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Go To The Fair - Michelle Edwards Visits Rhinebeck

“... Go to the Fair, Templeton. You will find that the conditions at a fair will surpass
your wildest dreams. Buckets with sour mash sticking to them, tin cans
containing particles of tuna fish, greasy paper bags stuffed with rotten ...”
“That’s enough!” cried Templeton. “Don’t tell me anymore. I’m going.”

E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

baaaaConvincing my cousin Janet to go to The New York State Sheep and Wool Festival wasn’t hard. Unlike Templeton the rat in Charlotte’s Web, she didn’t need the lure of sour mash, stray particles of tuna fish, or even greasy paper bags. The mere mention of sheep and wool and she was on board.

I had been to Rhinebeck, as the event is known in the fiber world, when I was promoting my knitting book, A Knitter's Home Companion. My fair days back then were spent almost entirely signing books. This summer, after attending a small Iowa sheep and wool festival, I got the itch to go back to the big one, to Rhinebeck, to see what I had missed.

Rhinebeck is not only about wool. Among the offerings there were a bred ewe auction, an angora goat show, and an exotic breeds parade. In addition, there were demos of “blue ribbon hearth” cooking, canine Frisbee, sheepdog herding and more. Not to mention classes like Weave a Williamsburg Basket, Art and Science of Natural Dyeing, Needle Felting in 2-D and 3-D, Made in the Moment Jewelry, Double Knitting, Beginning Rug Hooking and Spinning for Socks.

Of course, Janet and I went straight for the wool. We cruised booth after booth, discussed the merits of projects and yarns on display. Often our eyes were drawn to the handwork worn by other fair attendees. We admired lacy shawls, cabled sweaters and the stunning green baby blankets covering a pair of adorable twins in their side-by-side stroller.

sheepA fair is good place for champion talkers like Janet and me. We chatted with vendors, fellow stitchers and a spinner who was plying pink fluff into a glorious yarn. We noted books about knitting techniques we would never use and about a shepherd’s life we’d never live.

At the food exhibition hall, we tried a surprisingly delicious pumpkin butter. We strolled past the wine tastings, the cheese nibblings, and the samplings of hand-crafted beers, hearth breads and an array of inviting savories and sweets.

We wandered around on fair time. Staying in the moment. Eventually, we checked our watches. How could it be late afternoon? We still had to see the animals.

A shearing was in progress at the barns. With a gentle clipping, fleece fell gracefully in wooly heaps. Young girls led their sheep around on leashes. We stopped to pet one. We discovered more vendors in the stalls. Dyes, buttons, fleece, spinning tools, knitting needles, crochet hooks, craft bags, you name it. And, of course, plenty of yarn. The barns were a kind of back-to-earth Coney Island. Only the Ferris Wheel was missing, my cousin remarked later.

Then, it was dusk. The fair was officially closing. There was so much we hadn’t seen, done, tasted.

I paused, taking in whatever I could—the sights, the smells, the sounds. That’s when I realized something important about fairs. You can never experience it all. And so you return. Not only to see what you missed, but revisit what you loved.

Janet and I had had the best of times. We located her car in the vast parking area. We packed away our purchases and cranked up the heater. We turned on the seat warmers. We were full from our day. We had been to the Fair.

Fair Notes:

Attending a Sheep and Wool Festival gives you a treasure chest of fiber experiences to take home to your own knitting chair. Winter is a good time to plan your adventure. Check out Sheep and Wool Festivals online. For information and inspiration, read Fiber Gathering by Joanne Seiff.

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Michelle Edwards is a life-long knitter and the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, MAX MAKES A CAKE is now available from Random House. To keep in touch with Michelle, visit her website, www.michelledwards.com. “Like” her on Facebook . Follow her blog and sign up for her newsletter .

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