The incomplete but hopefully useful guide to fiber events in the US, part one

October 27, 2013 § Leave a comment


Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to attend more than my fair share of fiber events, from small local shows to huge national fairs, from dyer open houses to two cities’ yarn crawls. My stash has grown considerably despite my coldsheeping efforts (really, who was I kidding attending all these events?), but I thought it shouldn’t just be my stash that benefits, so here it is, the incomplete but hopefully useful guide to fiber events (that I have attended).

Here in part one I will cover the two largest shows on the East Coast, Maryland Sheep and Wool (MDSW) and New York Sheep and Wool (NYSW), more commonly known as Rhinebeck.

The goal of this guide is to make your visit as fun as possible by clarifying the small details that when wrong can so easily ruin a good time – I know I’d rather not worry about needing to pack extra toilet paper (I mean, it can’t hurt, but so far all events I’ve been to have had clean bathrooms, thankfully). Additionally I’ve noted food/drink availability, parking times, public transit options, pathway accessibility, fleece shows, vendor variety – even down to the availability of hooks in the bathroom stalls as this is a pet peeve of mine.

Note that for parking times I am including the time you may spend waiting in line to enter the lot, being directed to the spot, and then parking. I do not include walking time from car to entrance due to variations in walking speed and how far you may be from the entrance(s). I tend to arrive within an hour or so of a show’s start (if it’s a morning event) so your time in line may vary.

Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, I hope, but please feel free to comment or ask questions.

fleece sale

Event: Maryland Sheep and Wool (MDSW)
Date: First full weekend in May
Location: West Friendship, MD
Indoors/outdoors: Indoor/outdoor mix – some barns are quite open to the elements
Outside pathways: Mix of pavement, gravel, dirt, and grass – quite hilly terrain in places. The parking lot is grass with some paved walkways/driveways and some gravel walkways/driveways.
Inside pathways: Mostly dirt in the barns, with tile in the classrooms and a few vendor areas. The demo barn has small gravel pathways.
Entrance fee: Free
Classes: Yes
Parking time: Max 30 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Yes, but not many vegetarian/special diet options – mostly fair food and lamb products
Bathroom status: Clean indoor bathrooms with baby-changing tables, with some port-a-potties. There are bathroom stall hooks and the lines aren’t too long.
Other amenities: first aid station, water fountains
Number of times I’ve attended: 2

Maryland Sheep and Wool is probably the largest sheep and wool festival in the US (although I haven’t attended Estes out west so I could be wrong). Despite its size, this is the show to come to when you want to celebrate sheep and wool and the American sheep farm. MDSW is all about the fluffy creatures, with the largest animal exhibition areas, judgings, and even a parade of sheep. This is the show that many shepherds and farmers attend to do business, and not just vend to the fiber artists.

Pros: MDSW offers the most comprehensive focus on sheep and wool of any festival I’ve attended, with a breed barn filled with all sorts of sheep, even down to rare breeds like Soay. There are more vendors even than Rhinebeck (I think?) and enough demonstrations that you could spend all day learning and never even buy anything (I don’t recommend this, though!). The for-pay classes offered include courses from teachers such as Deb Robson, so if you’ve got the time I highly recommend taking one at MDSW.

Vendor highlights include the Verdant Gryphon, Cloverhill Yarns (for Dragonfly Fibers and smaller local indie dyers), the Mannings for weaving and spinning supplies, the Spanish Peacock, Jennie the Potter, Spirit Trail, Solitude Wools, Little Barn for great deals, and more. MDSW also features many lectures (often free) on sheep husbandry (mostly aimed at shepherds/breeders/shearers, but the free ones are open to anyone), and a large demo area in the Rabbit Barn for spinning, machine knitting, tatting, and angora rabbits.

I also recommend watching the Parade of Breeds, which includes every breed of sheep at the fair and also some alpacas and llamas. Food and non-wool vendors include Mark Supik Woodcrafting, the Bee people (try their great honeys), and even an herb vendor who sells some plants for natural dyeing.

The Saturday auction features used equipment, tools, books, and magazines for often great prices. Spinning wheels seem to go for about what they normally go for; if you’re in the market for a floor loom some great deals can be found. You do have to take home your purchases that day – the fair will not store merchandise for pickup. The Sunday auction (that I’ve never attended) is for farm equipment.

The fleece sale is a lot of fun – be prepared to dig around! Prices are reportedly more affordable at MDSW than Rhinebeck although in my experience the prices are pretty similar.

The sheep dog demonstration is comprehensive and very popular. Arrive early for a good, shady spot.

Cons: The fairgrounds where MDSW is held are probably the least handicap accessible of any show I’ve been to; many of the paths to major vendor areas and the demo barn are not paved well, or at all, with a mix of dirt, gravel, paved, and grassy paths. (However they do have clearly marked handicap parking.) It is also the largest fairground and it is built on a hill; if you’re concerned about tiring out I recommend starting at the bottom of the hill and heading up rather than getting to the bottom of the hill with lots of purchases and a big hill to face. There is not much seating at this fairground; some people bring folding chairs and set up little campsites with friends and family, which is nice in good weather.

