Whichever flavor of geek you fancy yourself, there’s a gathering for you. We all love to be able to mingle among our own people, to learn from them, to get ideas from them, and to make friends that will last beyond the week(end). Who doesn’t love the idea of being somewhere where everyone gets you?
If you’re a knitter or crocheter (I’m the former myself), then the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY is just that place for you. It is the ultimate pilgrimage for anyone with a fondness for yarn, making yarn, making things with yarn, buying yarn, and/or the furry animals from which the yarn originates.
Colloquially referred to as ‘Rhinebeck’, the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival is one of the largest gatherings of fiber enthusiasts in the United States. You would be hard-pressed to find a knitter who isn’t familiar with it. And chances are, they have either attended or plan to in the future.
Myself and four other friends began making plans over a year ahead of time to attend the 2015 festival. And if you’re planning to go, I recommend you get the ball rolling now. Rooms and houses book months and months in advance. It was about this time last year that we made the reservation for our house and things were already starting to fill up. Rhinebeck is a very rural area, and to that note, hotels are few and far between. I met some friends that prefer hotels because they want someone else to make their bed and their breakfast. If that’s your bag, then your best bet is probably Poughkeepsie, which is about 30 minutes away. As for my friends and I, we found a lovely house in Clermont for the weekend. We loved being able to spend the time together in the evenings sitting around sharing our purchases and drinking coffee. We found our house on VRBO but I can also vouch for Airbnb as an easy to use site.
Once you’ve taken care of housing, it’s smooth sailing until festival time. Unless, that is, you want to work on a Rhinebeck project. A Rhinebeck project is basically anything you want to knit in time to show off at the festival. The most popular project is a sweater of some sort (there’s even a collection of patterns just for the occasion). I’m not nearly ambitious enough to undertake a sweater, especially on a deadline. But my friends and I did do a yarn exchange and all completed Martina Behm’s Tubularity. Nothing motivates me like sheer last-minute panic, so I found myself blocking mine the night before we left for New York.
Fast forward to festival weekend…
First of all, expect traffic. I live in the DC metro area so it has to be pretty bad for me to even take notice. I wasn’t overly bothered by it. But when you take a really small town and add tens of thousands of people to it, things get backed up. We got a tip from a veteran and used the back parking lot, not the main entrance. I really think this saved us a lot of hassle and waiting in line. We purchased tickets online ahead of time, though it wasn’t necessary. It’s not an event that can ‘sell out’, so no worries there. I think we saved about $2 on the price by ordering online, but the system isn’t user-friendly in the least and I’d almost rather pay the extra couple bucks to just buy them when I got there. Buying ahead of time didn’t seem to save any time at the gate.
Next, prepare to be overwhelmed. There’s simply no other way to put it. No matter how many people you are expecting to be there, there will be more than that. No matter how much awesome stuff you are hoping to see, you will see more. Just take a deep breath and take it slow. My one caveat to that is that if you want to purchase something from Jennie the Potter or Miss Babs, then you’re going to want to arrive early and stake out their booth. I purchased some Miss Babs yarn toward the end of the day with little problem, but I also wasn’t looking for anything in particular so I was more flexible. The line when I first got there was backed out of the building and down the hill. Jennie sells out quickly and once it’s gone, it’s gone. By the time I made it to where her booth was supposed to be on the first day, she was gone.
Once the shock had worn off and I allowed myself to wander, it was yarn heaven. There’s truly something for everyone. I saw some amazing hand-dyed yarns, some gorgeous roving for spinning, adorable animals, and the people watching couldn’t be beat. I spent plenty of time just sitting on a bench watching the knitted world go by.
The best part is that these were ‘my people’ … so if I saw someone wearing something I liked, I could walk right up to them and ask them what the pattern, yarn, etc. was. I saw this happen over and over again. A good number of people wore Ravelry buttons with their Ravelry username written on them, which was really helpful. Rhinebeck is not only a sheep and wool festival, but quite possibly the world’s largest show and tell.
One item I saw several times that is now on my ‘I must make this’ list was the Baa-ble Hat. I have almost no experience with colorwork and this seems like the perfect(ly adorable) way to foray into that. The hands-down best people watching moment of the weekend (and maybe my life up until this point) came on day 2 as I was sitting near the food court enjoying some lemonade. Two thirty-something gentlemen were walking by carrying what looked like a large loom and just as they were passing me, I overheard one of them say to the other “and that was the LAST time I had sex with an embroidery major in college!”
I will never know the story behind that. And they will never know how much they made my day. I nearly fell off my bench laughing.
The Dutchess County Fairgrounds, where the festival is held, has plenty of food options. You can certainly pack a lunch and walk back to your car to eat it, but I felt like the food was both affordable and good. I had a good gyro with fries and a drink for about $7. A neat feature about the fairgrounds is that you see yellow lines with arrows painted on the walkway pretty much everywhere you go. All you need to do is follow the line in the direction of the arrows and it’ll lead you straight to the restrooms. No map skills needed.
Most vendors accepted cards, but cash is much easier and there is an ATM on the grounds. Unless money is of no concern to you, I do recommend setting a budget for yourself. It’s very easy to spend a lot of money in relatively little time. Planning to buy something large? Or accidentally buy more than you think you can fit in your suitcase? No worries there because there’s an on-site UPS shipping center. Simply take your goodies to them and they’ll take care of the rest.
Overall, we had a great time. I’m thrilled to check this one off the bucket list. I doubt I’ll return if for no other reason than I’d rather spend my time checking out more places I’ve never been (next up, Maryland Sheep and Wool). But I found some delicious yarn goodies to bring home. And despite my mantra of “I will not start spinning, I will not start spinning…”, I found myself coming home with some amazing roving from Loop and a drop spindle. Oops. As an added bonus, the Hudson River valley is absolutely stunning in the fall. Enjoy.
The New York State Sheep and Wool Festival is held in October of every year at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, NY. The dates for 2016 are October 15-16.