Fashion and Style

The New York State Sheep and Wool Festival Draws Younger Fans

RHINEBECK, N.Y. — Wearing a ruffled bonnet that framed her face, a sweater with poufy bobble-stitched sleeves and an ankle-length skirt with tiers of lace and openwork, Sabrina Brokenborough could have been mistaken for a model at an avant-garde photo shoot taking place at the Dutchess County Fairgrounds on Oct. 15.

Ms. Brokenborough, 23, a production assistant for a swimwear company, crocheted the outfit herself. “I like to pull from a lot of historical drawings, and maybe some imagery from old, folkish fairy-tale books,” she said.

A graduate of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in fashion design, Ms. Brokenborough had come to Rhinebeck from her home in Queens to attend the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, one of the largest fiber arts fairs in the country. With her were two friends who had also studied fashion at Pratt: Lara Darling, 23, and Jasmine Bryant, 22, who paired a yellow crocheted vest embellished with orange flowers with a knit hat and combat boots.

“I just worked on these little flowers on the subway or at the park, and then I joined them together,” said Ms. Bryant, a textile designer in Brooklyn. “There are just endless creative opportunities with knitting,” she added.

The festival started in 1980 as a livestock auction and market hawking fleeces (not the fuzzy outerwear, but the raw material used to make yarn). Over two days last weekend, it drew more than 23,000 people to the bucolic fairgrounds, where the foliage had started to turn red, yellow and orange. Among the seasoned knitters and local 4-H clubs that the event has long attracted was another, newer contingent: young people dressed in bold knitwear, many of whom made their clothes themselves.

“We definitely have seen a cadre of younger people,” Nena Johnson, the festival’s director, said. “It’s a lot younger than the demographic that people think of when they think of a knitting festival.”

Vanessa Krebs, 25, attended the event this year with her boyfriend, Aaron McLaughlin, 38, whom she met through a virtual knitting circle during the pandemic. Wearing a green wool balaclava and a patchwork beige shirt she had sewn together herself, Ms. Krebs, a bookseller in Providence, R.I., knitted a couple of rows as she stood in line to buy popcorn.

“It’s just really wonderful to use your hands and be connected to the world,” she said. “Within the younger crowd,” she added, “there is this kind of handmade power where people are learning how important it is to be able to sew or knit or do anything to feel sort of connected and be a little more self-sufficient.”

There were workshops in a barn and in tents at the fairgrounds that taught attendees how to make garments and educated them about the process of turning animal fleeces into yarn.

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