Monday 17 October 2016

So Much Yarn, So Little Time: A Rhinebeck Report

I'm baaaaahk from Rhinebeck.  There are many sheep & wool festivals around the country but the biggest one, which takes place each October at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, NY, at the height of foliage season in the Hudson River Valley, is so well-known amongst knitters that it is simply referred to as "Rhinebeck".
I'm absurdly spoiled living within walking distance of WEBS, the largest yarn store in the world.  (They even snagged the URL  WEBS is yarn mecca – genuflecting when you go in the door isn't required, but it is encouraged – and knitters, crocheters, spinners, and weavers from around the globe make pilgrimages there.  They have, as you would expect, a vast selection of fibre and knitting tools, from the cheapest, tackiest acrylic to the most expensive luxury yarns, and they carry some hand-made and local products in addition to the major manufacturers.  But, due to volume, they cannot offer products from most of the small, independent fibre and tool makers (although they do support and promote them generously).  These are the sort of artisans you see at fibre festivals.

You don't go to Rhinebeck to buy 10 skeins of mass-produced yarn to make a sweater; you go there to buy one special skein of hand-spun, hand-dyed yarn from the vendor's own sheep.  Rhinebeck is its own kind of pilgrimage, and I think it is honestly the single event I most look forward to each year.  I just got home and I am already feeling down that it's over for a whole year (no, I can't afford to go both Sat. & Sun.; I know that's a sacrilege but it's too far to drive twice and I can't afford a hotel, let alone two days of yarn shopping and eating overpriced fair fare).

Rhinebeck is a two hour drive from my house, through the Berkshires and down the Taconic State Parkway.  Scenic is an understatement.  And the Taconic even has parking spots for making out at scenic overlooks, although I have yet to bring a date to Rhinebeck.  The only downside is the astonishing number of deer grazing along the Parkway.  Each trip I worry that this will be the year one of them leaps in front of my car.
You gonna have the lamb or the lamb?
The interminable lamb line.
Before we get too intoxicated with fibre, let's eat.  Lamb, appropriately enough, is the featured dish.  It appears in many forms at the food stalls.  There is also traditional fair food, of the fried dough and cotton candy variety, but most people ignore that in favour of the local vendors selling seasonal treats.  You will find plenty of cider donuts, hot cider, apple crisp, and pumpkin pie.  Since I'm surrounded by these at home, I ignore them and focus on the lamb, despite being a militant vegetarian the rest of the year.  Alas, so do thousands of other people.  The queue for the roasted lamb sandwiches each year has to be seen to be believed.  I waited exactly 50 minutes for mine today and made myself even angrier and more frustrated reading about the election on my phone whilst I was queuing.  It's an incentive to bring a friend because you can take turns holding a place in line and not miss so much yarn fondling time.

There's usually a substantial queue for every food stall at lunchtime but today I noticed one, new this year, without any line.  Curious, I read the menu:  Lamb sausage sandwich with side of chickpea salad or lamb stew.  No prices.  I went up to the window and the vendor was grinning at me a little too enthusiastically.  Then I saw the fine print: They were each $20.  That explains the shit-eating grin on the vendor.  He was looking greedily at the crowd and thinking he was going to make a killing.  But knitters aren't that stupid, hence the lack of a queue.

Roast lamb, onions, mustard. Worth the wait.
In addition to the food stalls lining the walkways, there is one building devoted to local food purveyors.  There are gourmet chocolates and cheeses, baked goods, dips and spice mixes, jam and sauces, and, above all, wines.  You could spend the entire day sampling local varieties, although I don't recommend it if you have to drive home.  There is a vendor who sells a spice mix called "Gobs of Garlic".  Each year I buy three tubs of it and throw it into myriad recipes.  It's the secret ingredient in about half the dishes I prepare.  One can order it online but it's become a ritual for me to get it there.

By making a Herculean effort to completely neglect all of my responsibilities, I finally managed to input my entire yarn stash into Ravelry over the summer.  A total of 127 different stashed yarns doesn't win me any largest stash awards, but it certainly gave me pause.  Rhinebeck was, obviously, going to test my yarn diet willpower, and the first temptation came when I reached out to pet a skein whose deep wine colour was like a siren's song.  It was soft.  Really soft.  I read the label:  50% cashmere/50% silk (400 yards, fingering).  Ah.  That would explain it.  Yes, it came home with me.

