Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rhinebeck! and, Rhinebeck versus Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival

We finally did it – Judy, Kris and I went to Rhinebeck last weekend.  The fall foliage was gorgeous, even though the weather was unseasonably warm (upper 60s, maybe even into the low 70s in the afternoon).
Since we’ve been to Maryland so many times, we couldn’t help but compare.  After all, MDSW and Rhinebeck are the high royalty of fiber festivals.  They bookend the festival season, falling as they do in the early spring and late fall.

The first thing we noticed was parking.  Parking is free at both festivals, but much, much better organized at MDSW.  Hooray for that boy scout pack who directs traffic – those guys have their system down and parking goes swiftly and smoothly.  The Rhinebeck folks waved their sticks around in confusing ways and repeatedly gave directions that were different from their signs.  It was odd – and especially frustrating at the end of the day.

When we first entered, we didn’t think it was very crowded.  Maybe because there is an entry fee?  Tickets are $12/day (a little less if you buy ahead online). Our first views just weren’t that crowded:IMG_2073
We got in the souvenir line first to get shirts, mugs, etc.  The line wasn’t very long at all but was INCREDIBLY slow.  They only had 2 registers (and only 1 was working).  This is where MDSW comes out ahead – their souvenir tent has many lines, and even some cash/check only fast lines.  Plus there’s a supplemental tent with t-shirts only.  That’s streamlined!

Then we zoomed over to the Briar Rose Fibers booth.  I have only seen BRF once in person (at Sock Summit 2009) and wanted to visit again, because she doesn’t come to MDSW.  I learned that she is one of those “it” vendors (like Jennie the Potter, The Fold with Socks That Rock yarn, etc.) and the line was crazy.  We couldn’t get into the booth.  So we wandered away and resolved to return later.

Just down the aisle we found Good Karma Farm, which had the most delightful monsters on display:IMG_2082Wouldn’t you go into this booth, too?  Judy got some yarn for a hat, and I almost bought the biggest batt I’ve ever seen but I didn’t quite succumb.IMG_2081
Oh hey, did you notice that Judy is wearing a beautiful scarf that she knit from my handspun?  And I’m wearing my SPAKAL/Rhinebeck sweater!!!  It was so warm that I had to keep taking it off to cool down, but I wore it just the same.  Here’s a picture of the back:, where the leaf motif is:IMG_2093
I bought a shawl pin to hold it shut, too (but I got it after this picture was taken).
As always, we were entranced by the giant skeins of yarn solar-dyed in natural colors by Sea Colors:IMG_2086
Someday I’ll make a sweater out of that stuff.  Most of the Rhinebeck booths are indoors (a lot of MDSW is in tents) and some of the buildings had booths in actual animal stalls, which was charming.  Can you see the sliding doors? 
We found the farm from which I bought my Corriedale roving that became my purple SPAKAL/Rhinebeck sweater and showed the men.  Judy said he was as proud as a grandfather would be (he was really cute, I’ll admit).  Here is some of the same roving next to the finished sweater:
The sheep auction was right in the middle of things.  We saw and listened for a while.  The sound of this auctioneer was mesmerizing:
Later we returned to Briar Rose and Judy pointed to the yarn she wanted to buy:IMG_2099
Do you see who was in the booth helping out?  Anne Hanson!  Anne cheerfully helped Judy find two skeins that matched almost exactly, and talked with her about how to use them together to make a men’s vest.IMG_2107
Then we went in search of food.  Okay, NOW it’s crowded:
In the food department, I have to give Rhinebeck the nod – and by a large margin. First of all, there were MANY vegetarian options here.  Everything from Asian foods to pot pies to falafel.  And … look at this! IMG_2113
Wine, too!IMG_2114
We didn’t actually partake but it would have been nice to sit for a while and sip something cold.  They have lots of hot drinks for sale, too, which during a typical October day would have been delightful (cider, coffee, hot chocolate) but everyone wanted ice cream this year.  Rhinebeck also has a “specialty food” hall where you can sample and buy many prepared foods – everything ranging from sauces and vinegars to cookies and wine and cheese.  While in that area, I spied this shawl and had to stop the knitter to ask about the pattern.  Isn’t it pretty?IMG_2116I have the pattern name written down somewhere.  The pattern is Acanthus, and it calls for laceweight yarn.  This version if made from fingering yarn, and I like it better that way!

