Where do you imagine I have been today? Here is a clue!
YES! I am at WOOLFEST with some of my favourite KNITBUDDIES, working on the incredible Kate Davies Designs stall. I can’t quite believe it’s just three years since the last time I was here with KNITBUDDIES. Last time, it was all about camping, and discovering amazing native sheep breeds, and meeting shepherds.
…this year, it’s all about the amazing knitwear designs that have been created by one of my favourite people. (And sneaking off for short breaks to see the angora rabbits
and to buy tonnes more stuff that I have nowhere to put.)
Kate’s incredible designs on the stall…
ANGORA BUNNEH! On the Angora Breeder’s Association Stall, AKA my second favourite place at WOOLFEST
I remember feeling in 2009 like I had found a new way of thinking about wool. My first taste of WOOLFEST deepened my appreciation for the distinctive landscapes, textile industries and communities which sustain our wonderful UK sheep breeds.
I love how Kate’s designs celebrate sheep, and I think Rams and Yowes is one of the loveliest things that exists on all of this earth. I love that the design showcases all of the natural shades of shetland sheep, and uses some of the knitting techniques like steeking and stranded knitting which are particularly suited to the wool from that breed.
Rams and Yowes blanket by Kate Davies
An inquisitive Shetland sheep I met in WOOLFEST 2009
I bought the yarn for my Layter at WOOLFEST 2009, which is knit in wool from many different UK sheep breeds.
I have also found some KNITSONIKTM ways of celebrating sheep which combine sheep wool with sheep sounds.
Knitted speakers, covered in wool from Cumbria, playing sounds from Cumbrian sheep farms and words from Cumbrian shepherds
At some point, celebrating wool became political for me. Probably in November last year AKA WOVEMBER 2011. Reading up on the history of the UK Wool Industry, I became fascinated with woven textiles – an obsession I shared with the world by creating a plethora of brooches covered in 100% WOOL.
Wovember brooches – showcasing 100% WOOL fabrics
It is impossible to imagine how differently I would have experienced my recent stay in Estonia without these previous projects and experiences. The politics of Wovember and the Slow Wardrobe inspired me to develop the Instant Clothes Museum workshop which I presented at Ptarmigan and also at Helikoosolek; and I found that my main interest in discovering Estonian wool lay in meeting the wonderful Estonian shepherds and their animals and in tracing the textiles which I encountered back to their sources. Having learnt in Cumbria in 2009 how to connect different sheep breeds with different knitting traditions and landscapes, I was keen to do the same in Estonia. I went with a heart full of WOOLFEST-esque questions like “what is the terrain in Estonia like and what sort of patterns does it inspire?” “What are the sheep that grow in Estonia and what sort of knitting is their wool suitable for?” “What are the spinning traditions in Estonia and what do the spinning tools used to produce cloth sound like?” “What are the cloths that are woven in Estonia, and what is the sound of those looms?” and “What do Estonian sheep look and sound like?”
Estonian native sheep look like this and sound like this
Too, it’s hard to imagine whether or not I would have been so deeply drawn to traditional Estonian textiles without the appreciation that I have developed for the historic textiles produced here, where I live. With a little knowledge of what it takes to clean and dye and spin and weave woollen cloth, one can see that the traditional Estonian skirts – handwoven in a single rectangle by Estonian women, hemmed with red wool, and striped according to one’s district, marital status, etc. – are the original Slow Wardrobe garment, made over a long period of time, from local materials, deeply and deliberately embedded with meaning and a sense of place. Estonian women have been making Slow Wardrobe items for far longer than I have been thinking about them.
Kihnu skirts, in the Kihnu Museum
Many contemporary makers in Estonia still make these traditional skirts. I met a weaver in the Maarja-Magdaleena Guild in Pärnu who is currently weaving a skirt with the traditional striped motif from Pärnu, her county, and she showed me a bobbin being used in the weft strands, dyed with Birch leaves especially for this project.
Pärnu skirt, on a weaver’s loom at the Maarja-Magdaleena Guild in Pärnu
Birch-dyed yarn bobbin and fabric closeup
Also, as you may remember from this post, at the Tõstamaa Käsitöökeskus, (Tõstamaa Craft Centre) I was lucky enough to see Liis taking her own skirt fabric off the loom, ready to gather in at the waist and hem with red wool yarn.
Hailing from Croydon originally, and now living in Reading, UK, I do not have the specific textile traditions that Estonia crafters have to draw on. What I mean is that if I want to embed meaning in my clothes, there are no rules about the colours or the stripes that I should use. However, there are definitely historic textile traditions to draw on in this country, and many other ways in which I try to make my outfits meaningful. Like the Layter, which celebrates the sheep breeds I love, or the home-made WOOLLY UNIFORM which I wore through my whole stay in Estonia, which is made from woven woollen cloth purchased from the mill nearest to where I live here in the UK.
I am in the process of working out how to spin and weave my own skirt in the style of the Estonian skirts, but in colours native to where I live in the world, now. In the meantime, I purchased some Estonian skirt fabric while I was on my travels. The designs I acquired relate to two of the places I went to; Räpina and Kihnu.
The Church at Räpina
The Lighthouse at Kihnu
Throughout my time in Estonia, I talked to weavers and makers in the country about their textiles, and I showed them examples of UK woven, woolly textiles. I have extended this idea into brooch-sets which celebrate the idea of an International Wool Exchange, showcasing woolly fabrics from the UK and Ireland beside woolly fabrics from Estonia.
Kihnu fabric beside vintage UK Woollen tie fabric
Räpina fabric purchased in Estonia and Donegal tweed fabric, purchased in Ireland
Since WOOLFEST is one of the places where my obsession with linking wool to places was consolidated, I have bought these pairs of brooches along with me! You can buy them – and WOVEMBER brooches – from the Kate Davies Designs stall. The WOVEMBER brooches are £2.10 each, and the sets featuring Estonian/UK woollen, woven textiles, are £4 each.
If you are coming to WOOLFEST tomorrow, do say hello!