This post was written by my best friend, MJ Saunders, and originally appeared on her blog. She summed up the whole experience so perfectly and I was honored she let me share it with you!
Last Saturday, I fulfilled a knitting dream I’d had for about eight years and attended my first New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY! Read more below about petting sheep, fearing yarn commitment, and learning–the hard way–about planning ahead…
When I began knitting as a grumpy, anti-social pre-teen, I quickly discovered the online world of knitters and used their beautiful blogs to supplant my lack of real-world knitting friends. Since I had to stay in high school, couldn’t drive, and my yarn budget depended on whatever my mom was willing to buy for me at Jo-Ann, I quickly developed a fascination with stories of the big North American yarn festivals: Stitches West! Taos! TNNA! Maryland Sheep and Wool! And the big whopper: New York Sheep and Wool, aka Rhinebeck, a two-day yarn extravaganza only one state away. To my young self, Rhinebeck was practically a pilgrimage, a conference where knitters of the world gathered to buy supplies en masse and show off their sweaters made just for this special occasion. I wanted to make that journey with them. I wanted to go to Rhinebeck.
Gradually I lost some of my grumpiness and anti-social tendencies and made friends in high school, and–miracle of miracles!!!–many of them were knitters. A few of us even had a weekly knitting club, cramming into a small room off of a teacher’s lounge where we’d knit through the 50 minutes of homeroom and try to ignore the screeching sounds of the printer in the corner. Among these crafty teens was @fooost, who became one of my best friends and favorite knitting companions. Over seven years of friendship we have agonized over many patterns and laughed over many knitting mistakes, and when she moved to New York City to attend NYU for college, we casually agreed that someday, I should come to visit her in the fall and we’d go to Rhinebeck together.
This May, we compared our school schedules, found that my fall break began the exact weekend of Rhinebeck, and immediately bought passes.
We learned our very first lesson about Rhinebeck on Friday, the night before we’d planned to take the Amtrak from NYC to the festival: it is big. We thought that we could just buy our tickets at the station on Saturday morning, but Friday night when we looked at prices online, we were perplexed as to why the train tickets were so expensive. One phone call to the Amtrak customer service informed us that all the trains to the Rhinebeck station had sold out months ago, and ours were so pricey because there were only SEVEN unclaimed seats on the whole train left.
So we made peace with our mistake and bought them over the phone, and woke up at 5:30 am in order to pick them up at Penn Station before our 7:15 am train departed. The train ride itself was lovely; though we were seated on the opposite side and didn’t get a view of the Hudson, upstate New York in the height of fall did not disappoint.
Our lesson on planning transportation ahead continued when we arrived however, and had to wait about 20 minutes for the next taxi to take us to the fairgrounds. After our shuttle dropped off a large group of Brooklyn hipsters attending a wedding nearby, we got to the festival gates at 10 am (however, because we missed the opening rush we didn’t have to wait in line!)
I had read that Saturday is Rhinebeck’s busier day, and that the morning is the best time to come before the afternoon crowds make it too crowded. This was definitely true, and after lunch we could barely get through the barns. The morning was much colder, but much more peaceful, and we walked through the fairgrounds just taking everything in and stopping to browse at nearly every booth.
If you are a knitter, or really a lover of any hobby that produces material goods, you’ll understand what I mean when I talk about fear of commitment. Katie and I had visited a few barns and outside tables laden with hank after hank of gorgeous yarn, but we were too hesitant to buy any of it right away. “We’ll come back!” we kept saying as we passed up bison wool, machine-washable alpaca yarn, and gradient sock yarn. We briefly feared that we’d leave the festival without purchasing anything, too afraid to pick just a few things out of the thousands upon thousands of items for sale.
Luckily, we were saved by the discovery of the O-Wool booth. After several minutes of browsing, I selected three skeins of O-Wash Fingering in a light, dusty pink called “Pasture Rose” and Katie had put together a bundle of their beautifully rustic Local base in navy, deep green, and gold. And then came Rhinebeck Lesson #2: bring cash. The internet service at the festival was spotty in places, and O-Wool’s credit card service was sadly put on hold. Thankfully they offered to set Katie’s yarn aside until she could visit an atm at the other end of the park, and let her move to the front of the line later to pick it up!
Aside from the inspecting the wonders of nearly every booth we found (and eating a very delicious lunch), we had a great time visiting the animals at the festival. Local farmers and 4-H groups filled one barn with various sheep breeds and another with goats, llamas, and alpacas, and several people were even selling very cute and very fluffy angora rabbits! We also caught a sheepdog herding demonstration and the tail-end (ha) of the ram auction. I also made friends with one particular sheep who enjoyed having his nose gently scratched, which might have been the highlight of my afternoon.
What left the biggest impression on me about Rhinebeck overall was that far from being different or disappointing, it was exactly as fun and happy as I expected. Katie and I discussed several times how polite and courteous all of the festival-goers were: though the crowds were large, no one was pushing or shoving to get into booths; no one was complaining if they had to wait in line; we struck up pleasant conversations with random knitters on the train, in the taxi, at a picnic bench, in booths, and everyone was just as excited to be there as we were. It was incredible to look around at strangers and recognize the patterns they’d made their items from and feel amazed knowing that even the most professional-looking garments were all made by hand. It was a convention of several thousand people who were all just as in love with needlecrafts as we were.
We bought tickets for a return train at 3 pm, even thought the festival ended at 5 pm, and that was a good idea. Along with avoiding the traffic of everyone leaving at once, we also got back to the city in time to give our feet some much-needed rest. It was a long day, but a very, very good one. I couldn’t be happier that my first Rhinebeck was spent on a beautiful day with my best friend, and I know that we will go back together in the future! Although I’m sure we’ll commit to being at Rhinebeck from opening til close, for our first time we definitely were ready to go home early. After all, we had a lot of winding to do…