Later in the afternoon, I was browsing in the Spirit Trail Fiberworks booth.  I love her yarn but can never get into the booth at MDSW – it’s tiny and crowded.  The Rhinebeck booth was easily 3x as big, so I wanted to take advantage of the relative roominess.  While there, I realized (by overhearing a conversation) I was standing next to designer Thea Colman, of Vodka Gimlet fame:IMG_2117
I didn’t know her face before, but I had been spying on her red sweater during the day (we must have been circulating on the same general route).  I asked her what it was, and it’s a new pattern to be released later this month.  Hmmm, I might need to knit that!

Judy and I spent enough time in this booth that we ended up buying enough yarn to make Thea’s Vodka Lemonade sweater, of which there was a sample on display:IMG_2119
Judy got that gorgeous green color (Seagrass) and I got a darker, bluish-green (Mediterranean).  I haven’t photographed it yet but I will.

We spent the rest of the day wandering and sitting.  “Sitting” is another category where Rhinebeck wins the prize – there are benches and tables EVERYWHERE and we never had trouble finding a place to sit down for a while.  At MDSW, many people bring their own chairs.IMG_2125
Here are the panpipe people, who played lots of fun tunes that really enlivened the fairgrounds:
They played mostly traditional stuff – that is, until we heard “The Sound of Silence.”  Funny.  Note that they are stationed right in front of some restrooms.  Now, Rhinebeck TOTALLY wins in the restroom department.  The station I went into must have had 30 stalls in it and I didn’t even have to wait in line.  There was an attendant on duty all the time, cleaning and refilling and tidying up.  What a HUGE difference from the lines of porta-potties at MDSW.  If I’d known it was so nice, I probably would have hydrated more. 

There were some things on the schedule that really didn’t have anything to do with sheep or wool – like these canine frisbee and trick demonstrations (which were pretty impressive just the same).  Here are some dogs playing Flyball:
They were quite popular.

It was a full day and we saw a lot.  I know there was more that we didn’t get to, but this was a very good first effort.  I came home with some non-fiber consumables (like hand/foot lotion), a Rhinebeck mug, a t-shirt for S1, and a shawl pin.  I also got some fiber for spinning and the sweater yarn.  Plus, I have to show you what we did on Sunday!  All that will be in the next post.

To summarize, here’s the MDSW vs. Rhinebeck Smackdown Scorecord:
Parking: Maryland wins
Admission: Maryland wins (free!)
Food and drink: Rhinebeck wins
Seating: Rhinebeck wins
Restrooms: Rhinebeck wins

The vendor list was comparable, I think.  I’d have to pull up lists from each festival to get accurate numbers, but I think the number of vendors was similar.  There was overlap but we also saw lots of people who were new to us.

Judy and Kris, please chime in!


  1. Thanks for the comparison! I have been to MDS&W many times, but not to Rhinebeck. I am really drawn by the fact that there is lots of vegetarian food!

  2. What a great blog! Thanks for Judy for telling me about your trip, and thank YOU for such great pics and write up. Hope one of these days I can make it that far back east for a weekend!

  3. Great comparison of both festivals! I have also been to MDSW and Rhinebeck and will chime in with one more Rhinebeck win: seeing all the beautiful handknits that everyone wears! It's like my ravelry queue, come to life :) It's so much fun stalking all the pretty sweaters and shawls.

  4. I totally admired your sweater at some point on Saturday! I love the leaf motif in the back!

  5. Thanks, Dorothy! It was such a quick and easy sweater to knit. Top down raglan, mostly stockinette except for the leaf motif (which kept things interesting). I recommend! It's called Leaflet on knitty.com.

  6. Love the post!
    I'm the one in the green Sylvie sweater behind you when you did the 'roving to sweater' shot. The colors are amazing on you and such a great job on the sweater! Nice to meet you there!

    Leanne (lunatic84 on rav)

  7. Hi Leanne - now I wish I could see more of your sweater in my photo. Definitely put the finished shots in Ravelry. That leaf pattern is amazing.