Friday, October 09, 2009

Vermont Sheep and Mud (oops, I mean Wool!)

This past weekend held a special event for me, one that I've looked forward to every year since I arrived in Vermont several years ago: the Vermont Sheep and Wool Festival.

This year the festival was held in Tunbridge, Vermont which was quite a drive for those of us who have become fans of the festival in Essex at the Essex Fairgrounds. I tried to keep an open mind this year for the new site (I know the festival used to be held in Tunbridge, but that was before I arrived in Vermont!) but I have to admit that the distance was a deterrent for the many people that I usually invite to experience the festival with me. I've always had such good luck introducing new knitters and non-fiber freak friends to the world of Vermont Sheep and Wool by bringing them to this event, but not this year. :( It was just too far away for those who don't know anything about fiber to want to travel with me and share the experience.

The change in venue was also a surprise to many people who usually travel to attend the festival. I was working in the shop on Saturday and we had quite a crowd of disappointed festival goers who weren't aware that S&W was no longer held in Essex. They stayed and visited with us rather than make the 1.5 hour drive to attend the festival in Tunbrige. We're always happy to see our friends from afar, but this was quite a disappointment for several groups of people I talked to.

Turns out that Saturday wasn't such a great day to visit the festival anyway, as it rained most of the day and was quite muddy! Emily (CraftyHedgehog) and I both had Sunday off, and she was also psyched to attend the festival, so we made plans to drive out to Tunbridge and check it out. As an added bonus for Emily, I offered to drive so that she would have some good knitting time in the car (Note: I can't knit in the car because it makes me ill! More power to those of you who can!) Emily and I are not morning people, but after a stop for the all important COFFEE, we managed to get underway fairly early.

Most of the drive was a lovely experience. We were anticipating the festival and watching the gorgeous Vermont foliage. The clouds were low and the valleys were filled with fog. Fortunately as we arrived in Tunbridge, the weather started to clear. The parking lot was full of car-eating mud from Saturday's rain. We were so glad to be there on Sunday!

There isn't much cover for parts of the festival, and most of the vendors that we talked to were SO glad that the rain had stopped. I guess Saturday was pretty miserable. The Sunday sun started to peek through the clouds and we were treated to beautiful views of Tunbridge. Take a look! We made a leisurely circuit around the vendor areas first, promising ourselves that we would re-visit all the booths that held something we may need to take home with us before leaving the festival. As usual there were so many wonderful things to see and feel as we made our way about. We saw incredible baskets:boxes of mohair fleece:silk wool hand dyed roving:felting batts:We watched the llama obstacle course and came upon my favorite trouble makers, the goats, in some of the other areas.I caught Jim McRae asking his border collies to jump over sheep fences from the corner of my eye, and spied Chet Parsons from the agricultural extension office, who I've heard many times speak on the wonders of sheep. It's always fun to see folks from Mountain Fiber Folk fiber cooperative and the Merlin Tree with their signature hitchhiker spinning wheels too. While I do love to knit, I also appreciate just about every aspect of fiber from the animals and work that it takes to raise and care for them to shearing, spinning, felting, and more!

Unfortunately, there were many vendors who were noticabley absent. Despite the sunny weather, I thought it was difficult to see well in most of the exhibit and vendor spaces. If a vendor hadn't brought their own lighting it was terribly difficult to see the all important color variations and subtleties for their products. The booths where Emily and I happened to make purchases had great lighting, but it wasn't supplied by the space or the festival.

In my opinion (remember, just my opinion) the festival was fun, but I'm not sure if it was worth the drive. I really enjoyed visiting Tunbridge, but I missed the larger spaces and well lit vendor areas in Essex. I can't help wondering why there was only one vendor hall and so many of my favorites were missing. Was it a lack of space, the location, the fact that hotel rooms are hard to come by in that area? Even the vendors and exhibitors in attendance seemed to have much less to show in their booths, not as many products, fewer yarn selections, very few fleeces for sale, etc.

Still I managed to spend all those pennies I saved for the event and CraftyHedgehog and I will be busy knitting socks for a while. (I hope those Addi Turbo 8" circulars in US 1 get here soon!)


ladysaphira said...

Hmmm, I went on Saturday, so maybe they changed the configuration, but when I was there they hat two of the big halls set up for vendors plus a third for exhibitions (and the two really dark animal barns) Is it possible you missed a vendor hall? that'd explain the "missing" vendors as well...

I was uncertain about the move from essex to tunbridge also, but all the vendors I've talked to seemed pretty thrilled. I've heard Saturday's attendance/sales alone beat the average of the entire festival in essex...

Carlie Krolick said...

Sorry, Shawn, but I totally disagree with your assessment. The venue is lovely -- much more Vermonty than those yucky metal buildings in Essex. Tunbridge Fair is in a stunning natural bowl, with foliage displays all around. The live music, families picnicking, and sheep dogs at hand leant an atmosphere that charmed. I counted three halls with vendors, and the vendors said that they were having a great show. For those of us who cannot drive 4 hours and spend two days at Rhinebeck, this was a really nice experience. Going back next year YES!

Steph Jones said...

Well I've read on Ravelry that they are working to improve a lot for next year, so they know that it wasn't the best it could have been - they even mentioned the lighting issues you wrote about. I was there both days, and weather aside, think Tunbridge is beautiful. But I also don't think there was as much there, or at least it didn't seem that there was. There are vendors I've purchased from each year who did not show up. Maybe it was the new venue, and new layout, and it always takes time to adjust to a new place and have them work out the kinks. I'll go back, but I don't think it was as great as past festivals.

Joansie said...

I was in Tunbridge on Saturday with "NowNormaKnits2" and we had fun. However, I doubt that I will return. The mud and rain was unbelievable with no attempt to put wood shavings, gravel or anything. There was no place to eat under cover. There were also fair workers that were absolutely, unbelievably rude. Give me Essex, please.