Where Have all the Weavers Gone – My Annual Lament
This weekend was the annual New York State Sheep and Wool Fair held in Rhinebeck, NY. I have gone to most of these fairs since the early 90s when I would knit sweaters for the family (not matching!), and we would head into the autumn splendor and enjoy lamb sandwiches, lovely livestock and more wool than you could imagine. I was a knitter at the time with a slight suspicion of “those complicated machines” I now know as looms.For the past three years I have gone to Rhinebeck with my good friend Gail Callahan (aka Kangaroo Dyer) who teaches excellent dyeing workshops during the fair.
I am the official Super Schlepper. So while Gail teaches I am able to cover every inch of the fair, talk to people and fondle fiber. This year was a special treat because another friend, Mary Lou joined our twosome so I had a partner to schlep and wool oogle with. We saw the Tortoiseand the HareAnd got our yearly livestock fix which might be the reason we have happy marriages i.e. petting fiber animals at Rhinebeck staves off the acquisition of our own herds = happy husbands.
We stopped at Moonshine Designs first thing so we could get the pick of the socks. Cynthia Herbert and her husband Robert Ramirez run Keldaby Farm near us. They have a lively herd of angora goats from whose fleece Cynthia weaves gorgeous ruanas and scarves, but more importantly creates the greatest socks in the world. I bought 4 pairs last year which I rotated from October through early June. I wash in the washer and hang to dry – but unless you have super stinky feet you don’t even have to wash them – just air them out for a couple of days, and they are good to wear again. I told you they are the best socks in the world! So, even though my socks have shown no signs of wear, I bought 4 additional pairs in beautiful hand-dyed colors. These are for gifts . . . yup . . . gifts.
The photo below is “the last weaver standing” booth at Rhinebeck. Sylvia Graham brings shuttles, reed hooks, pirns, and all the little weaving necessities from her shop called Fiber Kingdom in the Adirondacks. She has one of or the only booth with an equal focus on weaving supplies in the entire fair. There are myriad knitting/spinning and felting booths, but the weaving-focused booths are rare. Thanks for holding the line Sylvia!
The weather was perfect – cool, sunny, autumn-y – New England at its best.
In addition to enjoying all the fiber-y eye candy, we had dinner with a passel of powerhouse fiber women: Nancy Bush author of “Folk Socks” and “Knitting Estonian Lace” among many other knitting books; Abby Franquemont author of “Respect the Spindle” and daughter of the anthropologist Ed Franquemont who studied the Chinchero weavers of Peru among whom Abby grew up; Judith Durant author of “One Skein Wonders” among others; Laura Nelkin who is currently writing a book on knitting; Gail Callahan author of “Hand-Dyeing Yarn and Fleece” and creator of “The Color Grid”; and Mary Lou Splain knitter and weaver par excellence. Can you guess what we talked about? Anyway, it was a lively and fascinating dinner. These women are not playing around. They are pros and want to make that clear. I decided that I needed some of that spice.
Did you notice the balance at the dinner? Weavers, where are you? Mary Lou and I were the only active weavers there, and there were certainly no weaving books being promoted among the huge number of knitting books, dyeing books, felting books, cook books, children’s books, fiber novels and memoirs at the book signings . . . Weavers? Where are you??
Finally, I will end my tale of joy and sorrow with what I pulled off the loom before I left home . . . it might not be thrilling, but it is WEAVING, and that is a good thing.
Is that a wooden mangle??
Yes!! It belongs to my great friend and mentor Ute Bargmann, but it resides in my dining room so that I can gaze at its beauty and occasionally run something through it. I was very tempted to post a picture of just the mangle because it absolutely outshines the hemp towels, but since my point was about weaving – I refrained:))
Sorry to miss you, Lisa. Now that I know you go every year, maybe we can get to say hi next year. I was there, but not at the dinner. So was Susan Targove, Eileen Fitzpatrick, Margaret Russell and by report, Mary Mandarino, though I missed her.
There was supposed to be a book signing with one weaver – Confessions of a Weaver by Sherrie Miller. I missed that.
I agree weaving was sparse, but there was some stuff if you knew where to look. Susan’s Fiber Shop and Carolina Homespun always have smaller weaving supplies and books. Loop of the Loom (Saori) was also there. I snagged some hand dyed 20/2 silk at 40% at a mostly spinning related vendor. There was a Navajo weaving booth with tools and handspun hand dyed yarns for rug weaving. I was surprised at the number of handweavers who were vending, often towels and items with more basic weaves, but more than 4 at my count.
