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Wrapping up Fall Fiber Fests in the Northeast US
Another fiber festival season has come and gone, and with it (at least in the northern hemisphere) comes cooler temps and a long, cold winter full of wearable woolies. We were fortunate enough to attend two of the bigger northeastern fiber festivals this year – New York Sheep and Wool (also known as Rhinebeck) and the Fiber Festival of New England (often referred to as New England Fiber Fest). We’ll also be touching upon the pitfalls and problems associated with Wool&Folk, one of the indie yarn festivals that happened the same weekend as Rhinebeck. Because none of us were in attendance and in the interest of transparency and credibility, we’ll be touching more on the aftermath of Wool&Folk and its impact on indie makers, rather than reporting on the actual event itself.
New York Sheep and Wool (Rhinebeck) – October 21-22, 2023
Rhinebeck is the festival that fiber people speak of, ad nauseum, for almost the entire calendar year. Starting in early January, you can already see posts on social media – “Just picked out my Rhinebeck sweater!” “Going to wear this to Rhinebeck!” And throughout the summer – “I’m hoping to finish this by Rhinebeck, but I’m not sure…” The anticipation of the fiber festival is partially found in what people will be wearing to it. It’s the slow fashion event of the season, if you live in the northeast, but has people from all over the world flocking to picturesque Dutchess County, New York, on the third weekend of the month every year.
Overview: New York Sheep and Wool is sponsored every year by the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Growers Association, and at this stage of the game, they really know their stuff. The layout of the Dutchess County Fairgrounds is both accessible and meticulously planned. This is the biggest fiber festival in the northeastern U.S., but the way the Association has vendors laid out makes plenty of sense, and maps are provided upon entry so you can be sure to hit the vendors you’re waiting for. There is plenty of variety in wares for sale – of course, the yarn is always the big seller, but you can purchase everything from spinning wheels and accoutrements to weaving looms, to needlefelting and embroidery, to projects bags and stitch markers, to handmade alpaca goods and sheep art. Whatever your fiber fancy, you can find it at Rhinebeck. A list of 2023 vendors can be found here (Please note that this is not a list for 2024 and beyond, and may not be complete for next year).
Rhinebeck workshops run from Thursday through Sunday. Registrations begin in July of that year. Some workshops are known for selling out. All workshop reservations come with a free weekend pass to the fair, which is exciting! There’s an excellent workshop FAQs page for more info. There is a sizeable food court area smack in the center of the fairgrounds, up a small hill and adjacent to buildings A, B, and C. The fairgrounds food booths are open, plus a variety of food trucks. The food offerings are plentiful, and range from your typical fair food to vegetarian and vegan-friendly options. You ARE permitted to bring food in, if that is your wish. There are multiple points of entry to the Dutchess County fairgrounds, all accessible, and two large bathroom stations with handicap access.
A note about accessibility from Tina:
“A manual wheelchair or walker might be difficult depending on your mobility. If you have less arm strength, you might find it difficult to go over specific thresholds. I got stuck in the barns in particular a couple of times when I wanted to look at a vendor’s items. If I didn’t have someone able-bodied to push my chair or help me reach, it would have been difficult to look at pretty much anything. There were two instances where someone became visibly annoyed and tried to push past my wheelchair to look at items. At one point, someone was trying to go past me and I kept repeating “I can’t go any further, I’m sorry”, and they shoved past me. I got overwhelmed and left the booth.
“On a positive note, the walkways in the flat concrete expo areas were much easier to navigate due to the smooth ground. The walkways were wide enough that two people in chairs could go in opposite directions and fit comfortably. Overall, the majority of folks were kind and considerate, asking if I needed help reaching something or giving me space to move about.
“That being said, I would not have made it very far at Rhinebeck without Drea’s boyfriend Frank helping me over difficult thresholds and up steep hills. I am not sure what the solution would be, but right now I would not consider Rhinebeck 100% accessible in terms of mobility aids.“
Cost: Parking is free. Tickets are $10.50 (plus a convenience fee) if you purchase them online in advance, and $15 at the gate. Please note that tickets are per day, and you must purchase two tickets if you go two days.
