When knitters gather, our natural tendency is to don our latest handknits for display. The bigger the event, the greater the excitement around finishing that project, darning the ends, and blocking it before the fairgrounds open.
The New York Sheep and Wool Festival—lovingly dubbed Rhinebeck because that's where it takes place—happens mid-October, prime wool season. The leaves are at their peak, giving the landscape the colors of pumpkins and apples. The cider is fresh, the cider donuts even fresher.
Whereas the rest of the world may not always understand the significance of a brand new sweater, at Rhinebeck you're guaranteed an appreciative audience. Such an appreciative audience, in fact, that a tradition of knitting a special "Rhinebeck sweater" has evolved. For weeks leading up to the event, people post pictures of their works in progress. It's a race to the finish line, and many a Rhinebeck sweater has been blocked on hotel beds the night before.
How fitting, then, that designer Ysolda Teague chose the Rhinebeck sweater as the theme for her new collection of patterns, titled, naturally, The Rhinebeck Sweater. The book is, in part, a collection of 12 sweater patterns by Teague and the star-studded line-up of Mary Jane Mucklestone, Cheryl Burke, Mary-Heather Cogar, Gudrun Johnston, Thea Colman, Pamela Wynne, Cecily Glowik MacDonald, Melissa Wehrle, Laura Nelkin, Connie Chang Chinchio, and Amy Herzog.
Under the Covers
The garments are all lovely, approachable shapes and styles you could immediately envision wandering the aisles and walkways of the Dutchess County Fairgrounds. Or maybe that's because I already did see them, or I imagine I did, last year when Ysolda photographed the garments—on the designers, I might add. If you've ever been to Rhinebeck you'll recognize the backdrop for many of the photographs, the colorful fall leaves against still-green grass, the kettle corn, sheep barns, and cider donuts.
A Gathering of Friends
But the book goes beyond Rhinebeck, at least geographically, by taking you to home-bases of several Rhinebeck vendors. You see the yaks from Bijou Basin, hear from Miss Babs herself, see the Bartlett Yarns spinning mule and full bobbins at Green Mountain Spinnery, all accompanied by Ysolda's explanatory narrative.
In that regard, The Rhinebeck Sweater almost feels like a walk through the fairgrounds with Ysolda herself, dipping into certain booths to chat with her favorite vendors—all of whose products are used in the book. I offered up a few words to the project, my goal being to help knitters justify expansive stashing of great yarns they find at fiber festivals.
The book also feels like a gathering of friends. The profiles showcase 11 people and places from which the beautiful yarns came. The projects are lovely and inviting, entirely wearable and flattering. The schematics are clear and helpful, patterns well-written. Best of all? Music to my ears, each pattern's yarn is described in terms of its overall qualities, making substitutions much easier.
When she first made her splash on the knitting scene, Ysolda was a bit of a wunderkind. It was easy to wonder if she'd stick around or move on to other things. Several books later, the evolving intelligence and maturity of her work is a clear, comforting indicator that Ysolda is with us for the long haul.