All the unicorns coming together for a magical moment at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival!Read More
It's that time of year. Looking back over the past and maybe making a list of what you want your 2018 to look like. Maybe you need more of this in your life?
Have you heard people bring up "Rhinebeck" in conversation and wonder what the heck they were talking about? And why they said it while gazing wistfully into the distance? I first heard the it uttered during the load-out of a Broadway show I was working on. Someone was happy the show closed before "Rhinebeck" so she could attend, because otherwise she wouldn't have been able to get time off to go. So - she was happy to be unemployed because it meant she could attend an event that wasn't a wedding, family vacation, graduation, etc. I thought, "This thing must be pretty awesome."
I'm definitely more of a sewist than a knitter/crocheter but I'm curious about all kinds of fiber arts. So, of course, I googled. The official name is New York State Sheep and Wool Festival and it began in 1980. It's held on the Duchess County Fairgrounds in beautiful Rhinebeck, NY (hence the nickname) on the third full weekend in October every year. Workshops, competitions, livestock displays, and vendors, vendors, vendors. It makes me think of my county fair days back in Ohio - but much more colorful! I'm lucky to live about an hour away from Rhinebeck so I thought it would be fun to check it out for myself. I'm so glad I did...
I had work-work on Saturday morning (and was getting over the flu) so I wasn't able to go that day, which is the 'big day.' I was originally bummed about this but there was still PLENTY to see on Sunday. Looking back, I think it was a good thing I had to go on the second day of the festival. I overheard that Saturday was their highest attendance EVER so I would've just been dealing with that and not able to see the loveliness. As a vendor told me, "My advice for first timers is this: Look on Saturday, buy on Sunday." I don't know how I would've been able to hold back but I think it's good advice!
I grabbed a friend and hit the road early. We made a stop on the way to real-life meet some lovely people: @vanessa_knits, @premknits, @sere_k_nity, @knittysknittycreation and @lnsandbe. They all attended Saturday and were heading out. I wish we could've visited more but there was just time for a quick meet/visit and some festival coaching from the ladies. They made me feel much better about being a first-timer and what to expect.
The "festival" part of the name of this event is so appropriate. There really is a fun, festive air to the entire scene. It takes place on a picturesque fairgrounds and there are so many makers, doing their thing and excited to meet other makers. Along with the over-200 vendors, there are competitions, livestock displays, demonstrations, workshops, book signings, an equipment auction and even kids' activities. Pace yourself!
I didn't take any workshops and I (regretfully) did not get to see the canine frisbee demonstrations, but I did walk around aaall the vendor booths. I thought it would be the best way to get a real overview of why a maker would be so excited to go to Rhinebeck. Let me tell you - I get it! As you may expect, the majority of vendors were yarn-focused. I found one lone sewing booth (Hi Brooklyn Haberdashery!) along with many rug-hooking and roving vendors. If you are looking to pick up any new skill that involves wool, this event will start you on your way. I've always wanted to start needle felting so I was in heaven. (And I later heard from a co-worker the roving prices were great, which made me feel better after the fact because I bought a few big puffy bunches of it!)
I've always wanted to start needle felting so I was in heaven.
Not to doubt your superhero abilities but YOU WILL NOT REMEMBER ANYTHING. That yarn you saw just as you were leaving and had already hit your spending limit but maybe you'll find later on-line? Gone to history... A system I've used on some vacations is to take a photo of the sign of every landmark/park/attraction before I take any photos at the landmark/park/attraction. That way my organizing is done for me and I don't have to stop to write notes. I didn't take my own advice at Rhinebeck and I'm kicking myself now. And remember to clear out your phone storage before you go! I did manage to pick up many, many business cards. One of the great parts of an event like this is discovering new stores and sources.
I heard many vendors taking orders to ship items direct to customers. Many stalls were even set up as more display/touch-and-feel areas than straight-up shopping areas, which I thought was a good move. The staff was free to really talk to people and take time with them instead of working around the crowd while trying to restock. Some vendors bring special Rhinebeck-y items that are limited edition (keep an eye out on Instagram in the weeks leading up to the big event) so definitely seek those out and pick them up if you want the special kit or limited-edition yarn for that year. But don't be shy to ask someone working the booth if you want to order something and if they have any deals on shipping.
Many vendors have gift items for display as well. Finished garments and projects, decorative objects and toys share space with materials and supplies. Next time I'll budget for holiday gifts as well as my craft materials.
My favorite unexpected discovery was Sweitzer's Fiber Mill. It was my first time seeing corn, soybean and mint yarn! (Yes, I smelled it and, yes, they caught me.) They were very nice people. Their focus seems to be on fiber processing but they had some lovely items of their own to offer (see above photos). Some of the colors were inspired by the photographs of the owners' daughter, Lilli. Hence the name "Lilli's Rainbow Yarns." Hearing that definitely tugged at my mama heartstrings. Unfortunately, I found them late in the day after I'd spent my budget. I didn't buy anything on the spot but I'm looking forward to buying some of their yarn in the future.
A word about festival merchandise: If getting the tote bag, t-shirt, etc. is important to you, think about taking advantage of the pre-sale and pick up option available on the festival's website. I saw a 'Sold Out' sign on the merchandise tent for multiple items. And why wait in line to buy something you already know you want? This is the Super Bowl of Yarn for many people - you may find yourself being one of them!
As with any large event, planning is key: There are many, many small buildings spread out over the grounds (among vendors set up outside buildings along the walking paths) and it's easy to get overwhelmed. In the week before the festival, I took some time and wrote down the names, building numbers and stall numbers of the vendors I didn't want to miss. While I was at the festival, I realized the stall numbers weren't very helpful. The stall numbers aren't displayed as clearly as the vendor's name, so it ended up being extra information I couldn't use. The program that is provided with admission is fantastic. It has a great map and a full list of vendors.
Some nitty gritty stuff...Parking was free and very well-organized. I saw only one small water fountain so plan to either buy water or haul around a lot. The bathrooms were excellent but, given the fact this event attracts a majority of female attendants, there were lines as the day wore on. The fairgrounds are very well-maintained with paved paths that can be navigated easily. As per usual in this part of the country, the terrain is hilly but I did see people in wheelchairs and motorscooters that were getting around without difficulty. There's a bag check! I personally like to lug around my purchases in order to keep spending in check, but that may not work for everyone.
This event is very popular (and not in a major metropolitan area) so housing options fill up quickly. If you are really excited to attend, book workshops and a hotel ASAP. (As a guideline, workshop registration this year opened on June 1.) I am lucky to live within driving distance but I heard that all hotels within a 30 minute drive were sold out. Also, in case you didn't hear, Indie Untangled hosts a trunk show the Friday night before Rhinebeck in a hotel near (but separate from) the main event. I heard it was a busy, busy place but definitely for good reason.
The booths get very, very, very crowded very, very quickly. As lovely as fiber artists are in general, I did experience some light jostling ... I'm not going to say shoving. Maybe because it was Sunday and people were filling out their shopping lists. Who's to say? Also, I'm going to wait until my daughter is around 7 or 8 to share the Rhinebeck shopping experience with her. She's beyond stroller age but I witnessed some heated exchanges around a stroller in a booth and would not like to put either of us through a similar experience if I can help it. If I do choose to take her with me next time, I would bring along someone to sit with her, watch the sheepdog shows, take her to the petting zoo and let her visit with lamas.
Oh, and a veeeery yarn-y friend of mine directed me to this post before I went and I found it helpful.
I'm so glad I made time to visit this lovely event. It really has it all - beautiful scenery, passionate attendees, and sheep!