leaves are falling from the trees and that means one
thing: time for sweaters! Ok, two things. Wool sweaters,
and wool festivals. I recently went to the Common
Ground Country Fair and the New York State Sheep and
Wool Festival to check out this year's offerings.
Ground is sponsored by the Maine
Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).
It's always the third weekend after Labor Day, and
has been taking place for 26 years. Recently, the
Fair moved into a beautiful new year-round education
facility in Unity, Maine, where MOFGA (the oldest
and largest state organic organization in the country)
can carry out its mission of helping farmers and gardeners
in growing organic food and promoting environmentally
sound farming practices.
Falatko and I set off with a few friends and one
common goal: fair food. After all, it's not a fair
without fried things, right? Wrong. Not at Common
Ground. Everything is obscenely healthy, from the
eggplant and hummus wraps, to the no-added-sugar strawberry-lemon
smoothie. This was not necessarily a bad thing. Suitably
and organically fortified, I went off in search of
Wednesday Spinners presented a "Sheep to Shawl" to
celebrate their 25th Fair. All weekend long, the Spinners
did wool shearing, carding, dyeing, spinning, weaving
and knitting demos for an extremely interested public.
I was fortunate to catch a demo on dyeing with onion
skins. Such gorgeous colors, and all from items I
have at home!
a shepherd from New Hampshire was doing demonstrations
with his sheep and border collies. Several of the
dogs were rescued from abusive homes, and I was really
impressed with the intelligence and obvious enjoyment
they displayed in their work. I also wished my dachshund
was as well-behaved! There are no pets allowed on
the grounds of the Fair, but Julie spotted a stealth
dachshund in one woman's shoulder bag.
Miller of Rivercroft Farm in Starks, Maine, where
I bought my first spinning fleece, had a number of
his sheep there for show, and we chatted for a while.
Overall, lots of fun and a chance to learn more about
alpacas and other fiber animals I wasn't familiar
sheer amount of quality wool products, from fleeces
to yarn and everything in between, was impressive
at Common Ground, but
oh heck, what's the past
tense for "You ain't seen nothing yet"? That's
how I was feeling when I drove into Rhinebeck for
York State Sheep and Wool Festival. The fest is
usually called "Rhinebeck" by fiber enthusiasts, after
the small village where it has been held the third
weekend of October for the past 30 years. It's sponsored
by the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Grower's
in one word: Wow. One word or less? (drop jaw, gape
open-mouthed). Is it wool-related? Would you love
to own it? It's there. Gorgeous handmade yarn, amazing
sweaters, looms, great wheels and sheep-themed jewelry
my head is spinning just thinking about it
again! Six hours flew by in an instant. Unlike Common
Ground, where most of the exhibitors/vendors were
from the Northeast, Rhinebeck featured artisans from
across the country. If I were forced to choose between
the two, I'd pick Rhinebeck any day.
wonder of Rhinebeck is both quantity and quality.
You really have to budget more than one day to see
everything, and the size of the town means you should
make hotel reservations far in advance. The most interesting
part for me was seeing how so many people with a common
interest -- fiber -- found different ways to express
their creative skills. There was soap made from goat's
milk, buttons from Icelandic sheep horn, felted wool
hats, and sheepskin rugs for sale.
and the all-important fair food question? Good stuff.
Strategically placed fried-dough vendors, a very-well-trafficked
coffee stand (cold and rain created a pressing need
for caffeine), and other tasty treats.
Rhinebeck focuses just on fiber animals, there's an
amazing array of rarer breeds than at the average
county fair or Common Ground. It's great fun to learn
about breeds you may have never even heard about,
let alone seen.
is also a very friendly fair. I was wearing a handspun,
handknit sweater I'd made and people would just walk
up to me, ask if I'd made it and start talking. It
was a great way to meet other handspinners and knitters,
and provided a forum in which you could ask questions
about techniques or methods used to create products
you'd like to do yourself. If someone was selling
handknits with a great "made-by" label,
you could ask where he or she found them, or where
they procured the fabulous buttons on their cardigan.
fairs aren't just about commerce, they're about community.