Friday, October 24, 2008

Rhinebeck Roundup


There have been so many fantastic postings about last weekend's New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck NY by now I feel a bit redundant posting my own. It was a fantastic weekend. The weather was spectacular for a farm festival. The shopping opportunities were mind boggling. The color, the animals, the crowds, everything was just amazing in every way.

adorable alpaca

rhinebeck 061

I wanted to consider the reason the festival exists in the first place. In historic context, this is the place where sheep farmers, wool producers and knitters have the opportunity to gather and present fruits of their labor.

hope spinnery yarn

The festival is a place for farmers to show off their best sheep. Or llamas or alpacas. There is an actual auction! Animals get bought and sold. Knitters show off their skills and are judged for their efforts.


The festival is a place for the smaller local producers to show their product and sell to an appreciative audience. It gives them exposure. They can meet the public and they can converge to forge relationships with suppliers.

Local competitor

It's a place where people learn new skills. I spoke with the farmers about their work. I asked lots of questions. What it takes to raise and care for their animals. How big their farms are, what they eat, winter care, everything. What an education!

farmer gus


I spoke with spinners about fiber. The best kinds of fiber to use with a drop spindle, learning how to spin, the ins and outs of 'draft and stop'. All the various types of spindles. How weight affects the spin, how balance is so important, testing a spindle. Oh man, there is so much to learn.

hope spinnery roving

I talked with other knitters. I learned what they like to knit, what yarns they like, how many times they've been to Rhinebeck, what they love and what they do.


I met several famous knitters! But like a dope, I remembered to take one picture (after the fact) I was so starstruck!

mason-dixon knitters!

I found out that 2009 will be the United Nations Year of Natural Fibers. And the NYS&WF will have an extra day on the front end of the weekend, devoted to hosting fiber makers from around the world. Rhinebeck goes global!

All the conversations, all the information, all the newly acquired knowledge led me to really ponder what this is all about. I'm still processing it all, but here are some intial thoughts:

1. Everyone there -- the farmers, the producers, the sellers, the attendees, EVERYONE is passionate about this. It takes a tremendous passion to do it. It's such hard work and sometimes very disappointing, sometimes thrilling, but the only way it succeeds is with passion. I am in awe of it all and I share the passion.
2. It's a business. At the end of the day, it's a business. With tremendous potential to be very successful if done right. There are great opportunities and so many entry points. The entire production chain from the source to the end product has all these amazing offshoots for creative business opportunity. My mind reels with the potential.
3. Like so many other businesses, the Internet has completely changed the supply chain and opportunity to expand the marketplace. Ravelry is a revolution. The entire community in the supply chain is facilitated by this remarkable platform.
4. The environmental impact of shopping local cannot be ignored. It needs to be embraced! I made an effort this year to shop "local". My definition of local was mostly east coast (being from Brooklyn, I needed to expand the boundaries a bit). The yarns I bought this year were from farms in New York, Massachusetts and Virginia. The spinning mill was wind powered!!.
5. The handmade movement is tremendously appealing for similar environmental reasons. For me, the idea that one can purchase an entire fleece and process it from initial shearing to final product is a beautiful expression of a low carbon footprint. My contribution to this effort was to pick up a spindle and some roving. I'll learn how to spin my own yarn to make my projects. My friends Cathy and Sara each took it a step further, purchasing an entire lamb fleece!
6. The United Nations effort will bring a global awareness to the benefits of natural fibers. I only hope this means a general movement away from synthetics (petroleum based, my friends) to real. The implications are staggering - more natural fibers requires land, farms, livestock, farmers, spinning mills, distributors, manufacturers, vendors and customers. One can only hope all of this is done with an very scrupulous eye toward reducing carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. The potential is there and I sense a desire to do it. It will take a real commitment at all levels to make it so.

Which leads me to be very optimistic about the future of the fiber world even if I remain pessimistic about other things going on around us.

There's lots more photos of the weekend here.


Eliza said...

awesome post! You're right! There's a lot to learn and take in. Of course, there's a danger of letting it consume you. But if you play your cards right you could also make it work very well.

I'll come visit you on your sheep farm!

Lauren said...

That Hope Spinnery yarn photo is gorgeous! How did I miss their stand?

I also love the "local" feeling the festival and have been seeking that sort of yarn. I can't wait to go back next year!