As a huge fan of all things sheepy, one of the main reasons I wanted to travel to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival was to see and pet and squish UK yarns. Not yarns from the big companies that we all know about, but things from the smaller batch producers - the local stuff -- fibers that I imagine are milled with love in old, stone buildings somewhere near a pub. You know the romantic images in my head - of beautiful flocks of sheep on a green hill overlooking a loch? Set on hill by a countryside village full of quaint cottages, somewhere in Scotland/England/Ireland? I had visions of luminous tweeds and wools that just had to be experienced and touched. I imagined traditional colorwork and cables and highland motifs that needed to be seen in their own land, surrounded by samples knit by people who knew from whence they came - and I was not disappointed. I wanted this yarn experience to be about the wool and the history of the industry, and it was to be in some kind of historical building, full of charming accents and cakes and tea. That's what I had in mind. A Rhinebeck of the UK, so to speak.
During our stopover in Dublin on the way over, my travelmate Ellen (if you sew, check out her new tunic pattern!!) and I got a taste of what was in store. Beautiful Irish blankets and sweaters were found in the airport shop (not made in acrylic crap, but knit in soft, beautiful wool!) and the souvenir shops were dotted with sheepy keychains and lollipops and tee shirts.
That was nothing compared to what we found at the Festival. The Corn Exchange WAS a historic building in the early 1900s where local farmers exchanged their corn and grains. It's now in a weird kind of mini shopping area, and maybe it's more of an event venue these days -but it had big stone columns out front, and they did offer tea and cakes inside. Plus there was a bar.
More importantly, it was also full of all kinds of UK fiber - rustic and soft, sheepy and smooth, in natural shades or vibrant colors - tons of tweedy goodness with gorgeous names like Wensleydale, Dover, Shropshire, Herbridiean (you had to smell Rachel Atkinson's deep dark skeins!!), Cotswold, Zwarbles and more.
Apparently - and not surprisingly - there was a game last year where you had to guess if each name was a sheep or a cheese - or maybe both.
The festival was exactly what I'd hoped - a celebration of the traditions and breeds found in the UK. The booths were full of small indie producers and a few midsize companies who are keeping the farming and knitting industries chugging along in the UK. There was all the petting and sniffing and "what sweater is that??" that one needed, plus two days worth of fabulous accents and tea and cakes. Jo and Mica really did put on a wonderful event - complete with opportunities to eat, drink and socialize so you could enjoy not only the yarns, but the people who had traveled from near and far to be there.
It was hard to choose what to take home, but at the end of the day, these are the skeins that traveled back to the states with me --
Up front are two skeins of Kate Davies Buachaille - a beautiful yarn Kate's created out of 100% Scottish wool and then dyed in shades reminscent of the Scottish countryside - this front skein here is called hedder and it's the color of the small flowers whose name I don't know that dot the hills near Kate's home. It's gorgeous stuff, and I envision a colorwork hat out of these two.
Behind the Buachaille and at left down below is a skein of John Arbon's Voila, a lovely merino dyed a deep blue tweedy shade called North Sea. This one is also destined to become a hat, in a little collaboration later this year. John and his wife spin a whole line of yarns at their mill in Devon, one of the remaining smaller scale operations out there. I'd gotten a few skeins of their Paint by Numbers yarn when I was in England this summer, and they are a well known producer of British fiber, so I was really happy to see ALL of their yarns in person. They also spun up Ysolda's beautiful new Blend No. 1, which is the lovely gray skein on the right below ...
Ysolda's yarn is a soft, heathered mix of Merino, Polwarth and Zwarbles and the color is pretty much my dream gray. Light and delicate but dappled with lots of darker fibers. I bought two skeins and was given two more by the lovely Ysolda herself, so with over 1200 yards in hand now, I am torn between giant shawl or actual sweater.....
In the middle of those two heathered skeins is another special fiber. This is Baskerville, by Linda of Kettle Yarns. It's a mix of Exmoor Blueface, Gotland and Silk - and it's indigo dyed in small batches. It has a gorgeous twist to it, and although it's a silky fiber, it still has a lovely tweedy element to it. Linda says it "hails from the mysterious West County moors" which makes it even that much more awesome. I definitely envision a shawl out of these guys.
One of my goals at the Festival was to touch some Blacker Yarns - after binge listening to the Pom Pom and Knit British podcasts prior to travel, they really were top of mind, plus it was in Sophie Scott's accent that their name had stuck in my head, so they were absolutely a proper British yarn in my mind. And again, the colors and fibers that Blacker offered didn't disappoint. I had the hardest time choosing, but my head is full of traditional cables with this yarn, so I stayed with simple, natural grays in their Classic and Shetland Wools. With maybe just a bit of mustard...
And last, but not least --- a skein of Eden Cottage Yarn came home with me. It was gorgeous and distracting to be in that booth, but I tried to narrow things down to one fiber. In another British sheep variety I never see at home - Masham. It's called Malham DK, and it's a mix of Masham and BFL - and it's sheepy with just a touch of sheen. In Victoria's colors, so how can you go wrong?
I think I'm in a little bit of a blue-green-gray phase, but as I swatch and think about Fall, I'm excited to see how these guys will net out.... I may just skip summer knitting all together.