Woolfest is an annual wool festival held in an auction mart in Cockermouth in Cumbria, and if you think that sounds similar to Yarndale, then you'd be right. Auction marts lend themselves nicely to festivals and exhibitions like this, and the sheepy smell that's ingrained in the very fabric of the building adds nicely to the atmosphere.
I stayed overnight in Skipton at The Woolly Sheep Inn (I chose it because I loved the name but I would go back because of the comfortable rooms and excellent breakfast) and then met up with Lucy at the Creative Coopers session at Coopers Cafe Bar.
You might ask yourself whether this pair are safe to be let out on their own for a weekend at a yarn festival, but there was a (vaguely) serious side to what we were doing; neither of us had visited Woolfest before and as it is similar to Yarndale then Lucy wanted a good look around at how Woolfest worked and to be a visitor as she doesn't get the chance to do that at Yarndale, and knowing that there would be more sheep there than at Yarndale, I wanted to find out more about British breeds and their potential as sock yarn (the fleeces that is, not the sheep!).
At this point, I should probably warn you that after the detailed descriptions and picture-heavy posts of the last couple of days, this one is a little different. There are still lots of pictures, but they're mostly of sheep. I might have got a bit carried away, and I will apologise in advance if I've got the breeds wrong as well - I just saw sheep and, well, got a bit carried away!
Woolfest is about two hours' drive from Skipton so we had plenty of time to chat, plan our trip and watch the scenery change from the rolling hills of Yorkshire to the steeper valleys of the Lake District. It's another beautiful part of the world, and the hills make a stunning backdrop to the auction mart site.
Once inside, it all feels very familiar and although the layout is different in this auction mart, there is the same setup in that each stall occupies a pen.
There is yarn, of course. Lots and lots of yarn!
But I noticed that there was more of a focus on other products as well. Herdwick yarn is a bit scratchy for knitting garments with and I thought it was just used for stuffing mattresses which always seemed like a bit of a waste of that lovely grey fleece. However, now I know that it is perfect for making rather smart bags ...
and carpets - although you'd never know from this picture as I just spotted the felted sheep and that was me done. I'm such a sucker for a Herdwick sheep, felted or otherwise!
There was a lot of felting at Woolfest. It's not something that I've ever tried, although I do have a Herdy felting kit (surprise!) in the cupboard that I've never opened. There's something about that super-sharp needle that worries me, and also the fact that I could spend hours and hours stabbing the fleece for it to end up looking like ... stabbed fleece.
One of the stands I really loved was Jenny Barnett's. She exhibits at Yarndale as well, and I've admired her little animals there too. She has a sign on her stand that reads "you can make these" and whilst I am sure that she is right, I also know that my efforts would not look like these!
I think it's the expressions on the faces that do it for me, they really bring the little animals to life.
And I LOVE unicorns!
Then we turned a corner and spotted the sheep pens. This is where I lost the plot a bit and I'm quite sure Lucy rolled her eyes at me more than once at this point, so feel free to scroll on down if you're suffering from sheep overload!
This is Terry the ram. He's an Exmoor Horn ram and obviously knows he's very photogenic!
I think these sheep may be Manx Loaghton and I spotted these because one of the yarns that I could have chosen for big daughter's Peru socks were made from this wool.
Herdwicks. I took - ahem - rather a lot of pictures of these Herdy sheep and lambs but I've restricted myself to just showing you three here. I don't want to be responsible for you falling asleep in the middle of reading my post!
I can't remember what breed this sheep is but he (or she) is rather handsome!
This is a Teeswater sheep. The long fleece is similar to that of a Wensleydale sheep which is used in no-nylon sock yarns. The fleece looks like dreadlocks, doesn't it? I wouldn't fancy having to comb that out every morning!
Aha! I remember this one! This is a Hebridean sheep and the breed that big daughter's Peru socks are made from. Isn't the fleece dark? It's because it's mixed with mohair in the yarn that I used that it was able to be dyed a different colour. Big daughter left wearing a pair of her socks - she's been in touch to tell us that she arrived safely but I didn't dare ask about them straight away in case she thought I was more concerned about the socks than her!
My only alpaca photo. It was sporting a rather fetching Beatles haircut and is obviously doing a bit of twisting and shouting instead of posing nicely for a photo. I think it looks a bit like an ice cream, or possibly candy floss J.
