Monday, October 22, 2012

Adventures at Rhinebeck Sheep and Wool Festival

So what is a sheep and wool festival and what makes it wonderful? It's the gathering of hundreds of vendors of yarn and wool and related products and animals and people come and buy yarn. One can also come to buy spinning wheels and wool to spin, or drop spindles and dyes or the animals themselves. There is sheep shearing and there are sheep dog events (like in the movie Babe!) and there are textile weavers and basket weavers and leather workers and potters and so many people who work with their hands. And though there are many things which made this weekend at rhinebeck wonderful, I think I can scoop up most of my delight into three big straggly categories.

The weekend was wonderful because it was one enormous sensory overload. If all we had done that weekend was travel to Rheinbeck and go hiking we would have had a beautiful weekend. It could not have been more beautiful weather, out in the countryside of the northeast, through rolling hills and valleys covered with trees at their peak of color. But once we got into the festival we went through shop after shop of yarns in the most beautiful colors. Every time I thought I'd found a favorite ship I'd find another with even more beautiful combinations of colors. The picture above is from Briar Rose Fibers, a wonderful shop with staggeringly beautiful yarn. You might be able to get an idea from the pictures, but it is not the same as being there in person because in person you can touch the yarn. My hands are still happy from the memory of running my hands through baby Alpaca and Cashmere, though merino wool and silk and bamboo, and through lambswool. It's such a treat to just touch these things, but even more of a treat to be able to buy some and take it home with me.

The second great joy of the weekend was just the exposure to such a high concentration of skill. Last year at a yarn shop in Princeton I overheard a conversation between the store owner and a pattern designer about what sort of patterns she should be producing. They decided the safe choice was to stick with very simple patterns because so few people have the skill to do anything more complex. It made me sad to think that the level of skill in textile arts is falling, that maybe we're loosing the skills our grandmothers might have had and that maybe we won't be able to get them back. A weekend at Rheinbeck was the sweetest antidote to these thoughts. Not only did I see people everywhere wearing gorgeous, complex hand knits, I got to see people exhibiting phenomenal skills in all areas of textile design and production. At a stall selling lace weight yarns and threads, I saw a whole display of wedding ring shawls, lacework knit with such fine thread and so airy a design that you could pull the whole shawl through a wedding band. They were for sale, at about $700 a piece, which seems like a steal when you start counting the hours that went into that piece of artistry. I found a picture of a wedding ring shawl online to give you an idea, but the ones on display were even more lovely than the one above.

The part of the weekend making my the most grateful right now is that people I went with. Owen insisted I come with him and his mom, aunt and cousin even though I had been scheduled for work, so I asked and got Saturday off. So I got to meet my aunt and cousin-to-be, and got to spend more time with my soon to be mother-in-law, and it was wonderful. It made me think what a familial thing knitting is. Lots of people learn from their mothers or grandmothers, and when people buy yarn they buy it to make hats or sweaters for their children or husbands or girlfriends as much as for themselves. Over meals Owen's mom and aunt kept talking about their mom, the sweaters she would knit (with the tight neckbands) and how much she would have enjoyed a festival like this. And yet again I was humbled and glad to get to wear the ring she left for "Owen's bride." One of the sweetest moments of the weekend was over breakfast when Owen's aunt said how nice it was to see her mom's ring on my hand. All weekend I was just showered with generosity, some financial ("it would make me very happy to buy that yarn for you") some knowledgeable (as I asked many questions about gauge and planning for patterns) and lots of generosity of heart as women I'd never met continued to exclaim how glad they were to meet me or would just announce to each other, "I like Clara so much" and it is a joy to be so welcomed into a family.

I am realizing how much I could be networking online over textile arts and over books, and these seem like worthwhile things, but I'm not sure. Right now I'm selling a lot of my time at $10/hour, and the time I have left over is a little precious to me, and though in the long run I think I would appreciate being connected to all the people I know who knit over Ravelry and I would like to be able to use GoodReads as a way of sharing my thoughts and recommendations about books,  I also like to just be with my housemates in the evenings, or communicate more directly with friends I love.


  1. Oh, love, I am so happy for you! I didn't think Owen's family would be any less thrilled to be adding you to their number, but it's so wonderful to hear stories! This makes me so happy!


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