By Lady Pertolongan Kucingyn.
I am new to the fiber arts, having just learned how to knit recently. My teacher, Mistress Irene von Schmetterling, had the wonderful idea of going to this amazing event, the New York Sheep and Wool Family Festival, on the weekend of October 15, in Rhinebeck, NY. I had no idea what to expect but was game for a weekend away from our home, the Barony Marche of the Debatable Lands.
We arrived a half an hour early for the festival, yet there were already at least a hundred people waiting to get in. Many sported their recent creations and were quick to ogle each other’s work. The atmosphere was open, friendly, and very welcoming.
After walking through the first building of vendors I knew this was no ordinary event. My biggest first impression was of the breadth of color on display! There was wool in every form, and the dyed fiber contained every imaginable color you could wish for. One of the vendors specialized in using all-natural dyes and labeled her fiber with the plant used to dye it. The fiber came in every texture from the rougher wool to the silkiest Cria wool that was impossible not to pet.
There was every tool imaginable for working wool. If you went there with nothing you could be fully kitted out to work raw wool into a fine garment… if you were wealthy enough to buy everything! The tools ranged from functional and sturdy to exquisitely beautiful. There were drop spindles I would have been delighted to use as a decoration in my house for the beautiful designs inlayed in the tops. Spinning wheels galore were available in every shape and size. Beautifully wrought looms from portable designs to big floor looms were available. Perhaps the most clever thing on sale was the 3D-printed Turkish-style drop spindle with a lifetime guarantee. If a part ever breaks, all you need to do is send the broken piece in and the company sends you a replacement!
For those people interested in where the wool comes from you could spend time in the animal barns. Throughout the day, there were demonstrations on shearing and educational talks about the different types of animals and their husbandry. There were many breeds of sheep on display showing all the different colors and coats to choose from. The llamas looked on placidly as you stopped to admire them. (My favorite was a white llama with the brown spots all over.) There were alpaca and goats on display, too. Some of the goats were quite interested in the people and things around them. A vendor had to rescue her camp chair from the questing teeth of one goat! The angora rabbits on display hardly looked real with their long, flowing locks. I know some of the rabbits were available for purchase and I had to restrain myself from being tempted by a new cuddly companion.
There was no fear of going hungry at this event – it was loaded with food vendors! There were stands of typical fair food: fried dough, French fries, burgers, and kettle corn. But there were also vendors that sold lamb dishes. We stopped at a food truck selling Moroccan lamb stew with a spiced chickpea side dish. The lamb in the stew was cooked to perfection and delightfully spiced.
There was a building devoted to food and wine. Many small New York wineries from all over the state were there offering tastings of their wines. You could buy frozen lamb cuts that were sent home in an insulated bag. Specialty cheese vendors were very busy and had long lines of people waiting to get a taste. You could get homemade pickles and specialty chocolates. A maple sugar vendor was even selling maple sugar cotton candy. I bought a peck of my favorite type of apple from the one fresh fruit vendor there.
There were plenty of finished items for sale too. I came home with a beautiful alpaca sweater and a wool jacket. There were socks, hats, mittens, gloves, and scarves to purchase too. The needle-felted crafts ranged from adorable to incredible. One booth had the entire cast of characters from the Hobbit including a four-foot-long needle-felted Smaug that must have taken months to create. My favorite needle-felted item was a picture of a cheetah face. It was so incredibly detailed that I thought it was a painting until I was up close! I can’t believe that could be done in needle felting! We found some lovely soaps and lotions containing lanolin that will be much appreciated in the winter months to come.
On Sunday, there was a “Fleece to Shawl” contest of several teams of three spinners and one weaver. There was a team of East Kingdom gentles (in garb) feverishly working away on a beautiful blue and white piece. The contest required competing teams make a shawl step by step: starting with washed fleece, through hand carding, to spinning, to weaving, and finally to finishing ends. We stopped to cheer them on. I keep checking the website for the results of the competition but it hasn’t been posted yet.
Overall, I was delightfully surprised at all there was to do and see at the festival. We were there all day on Saturday and for a couple of hours on Sunday, and yet we still didn’t see and do everything there was to do. Anyone who is involved in the fiber arts should definitely try to attend this event. You won’t be sorry you went!
(Editor’s Note: The Festival’s Facebook page can be found under “New York State Sheep and Wool Festival.”)