Finally (you'll be pleased to know), a Wensleydale sheep. You can see the shine on the fleece from here, and there are more of those dreadlocks that I wouldn't fancy swapping my short hair for. I was pleased to see this variety here because I wanted to buy some Wensleydale yarn and I like to see what the sheep looks like that the yarn has come from.
These are the yarns that I bought. I was relatively restrained, I thought, and each of the yarns has a specific project in mind so I didn't feel that I was splurging without a purpose (although it would have been sooo easy to do that!). None of them contain nylon as I want to know how they stand up to wear compared to a commercial sock yarn which does have nylon in it. I'm not planning to stop knitting with commercially available sock yarns, but I do think that it's fascinating that we have yarns produced by our own British sheep that will work just as well if only we know what they are. I'm still learning, but you can be sure that I'll be sharing with you what I discover as I go along (whether you like it or not! ;) )
These are the yarns with the Wensleydale wool in them. Firstly, another skein from Blacker Yarns. This is Tamar, their newest yarn, which contains Teesdale, Wensleydale and Leicester Longwool as well as Cornish mule which helps to give the yarn some bounce. Teeswater and Wensleydale don't felt easily and have a natural shine to them which is obvious even when the yarn has been dyed, and indeed this yarn is called "lustre blend". Tamar was one of the yarns that I considered for big daughter's socks but in the end I went for the Hebridean Mohair as I was sold on the anti-bacterial qualities! Tamar comes in more colours than the Hebridean Mohair, simply because the original wool is not as dark as that from the Hebridean sheep. I made a conscious decision not to buy any purple yarn as although I don't believe it's ever possible to have too much purple yarn, there are other colours in the world which need to be seen as well! This lovely deep pink colour is called Kensey.
Next up, this gorgeous turquoise yarn from Whistlebare in Northumberland. It's called Cuthbert's Sock, named after the nearby St Cuthbert's Way and each of the colours is named after a landmark along the way. This one is called Kirk Yelthom. Whistlebare's sock yarns are made using Wensleydale wool and mohair from their own flocks - there's 70% mohair in this which makes it super-strong (mohair is a natural alternative to nylon) but I want to know what it's like to wear it. Those of us who are old enough to remember the 1980s have probably all got memories of mohair jumpers that we'd rather not reincarnate - but I have to say that the sample sock they had knitted up didn't feel scratchy at all and I'm looking forward to trying this out. The label made me smile with this yarn - it reads "lots of smooth shinyness. NO pong!".
Aren't the colours of these next yarns fabulous? They're like sea glass. These are mini skeins (20g each) from The Little Grey Sheep in Gotland and Stein wool. Gotland sheep originated in Sweden but live very happily here in the UK. Their fleece has a durability and shine to it that led to it being used to make the Elven cloaks for the Lord of the Rings films*, and blending with the Stein wool makes it less likely to felt and also makes it stronger.
Emma, who owns The Little Grey Sheep farm, has worked hard to breed sheep as part of a conservation project and although at first I wasn't sure that how this yarn would work as socks, the more I spoke to her, the more I wanted to give it a go. We have so many yarns, patterns and colourways to choose from as sock knitters that we're already very spoilt, but being able to choose from particular breeds as well just puts the icing on the cake for me. I have a very particular project in mind for these mini skeins and although I'm not quite sure when I'll be able to get round to it (yes, yes, DK sock tutorial next, I promise!), the idea is bubbling away and I'm looking forward to getting started. I'm sure the family won't mind if I stop cooking, cleaning, ironing and gardening for a bit to knit socks instead! J
Emma was kind enough to give me these two mini skeins as well. These are pure Gotland skeins, and they feel slightly softer and finer although they are 4ply the same as the others. I'm not sure I would want to try socks with these skeins, but I will definitely find something lovely to do with them!
Lucy and I had a lovely time looking around all the stalls and bumping into a few friends; the festival did have a lovely community feel about it and seeing people that we knew just consolidated that feeling. We both had broad grins on our faces when we left and you could hear the cogs whirring as ideas started forming in both of our minds. It's good for the soul to spend time doing something that you love, and to be able to share that with like-minded people is even better. We are very blessed to be able to do that.
But never mind Woolfest, it's been a bit of a Winwick Mum-fest this week as I've been catching up with my blog posts. One more to go this weekend to tell you all about the Yarndale Sock Line for 2016 and then you (and I) can have a breather for a few days. Thanks for sticking with me, it's been great to have your company!
See you tomorrow!
* source: The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook by Deborah Robinson & Carol Ekarius, Storey Publishing, 2009