Writer pursues her hobby via trip to wool fest

RHINEBECK, N.Y. — Are you interested in knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving, dyeing and shearing? A variety of fiber festivals throughout the year offer a chance to enjoy both traveling and the pursuit of these hobbies.

I recently returned from the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York. Having taken up knitting about four years ago, I take the chance to travel to other places to indulge in the purchase of natural fibers and/or the education of its product development to enliven enthusiasts’ creativity and their livelihoods.

The NYSSWF is world renowned. Celebrating its 36th year, the festival started as an ewe sale at the Duchess County Fairgrounds. This Hudson Valley area is rich with sheep products and the fairgrounds with its livestock barns and enclosed buildings was a good place to start and continue the festival.

Soon, food vendors and fiber-arts vendors were setting up shops for the weekend.

This year, over 240 vendors were in attendance. Self-raised fiber vendors of sheep, alpaca, llama, goat and rabbit were present.

Some growers gave their farms unique names such as Buckwheat Bridge Angoras; Ewe and Me Merinos; Looking Glass Wool; and, my favorite, Llady Bug Llamas.

The growers exhibit their animals, compete in competitions, sell their ewes and fibers and give breed talks. That is, talking all things about their particular breed of animals.

The product vendors occupy 12 buildings. There are thousands and thousands of skeins of yarn to be sold. One of the most popular vendors is Miss Babs Hand-Dyed Yarns & Fibers. Every year she creates a special colorway (named color) for the festival. People stand in line every year for upwards of an hour or so to purchase this new colorway.

Other unique vendors sell ink drawings, baskets, spinning wheels, felted items, knitting needles, beads, handmade buttons, and garments made from recycled wool sweaters and coats.

The weather and fall foliage this October weekend were absolutely beautiful. Our (there were 14 of us) two-day excursion trip from our hotel to the fairgrounds across the Hudson River provided more spectacular autumn scenery.

And let’s not forget the parade of exotic animals or the sheep dog herding and Frisbee-catching canine  demonstrations.

Inside Building E, food products are sampled and sold – flavored salts, wine, cheeses, pickles and more. Cooking demonstrations are held throughout the weekend.  I watched, learned and sampled flatbread made with sheep yogurt (just flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder and the sheep yogurt); goat cheese truffles with buttercup squash; and a lamb stew prepared by the chef of a local restaurant, The Tasting Room.

And while traveling the Rhinebeck area, about 2 1/2 hours from Williamsport, you can visit the downtown historic area of the town that features old architecture, table-to-farm restaurants, shops and an old-fashioned variety store, A.L. Stickles. It was in this store’s Knitting Garage section that world-famous knit designer Stephen West was spotted. An avid designer of colorful knit scarves, he was in the area for the festival. Wearing his colorful designs from the top of his head to the socks on his feet, he gratefully took selfies for his admirers.

Explore the Rhinebeck area

Ten miles south of Rhinebeck is Hyde Park, the town of the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. This 300-acre property is home to “Springwood,” FDR’s lifetime home. One-hour tours are available.

Onsite is the FDR Library and Museum, whose mission statement is “to foster research and education on the life and times of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their continuing impact on contemporary life. Our work is carried out by four major area: archives, museum, education and public programs.” Self-guided tours are offered.

Hungry? Visit the Culinary Institute of America. This beautiful 170-acre campus along the Hudson River has 41 professionally equipped kitchens for its students. Several onsite restaurants provide the public a culinary, world-class meal prepared by the students. Reservations are encouraged and can be booked online.

Walkway Over the Hudson State Park is in Poughkeepsie, 18 miles south of Rhinebeck. This former railroad bridge was restored and, at over a mile, is the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. Over 500,000 people yearly walk or bike over the bridge.

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

This festival is held in May at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, Maryland. The dates for 2017 are May 6 and 7. Next year will feature 250 vendors, 600 sheep and more than 40 workshops.

A special feature will be a free demonstration on carding and combing of blue-faced Leicester wool.

A blue-faced Leicester sheep is a longwool breed native to England but, since the 1970s, it has been bred in Canada and the United States. They have thin, curly wool but no wool on their neck and head areas. The “blue” name comes from dark blue skin on their noses.

So what is your hobby? Expand your horizons and travel to different places to pursue your passion and experience your surroundings.