Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Small, but perfectly formed - the third North Pennines Wool Event

The North Pennines Wool Group held its third North Pennines Wool Event on Friday 28th September in Upper Weardale, County Durham.  The small community of St John's Chapel was buzzing as the Wool Event, held in the village's two halls, both situated on the village green, coincided with the North of England Mule Sheep Association gimmer lamb sale at the neighbouring mart.  Farmers and woolly folk rubbed shoulders as the village thronged with people.  

A wonderfully warm and friendly atmosphere pervaded as several hundred people flocked to the wool event, which managed to provide something for everyone.  Highlights included demonstrations of various forms of spinning – domestic spinning wheels, great wheel spinning (with Richard Proud of Fleece to Yarn), drop spindling and 'spurtzler' spinning (courtesy of Jon Booker, Natural Born Dyers), together with demonstrations of natural dyeing (Ruth Hicken), sculptural needlefelt with the renowned artist Joss Wrigg, table loom weaving (Jan Beadle), peg loom weaving (Nickie Kirkby of Eden Gotlands) and wet felted bracelets (Ellie Langley, Fleece with Altitude).  In addition a selection of remarkably calm and friendly sheep penned on the village green entertained the visitors.

A competition to design and make a sheep from British wool was judged by celebrated children’s author and fine artist, Kim Lewis.  Kim is herself a former sheep farmer. Sheep of all breeds and woolly techniques arrived to take part in the competition, the winning entry being a sheep of indeterminate breed, but largely knitted from local Gotland wool. In addition the North Pennines shepherd and poet Josephine Dickinson gave poetry readings with a woolly, hill-farming theme.

For those in need of retail therapy, visitors had the opportunity to buy fleeces, carded wools, yarns, knitting and felting kits, knitted, woven and felted woollen products and some truly beautiful locally hand-crafted equipment, including drop spindles made by Enid Ashcroft.  

The truly unique thing about the North Pennines Wool Event is that only British wool (that is wool from sheep born in Britain) is allowed through the doors.  The North Pennines Wool Group was established in 2009 by a small group of hardworking volunteers to try to promote the little known region of the North Pennines and its wool.  The North Pennines covers parts of Cumbria, Durham, Northumberland, even a tiny part of North Yorkshire, and is the native home of two of our most spectacular wool breeds - the Teeswater and the Bluefaced Leicester and, by extension, the North of England Mule, making the presence of 3500 mule sheep (courtesy of their Bluefaced Leicester fathers) just 30 yards away truly serendipitous.