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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The wonder of Woolfest

I'm a little late off the mark with my Woolfest post and it's mostly because I've been finding really tough to compress all the events of a truly wonderful weekend into a single, readable blog post that's not too blithery.

We packed so much into the weekend. There was a road trip to start with. Felix, who was five kinds of awesome the whole weekend, drove a round trip of 782 miles to get us all to Cockermouth and back, didn't lose her temper once, and provided fresh leaf tea at the service stations. We got to visit Lara's mum's place en route for a second breakfast of pain au chocolat and delicious (but to me deadly) full caff coffee. We had a wonderful picnic of M&S goodies and Neal's Yard cheese by the lake at Stafford services.

Picnic lunch at Stafford

Real tea at Stafford

Finally we reached the gorgeous village of Buttermere and set up our wonderful camp in a beautiful campsite with a view of the lake and a bunch of marauding Herdwick sheep (my favourite sheep breed).

Campsite sheep

We loved the beautiful (but quite noisy) campsite sheep

Lara banging in tent pegs

Lara is very happy that she has the prettiest tent in the whole campsite

Once the tents were up we settled down with some crisps and a bottle of Viognier, ostensibly to have a picnic, in reality to guard Tom and Kate's pitch until they arrived as the campsite was absolutely rammed.

Lara and Felix

Felix and Lara wave their pointy sticks at anyone threatening to nick Kate and Tom's pitch

Lara and Felix waving to Kate

Felix and Lara are very excited to spot Kate

Felix's amazing box of yarn

Kate in her new apron

Felix and Kate exchange birthday gifts

Once they had arrived and whisked up their tent in a trice we headed to the pub for a swift pint before last orders. I can really recommend the Buttermere Bitter (or Butterbeer Mitten once you've had a couple of pints). Despite the wine and the beer I was still feeling the effects of the coffee first thing and didn't manage to get to sleep at all all night. As compensation I did get to have the campsite to myself for 2 whole hours between 4 and 6 when I sat outside by the stream with the sheep and knit on the garter stitch blanket I had started in the car and just watched the last star disappear and the sky get brighter and brighter.

Tent city

The campsite at dawn.

Once everyone else had woken up we got breakfast on the go and then headed off to Cockermouth for Woolfest.

Making breakfast

Making porridge on the primus

As a sheep and wool festival, rather than just a fibre vending event, Woolfest provides an opportunity to think about our relationship as knitters and spinners with the people and animals that provide the raw materials of our craft. It was fascinating to talk with actual flock keepers about the breeds that they keep and to be able to feel a real connection with the origins of the fibre that they had on sale and display.

I really wasn't prepared for the extent to which I (and really the whole group) was bowled over by the gorgeous, natural coloured, British yarn and fibre at Woolfest. Unlike Felix and Lara who had carefully gone through their Ravelry queues I'd not had time to think about what types of yarn or fibre I would be looking out for but I think I imagined that I would be going for some indie dyed sock yarn combed tops. Instead I found myself drawn to the rich palette of creams, greys, and browns at the coloured sheep stands.

The only dyed yarn I bought was a single skein of dk weight Blue Faced Leicester in terracotta from the lovely folk at Artisan Threads.

Artisan Threads hand dyed yarn

Terracotta by Artisan Threads

My main purchase was at the Garthenor stand where I bought two balls of fingering weight Shetland in fawn and cream and a 600m skein of Manx/Wensleydale laceweight. Chris King (who we all agreed was delightful) talked to us for ages about how he sources and spins the yarns which are all from organic British sheep breeds.

Gorgeous Garthenor yarn

Gorgeous Garthenor yarn

I have big plans, not only for the Garthenor yarn that I bought, but for future purchases. I really want to encourage the farmers of British sheep breeds in the only ways that I can, through buying their wool and (hopefully) designing patterns their feature their yarn. There's nothing wrong per se with alpaca and merino but I would hate for their success in the handknitting market to be at the expense of our indigenous sheep breeds.

Aside from talking to the sheep breeders my favourite part of Woolfest was the sheep clipping demonstration given by Cathy Wainwright. It was amazing to see the dexterity with which she clipped and turned the Kendal Rough Fell sheep which were about the same size as she was. The sheep were so docile under her hands but their strength and weight were apparent as soon as she let go of them and it took two men to shepherd them out of the ring.

Kendal Rough Fell sheep

Kendal Rough Fell sheep before shearing

Shorn Kendal Rough Fell sheep

After shearing

Finally it got too hot even to want to think about wool so we headed off to the Bitter End in Cockermouth for bitter shandies and lemonade to debrief and view each others purchases. Although we had frquently gone around separately it looked like the same things had called to each of us. We had all bought mainly natural coloured yarn from British sheep breeds and the only dyed yarn that Kate and I had bought was from Artisan Threads.

Felix photographing Monkl and CZ

Lara's lovely yarn

Gathenor organic laceweight

We continued the sheep theme right to the end of the day with a wonderful dinner of Cumbrian lamb. British sheep really are the best!

Sheep breeds at Woolfest 09

If you want to read more about Woolfest do check out Kate and Felix's beautifully written posts.

1 comment:

Kate said...

great pics and post - I particularly like the crazy waving. So nice to finally meet you in person this weekend - I look forward to further adventures!