Don’t miss: trying out lots of different kinds of lamb and sheep products, if you’re a meat eater. My favorite meal at MDSW is the sausage from the Frederick County Sheep Breeders. I also like the lemonade with the half-lemon stuck in it. Oh, and the demos are great too, although I may be biased since I demo there.

seacolors yarns

Event: New York Sheep and Wool Festival (Rhinebeck)
Date: Third full weekend in October
Location: Rhinebeck, NY
Indoors/outdoors: Indoor/outdoor mix – some barns are quite open to the elements
Outside pathways: 90% or more paved pathways, the rest is small gravel. The parking lot is grass with some paved walkways/driveways.
Inside pathways: Hard-packed dirt or linoleum tile floor, possibly some small gravel in the animal barns
Entrance fee: $12/day at the gate, $9/day weekend ticket (with $1.50 online service fee if bought online)
Classes: Yes
Parking time: Max 30 minutes to find a spot
Food/drink: Yes – think gourmet food truck (with a bit of classic fair food available too)
Bathroom status: Cleanest of all (there are bathroom attendants!) with baby changing stations; there are bathroom stall hooks. The lines can be quite long especially at the bathrooms near the food vendors.
Other amenities: first aid station, water fountains, nursing parent area
Number of times I’ve attended: 2

Rhinebeck is one of the largest fiber shows in the US, probably second to MDSW in terms of size. It’s the Fashion Week of the knitting world to MDSW’s sheep-focused state fair vibe. It offers swanky amenities (restroom attendants! paved walkways! food trucks!), eye-popping autumn foliage, and handmade woolens from head to toe. The vendor list is long and varied and the food is incredible.

Pros: Rhinebeck weather is generally a lot more wool-wearing-friendly than MDSW, meaning this is when you see everyone decked out in their finest. If you like spotting knitting celebrities, Rhinebeck is the place to see them: this year I spotted Laura Chau, Ysolda Teague, Ann Weaver (actually I saw Ann like 5 times because we seem to like the same vendors), Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Jonathan Bosworth (I think my friend and I ate lunch next to him), Laura Nelkin, Clara Parkes, Jess and Casey of Ravelry (with Eloise), Mary-Heather Cogar, I think the new Ravelry programmer Christina, Melanie Falick, and Shannon Oakey. I’m sure I’m forgetting some too.

Rhinebeck has sheep dog demonstrations, the famous frisbee dogs, a petting zoo, and a science show that’s really popular with the kids. The food selection from vendors is great: try the falafel, pierogies, artichokes French (also try fried), apple cider, apple cider doughnuts, kettle corn, lamb gyros, fish sandwiches, maple cotton candy, and that’s just the food vendors outside. Inside the food barn they have local-ish wines and hard alcohol for purchase, along with Pennsylvania Dutch breads and pretzels, pickles and mustards, candy, cheeses, and meats.

The fleece sale is fun too, with a wide variety of fleeces for sale. There was loads of Romney this year, accompanied by complaints that it was priced quite expensively. However, even though I didn’t arrive right at the start, I was still able to buy a lovely CVM/Romeldale and a beautiful Finn fleece.

Many of the vendors are the same ones at MDSW, although I would guess that at least 1/3 only go to Rhinebeck or MDSW, not both.

Cons: Rhinebeck is an exceptionally crowded show, especially on Saturday, due to its popularity and the fact that the fairgrounds are really not laid out very well for large crowds. If you do not like crowds, go on Sunday. While one of the great things about Rhinebeck is how handicap accessible it is, this is sort of limited by the sheer number of people on Saturdays, especially in the packed vendor barns.

Be prepared to wait in line a lot. Some lines you can avoid by buying tickets online, for instance, but others are inevitable, like the bathroom line after lunch.

Don’t miss: the apple cider, apple cider doughnuts, maple syrup, and maple cotton candy. There are two vendors for each of these but after extensive taste testing (oh the things I do in the name of research) I have concluded that the best of these are located up by the numbered barns past the falafel stand. (On the map these vendors are marked as the sugar shack.) Also, I really love the author alley; it’s a great chance to buy some lovely books and meet with authors and publishers.

rhinebeck fiber festival

Travel/lodging notes for out-of-towners


MDSW has the advantage over Rhinebeck in terms of traffic and hotel costs. The show is right off I-70, which places the show in-between two cities with lots of hotel choices, Frederick to the west and Columbia to the southeast. Both are about 30 minutes away by car. Public transit to the show is essentially nonexistent. You could take the train or a plane to either Baltimore or Washington, DC and then get a taxi to your hotel (I’ve heard there’s a hotel not far from the fairgrounds that runs a shuttle bus), but this is really a show geared towards people with cars, or who come on a bus from an LYS or run by a fiber guild. Gas costs are higher than many parts of the country although for me it’s what I normally pay so I can’t complain.


Finding a place to stay if you’re not from the area can be expensive. Hotels and motels are not cheap and most are located on the Kingston side of the river, meaning you will be paying a toll to cross the bridge each day. Renting a house may be a slightly (slightly!) more affordable option if you have a large group with which to split costs. Gas is also not cheap in this part of the country.

However, Rhinebeck has the advantage over MDSW in terms of public transit: there’s the Metro North train from Grand Central in NY to Poughkeepsie, and a shuttle bus from there to the fair. There’s also the option of taking Amtrak to Rhinecliff station. If you opt for public transit and a stay in the area (as opposed to taking Metro North and the shuttle bus for a one-day trip) I recommend having at least one car in your party – meaning when I did public transit in 2011 and when my friends did it this year, one of us had a car to pick up the others from the station to get where we were staying, and then from there to the fairgrounds.

Finally, while the Hudson River area is gorgeous, most of the roads to the fairgrounds are country roads. Expect to run into a lot of traffic when entering and leaving the parking lot.

Up next:

Part two, featuring medium-sized shows,

Part three, featuring smaller shows,

Part four, featuring dyer open houses, yarn crawls, and mill tours, and

Part five, featuring tips for safety and comfort at all-day events.


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