The wood workers had some small weaving related items also.
All that being said, the knitters have won, hands down. Not even the spinners can compete for percentage of supplies available.
What a gorgeous weekend, though!
You’re absolutely right Deb,
I think I might have exaggerated a wee bit to make the point. There was a weaver on a mechanical dobby who comes every year with interesting woven items, and Mary Underwood had a booth with wonderful woven items. But I was looking less for finished items and more for a loom vendor or a booth with the strong selection of weaving yarns and tools. I read that there are an average of 30,000 attendees. Why not Habu? Why not Harrisville or Jaggerspun? Do you know if there is a ban on larger commercial vendors?
Anyway, I am very sorry to have missed you too. Isn’t it strange – I knew that there were three busses from WEBS, but I didn’t see a single person I knew other than some of the authors (knitters) and a friend from CT. But since there are purportedly 30,000 attendees over the weekend, it is not too surprising.
Oh, Rhinebeck – how I miss it. This is the second year that my husband and I have missed it since moving to the Midwest (it was the highlight of our fall for about five years). We swear that the only two things we miss since moving from NYC are Trader Joe’s and Sheep and Wool. (and I must add my old guild, and Habu). As a weaver/knitter, I enjoyed the overall experience, but I know what you mean about the lack of weaving represented at the fair.
Love your latest batch of weaving.
HA! Thanks for the comment Laurie. I agree with you completely. Rhinebeck really defines the autumn for me, AND I always bring a bag of snacks from Trader Joes in order to avoid the long food lines. Although the past two years I would have been happy to stand in line for an hour for Abi’s Falafel. My TJs snacks completely ignored. In fact, one could make the argument that Abi’s Falafel, NYS Sheep and Wool and TJ’s chocolate covered almonds might be well worth a drive from the midwest:))
I find that more weavers turn to knitting and other more mobile fiber crafts, I also find that weaving gets ignored in articles and marketing, I think because we need looms, it is thought of as machine weaving, which it definitely is not. We had quite a succesfull Craft Show, but few people was aware that we still weave.
I have one knitter who has started weaving yeah!
Thanks for the comment Marlene,
I like your comment on articles and marketing – I wonder if the lack of interest in weaving causes the neglect or if the neglect causes the lack of interest??
And Yay!! One new weaver is a cause for celebration:)))
Kim in SB
I know I’ve been a stranger, but I always follow your blog! Loved your photos and sharing of this little expedition!! I especially wanted to be petting those sheep!
Things are still humming along here – we just started year four of our weaving class at the University! We have a full class this quarter (also full last quarter) and even have a WAIT LIST!!! Whoo hoo!! We have students that are faculty, staff, undergrads, grads and community members. So here it seems that weaving is enjoying a little resurgence ! Fingers crossed!
One of our students wanted to make a mohair blanket after she saw one that I made (with YOUR guidance, thank you very much) I’ll send you a photo of eight (!) of us winding it on, a class effort! And cowboy magic of course . . .
Anyway it’s a great class, and I’m excited that it seems like even the athletics department knows what a loom is!
Howdy Kim, (it’s the cowboy magic talking)
Your pics came at the perfect moment – seeing such a range of people “beaming” with joy made my curmudgeonly heart go pit-a-pat. I truly love that your program has grown to capacity and beyond in just 4 years. It really proves that the seeming lack of interest in weaving has more to do with a scarcity of places to learn than a scarcity of people who might want to learn. Go Kim! Pretty soon you will have the sports teams weaving their own jerseys . . . well, one step at a time:))
Diane Caswell Christian
I got to your blog through a link from Gail’s newsletter. I am a felt maker who ‘paints’ with wool. I would love to have your permission to use one of your sheep photos as a reference for a pictorial felt.
I was at Rhinebeck helping out at Susan’s Fiber Shop and she does carry some weaving stuff. I get your point and do think that some of the reason is the portability of knitting. I know that I do more stitching on my felts because it is easy to take with me and do while riding in the car, etc.. I did one weaving when I was in high school and loved it but I don’t want to start any new ‘sports’.
Sure – feel free to use a sheep pic. Do you need a jpeg or can you get it from the site? I realize that my “no weavers” statement was a little bit of an exaggeration, but it was also a comment on Fiber Festivals that I used to go to at which the knitting/weaving/dyeing, etc. felt more equally represented.