Pardon My Stash’s Tips for a Rhinebeck Visit:
- If you can only do one day, and you are a person who does not like crowds, go on Sunday. Saturday is always much busier, and most of the vendors will have the same stock on Sunday.
- Bring a bag for carrying your goods so you’re not overwhelmed with shopping bags.
- Go with friends or plan a meetup with some of your online fiber friends! We held our first #PMS meetup on the hill on Sunday, and it was wonderful to get to meet everyone who came out!
- If you are planning on buying lunch at the fair, try to go in an off time (say before 11:30 am or after 2:00 pm), as lines are exceptionally long during the lunch hour.
Fiber Festival of New England – November 4-5, 2023
The Fiber Festival of New England is much, MUCH smaller than New York Sheep and Wool – it’s not a state sheep and wool festival at all. But it’s a great event in its own right, and we’ve been going every year since 2015. Presented by the Eastern States Exposition (also known as the Big E in New England) and the New England Sheep & Wool Growers Association, the FFNE is held in the Mallary Complex on the Big E fairgrounds in Agawam, Massachusetts.
Overview: One huge benefit to holding the FFNE in the Mallary Complex is that it’s entirely indoors, so no issues for vendors with setup or inclement weather. There is plenty of parking, and there is plenty of room for all the vendors that come, so spacial issues and overattendence are nil. As regards vendor selection, many of the same vendors who are at Rhinebeck are also at FFNE, but there’s definitely enough different vendors to make going to both worth your while! This year, we noticed that FFNE was definitely the place to go if you wanted to buy a project bag, as project bags were in abundance (Jess even bought one). A list of 2023 vendors can be found here (Please note that this is not a list for 2024 and beyond, and may not be complete for next year).
Workshops run Saturday through Sunday. There is a waitlist available for those who do not make the cutoff. Several food stations are available in the Mallary Complex, all with your typical fair (or stadium) foods. Alcoholic beverages are served, with proof of ID. The entire complex is on one floor, making it completely accessible. There is plenty of handicapped parking and one large public bathroom with handicapped facilities.
Cost: Parking is $5 per car. Tickets are $7 per person at the door.
Pardon My Stash’s Tips for Visiting FFNE:
- Unless you are planning on taking a workshop, this is definitely not an all-weekend (or even all-day) event. You can do the entire festival in one half of the day. However, there’s lots to do in the surrounding areas – Springfield and Northampton in particular – so you can certainly make a day of it!
- If you go on Saturday, you can drive the extra 20 minutes up to Northampton and visit WEBS – New England’s largest LYS – while you’re here! (Be aware that WEBS is closed on Sundays, so this is just a Saturday option)
- If you’ve had the itch to try out spinning, FFNE is the place to do it. Besides wheel vendors, the Rhode Island Spinners Guild sets up in a corner, and its members are more than willing to show you how to spin on a spindle or wheel (this is where Meg and Jess first learned!). Also, due to the much smaller attendance, there is more time for vendors or volunteers to give you 1:1 attention if you want it.
A Note on Wool&Folk
None of us were able to attend Wool&Folk, the annual indie/music festival held this past year in the Catskills, New York, the same weekend as Rhinebeck. Like many other people, we were stunned by the stories that came out of W&F, of poor accessibility, overcrowding, damaged stock, and vendor mistreatment. Though we have heard that the festival was enjoyable for some of the attendees, we understand that very few of the vendors who worked there had a pleasant experience, and this unfortunately has had a negative impact on our small, but very vital fiber arts community.
In a previous podcast episode, “State of the Current Crafting World“, we talked about the financial risk that small businesses take when they take on a fiber festival or craft fair, and how for many of them, unfulfilled promises of payoff can be devastating. Unfortunately, this is what happened to many of the vendors at W&F, who paid quite a high vendor fee and were left unable to recoup the costs due to various factors beyond their control.
A number of posts have gone out about helping the vendors who suffered a financial lost as a result of issues with W&F. If you are so inclined to help them out, a list of vendors can be found here. Please note that several of these vendors have said publicly that they are financially doing fine, and to help out some of the smaller vendors if you would.
We want to hear from YOU!
Did you attend Rhinebeck, FFNE, or another fiber festival this year? What did you like? What did you wish had gone differently? What are your plans for 2024? Let us know about your experience in the comments!