The wooliest festival ever is back

Preview by Rachael Grealish

Valais on display_lowTHE Wooliest festival around is heading baaaa-ck to the Lakes for it’s twelfth year.

Woolfest is taking over the Mitchell’s Lakeland Livestock Centre in Cockermouth and filling it with all things ‘wool’ Friday June 24 and 25.

With over 130 different stallholders selected from more than 200 applications and an exciting programme of events, demonstrations and exhibitions as this original British festival promises to its biggest and best yet.

Organiser Jean Wildish said:

“Woolfest still seems to be the one big event that every wool-related business wants to be at. Every year we have to turn people away and it’s quite a balancing act between familiar faces and new businesses, fresh approaches and traditional crafts. We’re also keen to promote British wool as much as possible and to keep a cross-section of different wool crafts – not only knitting and weaving but also felt making, crochet, spinning and other emerging crafts. Hopefully, we’ve got the balance right for 2016 and visitors will have a great time.”

Woven with wool

Tweed seems to be a theme among this year’s stallholders and they are coming from all over the UK.

“As well as traditional Harris and Donegal tweeds, we’ve got businesses creating their own artisan tweeds, including Wool Clip member, Jan Beadle, people designing and making accessories, clothing and soft furnishings with tweed and a couple of businesses using locally-sourced Herdwick tweed too,” said Pam Hall, another of the Woolfest organisers.
“The Harris Tweed photography exhibition at Rheged near Penrith has been breaking all visitor records there so the interest is obvious. At Woolfest, we can have weaving demonstrations in progress and also show people the variety of tweeds available, visitors can meet suppliers and weavers to talk about the fabric’s origins and also learn about some of the unusual ways of using tweeds to create something unique. And, of course, it’s all wool!”

Animal magic

One of the things that marks out Woolfest is its focus on the local and rare breeds, fleece animals and raw fleece that are at the roots of all things wool.

For the first time, Woolfest 2016 was over-subscribed for breed societies wanting to take part and the organisers have had to select the 23 breeds that will be on show.

“Last year, we gave over more space to the livestock side of the event and several new breeds took part, including the very cute and popular Valais Blacknose sheep,” said Mary Bell, responsible for the animal area at Woolfest.

“This year, we’ll have all three Leicester breeds at Woolfest – Bluefaced, Border and Longwool – and Ellie Langley will be bringing along a few sheep from her cross-bred flock, bred specifically for fleece that’s good for felt making.

“And, for the first time, all three traditional Cumbrian hill breeds of sheep will be represented at Woolfest,” She continued. “Alison O’Neil, aka the Barefoot Shepherdess who farms near Sedbergh, is bringing not only Herdwicks but also Rough Fell and Swaledale sheep to the show.”

Carolyn Rawlinson Memorial Stall

Each year, Woolfest organisers give a free stall to a new business in memory of one of the event’s founders, the late Carolyn Rawlinson.

In the past, this has gone to knitwear designers, artisan yarn dyers, accessory makers, tapestry designers and other but 2016 is a bit unusual and Liz Reed’s work should create a lot of interest at Woolfest as she creates driftwood characters with full wool knitted outfits – this is not one to miss.

  • Woolfest will be heading to the Mitchell’s Lakeland Livestock Centre in Cockermouth Friday June 24 and 25.