5.45 am kick off; I walk into Shipley to catch a train into Ilkley, conscious that the man walking his dog with a mug of tea in his hand must think I’m doing the Walk of Shame. I hold my head up high, I’m going to Woolfest you berk.
At Shipley the man behind the counter tells me the trains have been cancelled; I wasn’t too surprised, it doesn’t take much rain/flooding to bring the trains on our line to a halt, but apparently there was a tree on the wire or the tracks, can’t remember which as I was already calling for a taxi expressing with some urgency that I had toi get to Ilkley PDQ. The taxi driver had started work at 7 the evening before, was about to go home, had not a single speck of white to be seen in his bloodshot eyeballs and seemed to take my sense of urgency rather too literally, and how I made it to Ilkley alive I do not know, but fought hard the urge to kiss the ground as I got out of the car. I was there picked up by my friend Heather who runs the Knit and Natter at Shipley College and we made our way to Headingly where we got on the coach organised by Baa Ram Ewe, a lovely shop I hadn’t heard of before but which now holds my unflinching fealty. It was a stunning journey through the hills up to Cockermouth, there was some concern over flood-induced delays, but obviously there is little in nature’s arsenal that would stop a coach load of middle-aged ladies getting to yarn.
The event was held at a livestock auction and the 277 were exhibitors set up in the pens. I made my way straight to the top corner where there was the fleece sale. Can I just say that moderation was always my intention and not least because I knew I would have to get the train back from Ilkley. When Heather picked me up (hereafter refered to as The Enabler), she said she wanted to be clear that she was driving me home and had emptied her boot. Hardly my fault then is it? I couldn’t let her effort and generosity by swiped aside so ungratefully? I had an obligation really. And I didn’t break the record. But I was pretty damn close. So, ahem, a Berrichon du Cher, Blue faced Leicester x Swaledale, Polled Dorset, Portland and a Texel later, I headed off – with some assistance – to the crèche run by the Air Ambulance to deposit my lovlies. I suppose it is rather bad when even they are shaking their heads.
So, the stalls. My plan of attack was to do a sweep through the aisles and then a more detailed and targeted strike. At the last Knitting and Stitching show I did find a lot of the stalls quite commercial, a little bit samey, lots of kits and all that. Woolfest is entirely different, more makers rather than just shops, everything of amazing quality, sold by people who love everything to do with woolcraft as much as you do and who are more than happy to help and explain. I got a a wrap-per-inch guage from Woodland Turnery, and it was lovely to see them getting back on their feet since the fire that devastated their workshop. He had some very beautiful wheels and I do think I deserve some credit for not succumbing. Elsewhere I also picked up a swift and nostepinne, all essentials, obviously. I have wanted a peg loom for a couple of years, so when I saw one at Hedgehog Equipment I could not resist, nor a new Lazy Kate made of Welsh Oak and both very well priced. This was the joy of Woolfest, meeting the makers face to face, knowing you are supporting their business, livelihood and skills. There were some exhibitors I wanted to meet in particular, not least Daniella of FeltStudioUK who I think of as Morag’s godmother because she read I was after a Haldane Hebridean and got in touch to tell me a friend of hers was selling one. Her dyed batts and yarns were simply stunning, the whole place was visual overload. There were also a couple of big names in rag rug making there, Jenni Stuart-Anderson and Cilla Cameron. The latter I knew through a rag rug facebook group and it was great to finally meet her.
Dyeing is the next step for me really, and there were plenty of stalls selling acid dyes, but I am quite keen to use natural dyes (obviously; why do things the easy way?) and at DT Crafts and Design the lovely lady there talked me through it all and I cannot wait to explore my starter pack and the endless possibilities therein. There was a stall selling all things Shetland, and yes, I picked up another fleece. I was too embarrassed to go back to the crèche so lugged this one round with me. Funny thing is, the lady who sold it to me looked rather familair and as it turned out I went to university with her twenty years ago. Jolly small world. I think that is it, oh apart from a wee bit of Wensleydale fleece, oh and a giant 25mm crochet hook; first saw these at Harrogate and always regretted not getting one. So there we go, nothing too naughty, it’s not as if I brought a loom or anything is it?
As well as stalls selling their wares, there were lots of different breeds on show; as the day progressed something strange happened, they morphed from being fleece machines who rather rudely hogged onto coats that rightly belonged in my basket, into, well, rather beautiful and rather cute creatures. I found myself looking at sheep earings, and sheep mugs, and sheep posters all in a new light. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the power of Woolfest. There were of course stalls and stalls of yarns and batts which I have to say I never got to see, there was also live music, a number of talks and demonstrations, but how I could have packed more into my day I simply do not know.
There were also several guilds and societies represented. A couple of weeks ago much maniacal cackling emanated from my home when I suddenly found myself doing long draw spinning. This was a bit of a holy grail to me, and the technique used on the first Medieval spinning wheels. The world was now my Great Wheel oyster. One of the highlights for me was seeing the Guild of Long Draw Spinners in action. I had a few questions about my technique and they were more than happy to help me and I even got to have a go on their Great Wheel and I don’t mean to boast (and obviously I do) but I pretty much got the record and drew the thread at least twice the length of the grating in the photograph, ending up walking backwards into the crowds yelling at people to get out of the way. I was declared a natural, much to my beaming pride – BEAMING – I tell you! I am now a member of the Guild and have a swanky badge to prove it. I want a Great Wheel. Which reminds me of a t-shirt I saw someone wearing in the cafe – ‘I saw, I wanted, I threw a tantrum, I got’.
At half-five we set off home, me slightly embarrassed that I was the only one who needed to use the luggage compartment under the coach. Everyone showed off what they had brought, The Enabler had got some lovely yarns and other bits and pieces. I got home after nine, knackered but thrilled, and had an early night.
I would now be terribly grateful if the rain would stop long enough so I can make a start cleaning these fleeces; it is a good job I have become rather fond of the smell of wool as my living room smells like a farmyard. Hopefully the pong will deter visitors so I can get on with some spinning and, ahem, my search for a Great Wheel.