One of the cool things about being a writer is that you have a legitimate reason for eavesdropping. Or at least, overhearing. And people do say the most incredible things …
I am just recovering from a very full-on woolly weekend which was full of other people’s conversations, passing comments and the general buzz of appreciation and amazement.
First, I went to Woolfest – the original festival of celebrating British wool, which has now been taking place for over ten years. It is a wonderland of fibres, yarns, looms and wheels, as well as live sheep and other creatures, usually attended by thousands of happy crafters, all keen to see the colours, feel the textures and hand over their money in gleeful anticipation.
It always used to land on the middle weekend of Wimbledon, making it a very hard decision for me about where my priorities lay. But these days, with the new extended grass court season, I can go to Woolfest – only just north of where I live – and be back in plenty of time to have my knitting ready for the Grand Slam. My perfect summer holiday.
This visit held as much promise as usual, with the added benefit for me of a little extra cash, saved up for something else which fell through. This year, I might even get to buy something!
I made my way steadily round the first half of the stallholders, checking against my list of possible speakers for the Guild (I’m currently part of the Programme Team), but systematically working my route to land at, in my opinion, the best stall of all: an indie hand-dyer from Wales, trading under the name of HillTop Cloud.
Having purchased fibres from her online, I was keen to see the goods displayed for real, in all their splendour. I was not disappointed. The magnificence of the array of colours greeting me, left me speechless, stunned and completely unable to choose what to buy since I couldn’t afford everything! How wonderful!
As I stood in the middle of the square-shaped display, ogling the fabulous display of colours and fibres on offer, I heard someone say, ‘Of course, you know that choice is bad for you.‘ What?!
The voice continued. ‘Apparently, Tesco have decided that too much choice in their store is not good. Their rivals only have a couple of options available at a time, and are making more sales. If there are too many choices, people get overwhelmed and end up not buying anything …‘
I remained speechless – now for entirely different reasons. I felt a blog coming on, but decided instead to concentrate my efforts on making glorious choices from the proud panorama facing me, hoping that such fiendish logic would never infect the world of warps, wefts, and wraps per inch.
Feeling suitably sated, I turned up the following day at our Guild’s own exhibition, part of a local Arts and Crafts Trail. I had volunteered to demonstrate some spinning. I entered a busy school hall, hung around with splendid exhibits from our members, and interested visitors wanting to ask how? what with? and can I have a go?
Of course, when I first joined the Guild, we could let people take a turn on our spinning wheels. I distinctly remember our first request for a Risk Assessment, when we were invited to take part in a day of country pursuits at a venue in the Lake District. We were included alongside activities such as charcoal-burning and apple-bobbing.
Somewhere along the line, someone had decided that the risk to the public from actively engaging with spinning wheels was too great, and we should no longer offer this option. How we had all survived so long was a mystery. I remember the feverish discussion about what we should enter on the paperwork. The biggest vote was to explain that if you pricked your finger, you might fall asleep for a hundred years …
Anyway, I digress, as usual. The point is, these days we only demonstrate, but we are geared up for talking coherently about what we are doing. I unpacked my wheel in a quiet corner, where there was room for a small crowd to congregate if necessary, fluffed up my Blue-Faced Leicester and began to spin.
It wasn’t long before interested people gathered both to watch and question. ‘So how do you get it to stay together?’ ‘How do you make it into yarn?’ ‘What will you do to it next?’ ‘What will you use it for?’
I found myself in a conversation with a lady who seemed genuinely interested in the process, and I was just explaining to her what I was doing – letting the twist run down into the fibre, using a short-forward draw, making a ‘singles’ thread – and she was asking what happened next to make it into a usable yarn.
As I spoke, telling her there were a number of ways to ply it, and explaining that the simplest was to create two bobbins and twist them together, when she suddenly said, in a tone of utter disgust: ‘Nothing’s ever easy, is it?‘ and marched away.
To say I was speechless, for the second time in as many days, would be something of an understatement. I wondered what she had been expecting, what she hoped I would say, why she wanted the process to be easy … Doesn’t it always take some effort to get to somewhere worthwhile?
I guess the gain to me is that I now have plenty of new material to ponder on, several interesting characters to explore, and some fascinating scenery to use. But I’ve saved the best ’til last.
On my way around the vast surroundings of Woolfest, peering at my Guide and trying to get my bearings, two women walked past me. I wondered whether they had mysteriously arrived from outer space, beamed into the heart of an unknown location, as one commented to the other, apparently in surprise: ‘There’s an awful lot of arty-crafty people here.‘