very fine gauge yarn so I’ll be thinking of something delicate to make with it.
And clearly, I was all about the cashmere this weekend, because I got more cashmere at another booth as well. Spring Tide Farm from Bremen, Maine attended the festival with a beautiful booth filled with their own cashmere products, sold ounce by delicate ounce.
Their North American Cashmere goats are used for everything from breeding to fiber and pelts to meat. (As an aside, there were a LOT of vendors from Maine that I noticed – it was very cool to see all of their creativity.) This deep red color, called “Brick,” is very hard to capture but is gorgeously rich and will lend a lot of luxury to whatever it’s used for. Their entire booth was filled with beautiful samples and loads of hand-dyed skeins – definitely check out their website and offerings, if you get a chance!
The only other yarny purchase I made at the festival was totally unexpected – Xmas stockings for me, Andrew, and Coco!
The stockings are from We-Z Farm in Hancock, New Hampshire. I chatted at length with Ellena, one of the co-owners of the farm (which has been in the family for multiple generations), about the stockings: they are made from wool that is taken from their sheep, and after the wool is prepared and dyed by an outside mill, Ellena creates the stockings on her knitting machine! It was so great to find a totally unique product and to meet such a kind woman. We had a lot of laughs about getting Coco’s stocking down from her display – she was practically climbing the walls like Spiderman. The things we do for our spoiled rotten dogs, eh?
Apart from that, I spent the rest of the day meeting new people and generally taking in all of the gorgeous products. As usual, Wendy Jensen’s basketry booth was stunning – she makes the baskets in Western Massachusetts with some of the most intricate patterns you’ll ever see – a true artisan.
I also got some more shearling booties for Andrew to replace his pair that I got for him years ago from this same man, Rick Hege, who runs Shepherd’s Flock in Townshend, Vermont. These are perfect for cold floors in the winter, although one particular shih tzu loves to gnaw on them, too. Sigh.
At the Ravelry meetup during the afternoon, I got to meet two great ladies from the Albany area, Jan and Britt. We got into the big photo-op for the Ravelry attendees, but I’m not sure you’ll be able to find us in the crowd haha. I also met Natalie Servant, a great knitwear designer from Ottawa, and we chatted about our mutual shawl designing endeavors. I was wearing my new Zuni shawl, and it got recognized by lots of folks, which was so exciting!
At the meetup for Anne Hanson’s Knitspot fans, I also got to meet several other sweet ladies, including Kristin, and her baby Julia and her mom-in-law Janice, who all hailed from the Rochester area (woot!), and Christine from the Boston area, who just started her own yarn company, Skeinny Dipping. Check out her yarn – it’s gorgeous!
Once lunchtime rolled around, the clouds, wind, and rain also rolled in and I wasn’t going to last much longer outside. (Blue fingertips? That’s a sign.)
So after a quick bite, I decided to hit the road again and make a pit stop at the Vanderbilt Mansion on Route 9 to snap some photos on my way home. The Vanderbilt Mansion historical site is one of my all-time favorite places in the area. The grounds are as stunning, if not more so, than the gargantuan stone home perched on the Eastern cliffs of the Hudson river. The first time I visited the park with Andrew, many Novembers ago, it was a perfect day – sunny and warm, with carpets of golden leaves everywhere. But this past weekend, it was more dreary, and it lent the entire park a more Sleepy Hollow-type ambiance, and I enjoyed seeing it just as much in its slightly dreary and entirely Romantic state. Below are some of the pictures that I snapped before my fingertips turned blue again haha!
So that’s it – a great day upstate in the Hudson River Valley. I’m already looking forward to next year. 😉