no stash guilt here!

(warning: long post!)

Guess where I’ve been this weekend?


(Bruno, the North Ronaldsay ram).

. . . to marvel at some wonderful beasties . . .


(these two lovely ladies belong to Robin and Caroline Sandys-Clarke of Why not Alpacas)

. . .and the stuff that comes off their backs . . .

. . . yes, I was at WOOLFEST!

This year I am writing an article about Woolfest, and this gave me an opportunity to meet and chat with some really lovely people, and to hear about some inspirational businesses, projects, and initiatives. My piece will be about what makes this show so distinctive: its contemporaneity and energy coupled with a deeply held respect for regional identities and long-established craft and textile traditions. And all of this is thanks to the women of the Woolclip co-operative who organise the show.

Woolfest is wonderful! But I have to save its bigger picture and my thoughts for the magazine article. So heres some stuff about what I did and (gulp) bought this weekend.

Some of my work at the moment involves writing about a group of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century women whose attitudes to consumption are hesitant at best, and I think that their negative view of shopping (as something in which you are inevitably exchanging/ losing part of yourself) rather rubs off on me. As a consequence, I tend not to talk about my stash, or about buying yarn or fabric on this blog. And my not-buying-clothes-for-a-year project-thing has also made me regard stuff and its acquisition with a weird, nigh pompous embarrassment. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I discussed my stash-ambivalence with Felix, who among her many other talents, is a fount of tremendous Good Sense. In response to my problem with yarn as just another soul-sapping commodity, she spoke articulately about 1) how her stash represented a series of promises of time saved up, time that was going to be well spent in the future; 2) how her stash spoke to her of a whole world of creative possibility, enabling any project or experiment that might spring to her mind; and 3) how it was an incredibly positive thing to be spending one’s money in support of yarn producers, spinners and dyers — the artists and artisans one respects and admires. In the face of this wisdom, my concerns about commerce, stash guilt, and yarn p*rn all seemed rather foolish, frankly. Why should I be embarrassed about the stuff that I buy?

My experience as a Woolfest consumer was Immensely Satisfying. So I thought I’d show you the stuff that I bought, and why I bought it.

Evidently I am in my blue period, or summat, as I bought a lot of blue things.

1) Bowmont Braf 4 ply. A few skeins in a few different colours — enough to make a fairisle-ish top. Bowmont Braf is a new Welsh cross-breed and the wool these sheep produce is completely amazing. It’s a shame you can’t really see how it feels — otherwise the knitters among you would be making peculiar appreciative noises. It is incredibly soft and springy and, knitted up, has a very pleasing velvety, matt quality that is very distinctive. It feels like cashmere, frankly, but with much more loft and body — it behaves like wool — which of course it is. I saw and felt a sweater knitted in it at last years Woolfest and haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I had to get some. It is spun and dyed in Wales too.

2. Linen embroidery thread from Mulberry Dyer. The dye is woad and on linen it is luminous and lovely. I can stitch with it and foolishly imagine I am back in the early eighteenth century.

3. Several skeins of wonderful Blue Faced Leicester DK from Artisan Threads. (My photo here does not do the range of subtle blues in this yarn any sort of justice). Jill and Penny are two talented textile artists based in Nairn, in the Scottish Highlands, who just launched their new company selling naturally dyed fleeces, yarn and thread. (Their website is not up yet, but should be very soon). Most of what they sell is locally sourced and produced, and they talk about the animals from which their yarn originated as articulately as they do about dyes and dying. Their knack with colour is really amazing and their yarns are all utterly beautiful — subtle, and slightly semi-solid. At every stage, process is an important part of the end product — and the end product is very good indeed. Perhaps the best compliment I can give this yarn is to say that the only place I’ve ever seen anything remotely like it is at Shilasdair. It is truly beautiful stuff and, if I was a spinner, I’d have been snapping up a fleece or two as well.

Top and bottom left are laceweight cashmere/silk and bluefaced leicester ‘dazzle’ sock yarn, both from the Natural Dye Studio. Their yarn is Very Nice. Top right is merino sock yarn from The Yarn Yard. Natalie is based just outside Edinburgh, and this is the first time I’ve met her or her yarns — which are gorgeous. She runs a sock club which is unlike others I’ve come across as you can drop in and out as and when you like. Tempting. Bottom right is rather a poignant purchase — this is Cheviot Aran dyed by Carolyn Rawlinson, who established Woolfest in 2005, and who recently sadly died. I actually bought two skeins of this same raspberry coloured yarn last year at the WoolClip’s shop in Caldbeck and have been playing around swatching with it and thinking that two skeins just weren’t enough to do justice to the yarn — which clearly wants cables. I bought a few more skeins in exactly the same colourway yesterday with mixed feelings — this was the last of her yarn. When I make something with this, it will have Carolyn Rawlinson’s memory knitted all the way through it.

and finally . . .

. . .no, I did not buy myself a ram. In fact, I only purchased the last item — a herdwick-themed gift for Mr B. The other three pics provide context for his Herdwick obsession. Item one is a noble animal I saw at Woolfest on Saturday; item 2 is himself cavorting in his Herdwick sweater, knitted by me from the wool from Pam Hall’s Herdwicks, and item 3 is his proudly-owned Herdwick tie, bought last year at the Woolclip. He likes Herdwicks. So I bought him item 4 — a rather nice china mug with the phiz of a herdwick upon it — just one of many new products designed by the talented team behind Herdy, an interesting new initiative now lending these quintessentially lakeland animals a new identity and, through their range of lovely bespoke wool products, a vital new lease of life as well.

Other weekend highlights included these beautiful hand-carved sticks on show at the Ullswater Country Fair. . .

. . . and the lush variety of colours in the Cumberland Pencil Museum in Keswick.

Did you know you can see the world’s largest coloured pencil there? Well, you can . . .

6 responses

  1. So many lovely things! Interesting to see some woad-dyed thread, after I had to cull my woad crop after finding out it was a “noxious weed” likely to cause “agricultural devastation”! Yes, buying “stuff” makes me feel anxious too. Your philosophy is most appealing!

  2. I am very excited about all the lovely things you got from Woolfest and the way you are able to talk about the suppliers, the breeds of sheep and the general sheep-li-ness of the whole festival. It is very nice to see the skeins of wool you got contextualised by photos of the animals from whence they came and I can’t wait to read your full article on Woolfest.

    I am flattered to be considered a fount of good sense and am delighted by your guilt-free post on the acquisition of fine yarns!!

  3. Wow! Great purchases and it sounds like lots of fun too. I wish I could have gone! One year… one year I shall make it up there. Looking forward to your article!

  4. I love Felix’s arguments in favour of stash enhancement – in fact I wish I’d heard of them before going to Woolfest! I did more stroking and sniffing of yarn than actual purchasing, but at least I now know which ones I’m happy to buy online.

  5. So glad to hear our report of Woolfest – I didn’t make it myself this year, sadly, but thrilled to see it was as good as usual (if not better!). Can we ask who the article is for :-)

  6. I’ve just got back from the Lake District – sadly missing Woolfest by a day, although I did visit Woolclip which was brilliant – and wanted to say I love my boots! They are comfy, sproingy, solid, robust, warm and waterproof and made me feel a bit like a clumpy (and unwitty) Hermes. Thank you for the recommendation!

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