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Rhinebeck Balls

Who knew sheep had such huge balls? Manly, hairy, and pendulous indeed!

There were more colorful balls all over Rhinebeck, no longer affixed to a sheep. I neglected to take any pictures of them. I was too busy gawking at the current and future-wearable eye-candy.

How to describe Rhinebeck? Well, if you are a fiber enthusiast, the annual pilgrimage to Rhinebeck, New York, home of the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, is akin to a religious event. I mean no slight or disrespect to any faith-based religion that also lends themselves to pilgrimages. The fervor, the awed tones of those who have and haven’t been, always describe this event in reverent tones.

Local hotels and B&Bs are sold out months in advance. Long lost relatives are sought out and camped upon. There is a nearby campground and it is filled to capacity long before this weekend. Busloads of people swarm the Duchess County Fairgrounds and snarl up traffic for the two-day event. Carpools of Ravelry devotees cluster in groups large and small. The French Artichoke food wagon quickly forms a line. (If you haven’t tried, you really should! It is AWESOME!) Smells of fresh popcorn and maple cotton candy saturate the crisp fall air. You should bring an extra bank account just to eat a simple meal and purchase a few yarny, fibery ‘snacks,’ too. Or plastic. Plastic works, too.

Llama snacks

All this low-tech, hand-made, organic wholesomeness took advantage of what technology can do. Everywhere I looked I saw high tech merchandising – iPad apps and QC codes took the place of most cash registers. People whipped out their tablets, Nooks, iPads and iPad minis to show photos, diagrams, charts, and web sites where you could sign up for newsletters. Electric cords snaked everywhere behind the tables.

You’d think that with all this speed-of-light techno wizardry the lines would have been shorter, or moved faster. No such luck. We arrived only 20 minutes after it opened and at the first building we came to there was a line extending outside over 20 feet and growing!

Lovely, silky fiber!Planning what to wear to Rhinebeck is a whole process in itself. Many people knit – crochet – weave – felt up something drop-dead gorgeous (fiber, stitchery, etc) just for this. People refer to the ‘Rhinebeck Sweater’ as an entity in its own right. Bloggers feature the sweater they plan to wear throughout its construction. Absolute strangers will then accost said blogging knitteratis with compliments and sundry other witticisms. There are buttons you can buy that say ‘My Rhinebeck sweater is still in the skeins.’

Some years there are a few patterns that captured the fancy of many people so you would see the same sweater pattern on multiple people, in varied colors and modifications (some knitters – like some chefs – simply cannot execute a sweater recipe exactly as written). This year I saw a lot of cowls, shawls and ponchos. The game was how many patterns could I recognize and name? (Answer: quite lot, actually.)

We left when they closed for the day. My aching body had been upright and moving for 97% of the day (don’t bother checking my math… trust me on this one). Nineteen hours after I left home (in the dark), I returned home (also in the dark). The smile of anticipation I wore at the beginning of the day was now a smile of satisfaction. Totally worth it. You should go.

I'm ready for my close-up, now

After talking about going to the NH Sheep and Wool Festival with #1 grandson for over a month, the day we ended up going was at best, a gray day, but more often, beyond silly to ridiculous downpours. I looked into a couple other things we could do instead of the Sheep & Wool Festival, but he was wearing a t-shirt with sheep on it in honor of our trip and I decided not to even bring other options up. If he was game, so was I. In the end, his rubber boots got a great work out (almost totally dry socks!)! So did the umbrella he insisted on bringing that I didn’t want but was so glad he had!

We experimented with wet felting.

We hardly needed the pan of water. Except for the squirt of mild dishsoap, I had more than enough liquid in my pants and shoes. Limp wool, little plastic beads, and fluffy roving became something so much more.

He was on a mission to buy a small stuffed puppy for his brothers upcoming birthday, so I was able to browse a lot of the (inside – yeah!) vendors. We saw spinning, weaving, roving, and freshly shorn fleece. We followed a quartet of lambs, two black and two white, through the 4-H building. Liam says one yelled “mmbaaah!” at him. How he could be sure with all the sheep and lamb vocalizing going on, I have no idea!

None of the cute puppies or other small stuffed animals fit his small budget, although we did enjoy looking. I saw a felted mermaid I would love to have given my sister but it was out of both of our budgets! Worth every penny, I am sure.

We were trying to hang in until the sheepdog trials, but the sky truly opened at that point and it was cancelled. As we slowly trudged back to the car with Liam walking, skipping, and jumping in the ever-larger puddles and streams, I realized that while I was well and truly sopping wet, I was not freezing. Good thing. Liam had a complete change of clothes in the car (thanks, Jess!) but I did not.

We agreed to try this Sheep and Wool thing again in the fall or next spring, hoping for better weather.

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