When I first heard about the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, maybe 15 years ago, I thought to myself, “Phew—at least I’m not so deep into this knitting thing that I’ll ever even THINK of going to a sheep festival. Those people must be NUTS.”
Now, Rhinebeck is right up there with Passover and Thanksgiving on my list of favorite ritual observances of a seasonal, spiritual nature.
The timing is perfect.
By Rhinebeck time, it’s well and truly fall. You are in a beautiful place, surrounded by wool and the love of it, and the constant passing in and out of view of the radiant faces of people who feel the same way about the fiber crafts as you do. It’s hugs, kisses and kettle corn, all day long. Heaven.
At Rhinebeck, we are not nuts. Well, some of us are. But if you stick out at Rhinebeck as “a little nutty about the knitting”—you actually are nutty and you must get right with that. We embrace you. Please wash that fleece as soon as you get home, OK? The name of the sheep is Johnny? OK, then. You have Johnny’s 2013 and 2010 fleeces at home? Awesome. That is a story we are all going to tell our families the next time we get the hairy eyeball about a few skeins of MadTosh in the trunk of the car.
Rhinebeck really needs no guide. If you love fiber, the minute you enter the Dutchess County Fair Grounds, primal instincts will take over. Just as when, speaking to an infant, you raise the pitch of your voice two octaves, your body will know what to do. What follows are really just my personal Rules of Rhinebeck, evolved and evolving over time.
Before the fog of fiber overwhelms your judgment, make a mental note of the one or two things you absolutely want to achieve while you are at Rhinebeck, and do those things first.
2. Keep your strength up.
The Artichoke French line is very long. It is not going to get any shorter. By the end of the day, everybody is going to be redolent of garlicky artichoke goodness, so it’s just good common sense to get yours early. They are delicious, in a “this is a vegetable but it can’t be that good for me” sort of way. You will meet lots of people and see lots of handknits on the line. Just get in there. Ditto for other favorite foods: the apple crisp, the chicken pot pie (if they have them this year, please God).
Given the dirt-to-mud fairgrounds terrain, and the fact that you will be on your feet for hours without even noticing it, footwear is key.
Other people have Rhinebeck sweaters; I have Rhinebeck boots. Ideally you want some well-patinated Fryes, Docs or Blunnies that you’ve had since college. But really, any stylish clodhopper that keeps out the wet will do. And if you’ve ever fallen for those see-through plastic galoshes that show off handknit socks—well, here is your opportunity. There are not a lot of places you can wear those, so knock yourself out. If it’s actually been raining: Wellies are a must.
4. A word of caution.
Rhinebeck can alter your state of mind to the point that it seems reasonable to take up a brand new, equipment and materials-laden, lifelong pursuit for which you have no prior skills or training.
Friends, I speak of lucetting, needlepunch, Shirret, rug hooking, spinning, and—the scariest category of all—animal husbandry. Temptation is everywhere. The hooked rugs are so beautiful they cause me physical pain. Give in if you must, but please think twice before purchasing a sheep. Even a miniature sheep. Especially if you live in an apartment. Please, phone a friend.
5. Proud in the crowd.
Wear your handknits. All of them. Celebrate the handknits of your sisters and brothers. Cheer for famous patterns you’ve always wanted to see In Real Life. Try not to stalk a handknit for too long without introducing yourself to the wearer. Again: just good sense.
6. Buy stuff.
Like I need to tell you this. But don’t let yourself get so overwhelmed by the amazing choice that you forget to buy a couple of skeins of this or that, WITHIN REASON OF COURSE [yes I put that in just in case anybody is reading over your shoulder]. (Remember, I am the person who talked Ann Shayne into buying a 1950s car coat’s worth of kid mohair in 2009. By the way that was very reasonable.) This is our opportunity to support the people who are working to produce beautiful, honest materials and tools for our community. It’s the right thing to do.
Have fun, everybody who is going. If you see me, say hi. You could be the one who saves me from another failed run at Shirret.