As it usually does, October flew by in a mad rush. I always want to do more for Halloween and, every single year, I find myself speculating at how everyone else manages to find the time. I’ve no idea how my time gets so filled up, but there’s something about the changing of the seasons that puts me into a flurry of writing and fiber arts and music that makes it difficult to keep up. Before I know it, Halloween is over and I haven’t done a thing but admire everyone else’s costumes.
One of the biggest events for me was my first time going to the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Festival, more commonly known as Rhinebeck to the knitting community. It is a county fair that has been taken over by the fiber arts world and is largely considered the biggest fiber arts event in the country. My knitting circle went together. They convinced me to walk out on a very tall bridge:
I love these ladies.
I had mixed feelings about Rhinebeck as an event. This is because I’ve been to SOAR, which is a spinning retreat put on by Spin-Off magazine, which ran for the very last time this year. I am very sorry to have missed it, now that I know that it was the last one, because it was an event I deeply wanted to do again. SOAR is all about fiber arts mentorship and learning. There’s a market, but it doesn’t open until four days into the event, and it’s small enough that you can go through it a few times. Rhinebeck is the inverse of this; the focus is on the market, with a handful of offered classes. The market is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the fiber world; barn upon barn upon barn upon building of fiber vendors. It is so overwhelming that people develop strategies on how to cover all of the vendors. It is very crowded, particularly among the more popular booths. And while I would like to say that it was crowded with my kind of people, that just wasn’t universally true.
I like to talk to people when I’m at fiber events, because it’s an occasion to gain knowledge on subjects that just aren’t all that common among the general population. I did a lot of that at Rhinebeck and I learned some interesting tips, particularly regarding weaving. If knitters are becoming more common, it’s very hard to meet a weaver, so I asked questions of everyone I could find that was behind a loom. That was really great. I also went with the goal of buying myself a nice spindle, which I did within the first few hours of being there. I picked a Forrester, largely because it was beautiful, and I thought having a beautiful tool would make me more interested in spindle spinning, which has the advantage of being much more portable than a wheel.
This has worked well. I also picked up a copy of Respect the Spindle, which has demystified some of the aspects of spindle spinning. That little ball of alpaca single there is my first real spindle spinning. I can’t wait to finish spinning all that alpaca behind it so that I can try my hand at plying.
It was also at the moment of this excellent purchase that I had my first meeting with The Other Kind of fiber artist. I had been chatting with her about spinning while waiting in line to purchase my spindle. She cheerfully declared that she had just spent her entire Rhinebeck budget in one place – pointing out that it was $300, repeatedly. Then she asked me, with some disdain, if that really was the size of the bag that I had brought *to Rhinebeck*, since it was just my purse and clearly not big enough for everything that I would want to take home. She also asked if New York had *any* good yarn stores, as she’d only ever seen one and it was in Ohio, but…she’d spent $500 there the first time she saw it! I suggested that Manhattan does, indeed, have several that are quite good, as it is the home of the fashion industry, and then I fled, feeling weirdly ashamed and disgusted at the same time.
There is a subset of people in the fiber arts community that are collectors. To some extent, we all are — we love the beauty of fiber. But there’s a certain set that seem to feel that the extent of one’s fiber and yarn stash is somehow corollary to how dedicated one is to the fiber arts. The point seems to be not the creation of art from beautiful materials but a sort of competitive commercialism. My stash is better than your stash. I have such an aversion to shopping and commercialism generally that I never quite know how to handle these people. It wasn’t the quality of what she had purchased – it was the dollar amount that she seemed to feel was important. For me, this is the opposite of what the fiber arts are about. Knitting or crochet or spinning or weaving connects us to a time when these were mandatory survival skills. I feel at peace when I’m doing these things. I feel connected to a slower time and the people that led to my existence. I feel a pride as my hands turn string into clothing and cloth and fleece into yarn. Having the modern “buy buy buy!” of mass consumerism shoved in my face throws me for a loop every time, even though I’ve been to enough shows to have expected to meet her. It’s just not what the fiber arts are about for me. It’s not what I think they should be about.
Perhaps it is actually a comment on the fiber arts community that I only met one of her. I spent the rest of the weekend walking around, feeling inspired and meeting people whose work I admire. I had my books signed by Ann Budd and Gertie Hirsch. I had sightings of Ann Weaver and The Tsock Tsarina. I went to my first fleece sale and got to look at fleeces in person before buying them. (I brought home those pretty goat locks on the left there.) I learned from weavers and spinners and knitters alike. I spent the weekend with some excellent friends and drank way too much grappa and Domaine de Canton. I discovered that milk stout is delicious. If the crowds were overwhelming and occasionally peppered with people who were loudly missing the point, I think the benefits far outweighed the downsides. I left feeling inspired…and with plenty of fiber in my far-too-small bag. Now just to use it all up — maybe I’ll catch up by next October.