Ask a knitter about “Rhinebeck” and you’re likely to hear stories of cider donuts, taking photos with sheep, and standing in massive lines for coveted hand dyed yarn. The New York Sheep & Wool Festival, a.k.a. Rhinebeck or simply Sheep & Wool, invites farmers, makers, families, and friends to the Dutchess County Fairgrounds for a weekend of wooly goodness. Held every October since 1980, Sheep & Wool has become a viral sensation in recent years, becoming the annual can’t-miss event for online influencers, bloggers, and vloggers.
Anticipation for Rhinebeck is shared year-round and comes to a boiling point in the weeks leading up to the event. The excitement is further heightened by social media buzz. Web-based knit alongs and crochet alongs encourage makers to handcraft their own Rhinebeck wardrobes. And a quick Instagram search of the #Rhinebeck2018 or #sheepandwool returns images of award-winning livestock and intricate sweaters. Once the tens of thousands of Sheep and Wool participants descend on the quaint town of Rhinebeck, the weekend’s festivities can begin.
Yarn enthusiasts pour into the Saugerties Performing Arts Factory for Indie Untangled.
Attendees can kick off the festivities at Indie Untangled (a.k.a. Indie), an intimate yarn trunk show held in nearby Saugerties the Friday of Rhinebeck weekend. In contrast to the main event which hosts nearly 300 vendors, Indie allows just over 30 different businesses to share their wares with eager customers. Tickets for the event sell out fast months earlier and door open to a mad dash for exclusive colorways and curated fiber gifts. Those in the know drop by the Indie Untangled swag booth first to pick up their annual event tote bag and t-shirt before they sell out.
Rhinbeck hosts over 12,000 guests each year, many of which are attracted by the massive hand-dyed yarn selection.
The main event, the New York Sheep & Wool Festival, encourages wool lovers to meander the winding and hilly passages of the Dutchess County Fairgrounds on Saturday and Sunday. Perfectly timed in mid-October, fiery orange leaves and crisp temperatures put shoppers in the mood to enjoy the outdoors while taking in a sheep shearing or yarn spinning competition. After muscling their way through the crowded buildings of yarn and art vendors, shoppers can regain their strength at one of many food trucks. Take it from me – Aba’s Falafel is not to be missed!
Left: Michael Hampton of Hampton Fiber Mill & Spinnery in his Not a Prada sweater. Middle: Gretchen of @gretchenhenders on Instagram sporting her handmade Ixchel sweater. Right: Anonymous Rhinebeck visitor looking fabulous in a handmade 1970’s flea market find.
One unofficial event that Sheep & Wool visitors look forward to is showing off their Rhinebeck sweaters. Knitters (along with more and more crocheters) spend the year finding the perfect design to interpret, make, and wear during the weekend. 2018 has been a goldmine for intricate and striking knitwear design to keep knitters busy. At the festival, finished garments made from popular patterns were on full display. Well-known vlogger Kristy Glass spend the majority of Saturday hunting down gorgeous Rhinebeck sweaters and posted a collection of interviews on her YouTube page.
The 2018 event was only the second visit to Sheep & Wool for attendee Vanessa of nearby New Jersey. She made and wore her Zweig sweater, a top-down colorwork and lace masterpiece designed by Caitlin Hunter. Vanessa’s interpretation of the sweater included yarns from Explorer Fibers, Shibui Knits, and Brooklyn Tweed for a color palette reminiscent of the Rhinebeck fall foliage. When asked why she chose the Zweig for her Rhinebeck sweater, Vanessa replied that not only is the design gorgeous and challenging, but she hoped to wear it when she met the designer in person at Rhinebeck (which she ultimately did!). “Making a Rhinebeck sweater every year is almost like adding a page to a memory book,” Vanessa said. “I’ll never forget the pattern I followed, yarns I used, and who I was sharing the day with when I wore it. It’s much, much more than a garment.”
Sheep, llama, and lambs were on display in the livestock buildings.
With another Rhinebeck weekend in the books, makers disburse back to their real lives. The subsequent weeks are spent unpacking fiber goodies and sharing them with friends far and wide via social media and online forums. Gaye Glasspie of GGMadeIt shared pictures with online friends and designers she bumped into at the festival in a recent blog post. International visitors will appreciate the comprehensive weekend recap video posted by Mina Philipp of the Knitting Expat Podcast.
Classic wool gathering like the New York Sheep & Wool Festival have noticed a marked shift in operations since entering the social media era. Tweeting, posting, and hashtagging are part of the event experience for most attendees. But Festival Chair and President Blaine Burnett said it best: “We live in a world in which we can’t get away from high tech. Sitting on a bench at last year’s Festival, I got to thinking that with all of the [technology] the Festival Committee has to navigate, we are actually lucky to work with something so simplistic and beautiful.”
Toni Lipsey, the designer and instructor behind TL Yarn Crafts, strives to inspire other’s creativity through online tutorials and modern, approachable crochet patterns. Toni learned to crochet from her mother as a teenager and has been exploring the possibilities of yarn ever since. When she’s not crocheting, you can find Toni cuddled with her two kittens and husband in her Ohio home or traveling the country in search of the next yarn festival. Follow her crochet entrepreneur advice on TLYCBlog.com and find her patterns and maker gifts on TLYarnCrafts.com.