the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival
Report from the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival
Dutchess County Fairgrounds
Rhinebeck, New York
October 2004

When you visit a large fiber festival for the first time, it's tremendously exciting—all the new sights and sounds can be overwhelming. Return the next year, however, and you're in for a challenge. Will it be as magical the second time around?

That's what I asked myself this week as I headed down to New York for the 32nd annual New York State Sheep and Wool Festival. Because this was my second year at the festival, I tried to focus on new vendors I hadn't seen before. If you'd like a more detailed overview of the festival, you can read about my first visit last year.

The Festival
The festival is commonly referred to simply as "Rhinebeck" because it takes place in the lovely town of Rhinebeck, just north of Poughkeepsie. Rhinebeck is situated along the Hudson River, and the fall leaves were at their height of changing colors. The spectacular setting couldn't have been more perfect.

More than 200 vendors were spread throughout the fairgrounds in several permanent buildings, livestock barns, and freestanding tents. When I say vendors, I mean everything from livestock equipment to spinning wheels, yarns, fibers, and finished felted, knit, and woven objects, not to mention fresh cotton candy made entirely from maple sugar.

Lectures and demonstrations were constantly taking place throughout the fairgrounds. Topics ranged from angora rabbit demonstrations to canine flyball, rug braiding, a leaping llama contest, great wheel demonstration, fashion show, and pumpkin tossing contest.

In other words, there's never a dull moment at Rhinebeck.

The Adventure Begins
fresh apples, anybody?

Fall in New York State is apple season, and this vendor was set up outside with fresh cider and several varieties of delicious apples.
felt pumpkins

If I had to identify one dominant trend at this year's festival, it would be felt. Whether it was needle-felted, hand-felted, or handknit and then felted by machine, there were felted objects everywhere.

The Animals

I always begin my festivals by visiting the animals, since they are ultimately the source of all my fiberly amusements. Sheep dominated the event, although there were also many angora goats and a few alpacas and llamas as well.
a sheepbaaaaaaa!
another sheepshearing time!

angora rabbit

As is normally the case at these kinds of festivals, angora rabbits stayed with the fiber vendors in their booths rather than being placed in a separate barn.

The Vendors

Persimmon Tree Farm

Out of habit, the first vendor I sought out was Persimmon Tree Farm. As always, the booth was swamped with overwhelmed spinners and knitters frantically snatching up skeins of richly colored yarns and their special hand-dyed, hand-carded "clouds" of unspun roving.

lace-weight Icelandic wool
a lace shawl
Speaking of soft, well-prepared fibers, I found some remarkable Icelandic and Icelandic-blend yarns (including a heavenly Icelandic/angora/alpaca blend) at Tongue River Farm. The fibers are far softer than the commercial Lopi-style yarns out there, and they are brilliantly suited for finer, lace-weight projects such as the one shown here.

beautiful angora yarn

Another surprise find was Buckwheat Bridge Angoras, specializing in vibrant and supple hand-dyed mohair and mohair blends using fibers from their own farm animals. They have no Web site, but you can call them at 518-537-4487.

Great Adirondack Yarns

The Great Adirondack Yarns booth was the most colorful one at the show, overflowing with the intensely hand-dyed materials for which the company has become famous. (The company has no Web site, but you can contact owner Patti Subik at 518-843-3381.)

Heal My HandsThe Heal My Hands booth was once again swamped this year. They sold out in one day at last year's festival and came prepared with twice as much of their creamy cakes of hand, lip, heel, and elbow balms. When I visited them midday on Saturday, they were still rapidly selling out but thought they'd make it the duration of the festival.

rug hooking

I've seen several indications of a rising interest in rug hooking, yet I could only find two such vendors at the show. My favorite was Hooked on Ewe, whose early American primitive style works you see here.

Katharyn Crippen Shapiro and her bags

I spent most of my time bumping into people carrying woven African baskets, but there were some other intriguing bag vendors at the show. My favorite was Crippen Works, owned by Katharyn Crippen Shapiro (shown here). She hand-sews one-of-a-kind knitting needle cases and knitting bags using eclectic assortments of colorful fabrics. You can email her for pictures and prices.

Sunbridge College Craft StudioThe biggest surprise at the show was the Sunbridge College Craft Studio, which offered gorgeous little felted toy kits for children, based on the Waldorf handwork curriculum.

Located in Spring Valley, New York, the Sunbridge College Craft Studio focuses on teaching hand spinning, knitting, crocheting, felting, embroidery, and toy puppet making using plant-dyed wools. For details about the school or its kits, call 845-425-2891.

Style Hounds Handknits

A fun find for people who love their dogs was Style Hounds Handknits, a relatively new company that offers complete kits and custom-made handknit dog sweaters using plush New Zealand wool. If you have a pampered pooch, or know someone who has one, this company's Web site is a must-visit.

Joan Blazis Lefitt

Another surprise find was Joan Blazis Levitt, a talented artist with an eye for translating the loving and often whimsical spirit of sheep, angora goats, and other fiber-bearing animals into etchings.

When in the Area
the Vanderbuilt Mansion
The area around Rhinebeck is ripe for exploration. I took some time off on Sunday morning to visit the Vanderbuilt Mansion in Hyde Park. The vast, parklike grounds overlook the Hudson and are open to the public, with fees only charged if you take a guided tour of the mansion.

Bread Alone

Soon enough, it was time to hit the road and begin my nine-hour drive home. But not before stopping at Bread Alone on Market Street in downtown Rhinebeck for a quick cup of coffee and a loaf of fresh-baked organic artisan bread to take home.
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