Green!  (Yes, some of that came home with me, too.)
My other temptation was any skein of forest green yarn.  It's my favourite colour, and surprisingly hard to find in yarn.  Blue, my least favourite colour, is one of the most universally popular colours across all cultures on earth, leading to a glut of shades of blue yarn and seemingly very little green.  If there is green, it is a warm green, not my green.  The first forest green skein I spotted was, alas, mohair, which makes me itch, so I passed on it.  I had better luck later, as I perused each booth in my methodical OCD way (another reason I go by myself: I trek building by building, row by row, to be sure I don't miss anything.  For some reason, this drives other people nuts, but skipping around and missing things would drive me nuts).

A wheel & some roving.
Knitting is the gateway drug.  After awhile, you crave a deeper connection to the yarn in your hands.  So you try dyeing.  And then you get a little roving and a drop spindle.  Then you want to spin more yarn faster, so you invest in a wheel.  Then, oh, what the hell, you pick up a fleece, just to try carding it yourself.  And from there it is a surprisingly small step to owning sheep.  I'm sort of at that point.  I haven't yet convinced my landlady that letting me keep sheep will enable her to sell the John Deere riding mower in the garage (bonus: I could actually park my car in there then, instead of outside in the snow), but I do own a sheep share at a local farm.  Twice a year, the farm owner invites the sheepholders to come meet the lambs and watch the shearing.

Some knitters take a detour into related crafts like crochet or weaving.  Rhinebeck is dominated by knitters but it is truly a festival that celebrates all fibre arts – for better and for worse.  There are booths with everything from tapestries and rugs to needle-felted dragons.  There is wool clothing and hats (even horse blankets this year!), woven tea towels and bedspreads, and a variety of fibre artwork, most of which has one thing in common: it's absolutely hideous.
I told you there was a felted dragon.
Fancy wool coolers. Would love to get one for Silas.
I liked the yarn art featuring horses.
I'm not the folk art type but the horses are charming.
Be sure to dye, responsibly.
Handmade drop spindles
This tool is called a niddy-noddy.  I shit you not-y.
Spinner in her booth sneaking in a little spinning between customers.
And sheep may be the stars of the show but they aren't the only fibre animals there.  If knitting is the gateway drug, wool is the gateway fibre.  Knitters are notorious for making yarn from any animal with hair.  I have in my stash a skein of dog hair yarn.  (It was given to me by someone who hates me (seriously) and I am keen to get rid of it, if anyone wants it.)  For awhile, I saved my dogs' undercoat when I brushed them, with the idea of sending it to the Malamute Spin folks, but I eventually came to my senses and gave it to the birds for their nests.  Basically, if you can hold it down and sheer it or comb out its hair, someone, somewhere, will spin that fibre into yarn.  Rhinebeck vendors sell yarn made from llama, alpaca, angora rabbit and goat, yak, vicuna, and, uh, possum (this is apparently big in Australia, where nothing surprises me).  I didn't see any yaks or muskoxen (qiviut – the most expensive yarn) but the other animals were represented, along with cashmere goats and myriad breeds of sheep.  There are also yarns made from every kind of plant fibre you can imagine (cotton, linen, flax, hemp, soy, sugar cane), and a few substances you can't (milk).
Get yer quality yak fibres here.
Please don't blame the Romney sheep for the abysmal
presidential candidate named after them.
Baah, baah, black sheep.  I have plenty of wool, thank you.
Freshly shorn.
No, I have never seen kangaroo yarn, but nothing would surprise me at this point.
I have no idea what they are doing at Rhinebeck.
Llama taking a load off.
You don't have to go to Kashmir to get cashmere.
Little half-ounce bags of cashmere roving!
& it's even legal! Soooooo tempting! (I resisted.)
I tried to get a photo of a man spinning at a wheel in his booth, but he jumped up to greet someone.  I wanted to prove that there are male knitters, and some of them are even straight.

As the clock struck 5 and I made my last purchase of the day, the vendor told me that she is also running the NYC Marathon.  We wished each other luck. 

I attempted to start a knitting blog many moons ago but, like so many UFOs, it has been hibernating for years.  Once I revive it, I will link to it from here.
Lamb roasting.
My tiny Rhinebeck haul. I'm broke so I was very restrained.

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