Fibre fans from all over the UK, as well as visitors from Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States flocked to the ancient market town of Builth Wells for this year’s Wonderwool Wales (April 23 and 24.)
Wonderwool, the annual extravaganza celebrating Welsh and British wool and natural fibres also showcased products and textile techniques and traditions from across the globe, packing out three halls at the Royal Welsh Showground.
As the event has grown, to accommodate 220 stalls selling quality wares, so too has its international reputation. Now in its twelfth year, featuring workshops, demonstrations and fascinating textile exhibits, this year’s show attracted well over 5000 visitors, including a hen party and a group of 13 fibre enthusiasts from Ontario who planned their trip to the area to coincide with the show.
Contributing to the international flavour, there was the unique opportunity to learn about Mapuche spinning and weaving from two experienced weavers from Chile. They demonstrated their traditional skills on añañuca’s stand throughout the two days of the show, helping añañuca to win one of the show’s “best stall” prizes. On other stalls, visitors could also learn about Saori weaving, which originated in Japan and buy beautiful Qaria Cashmere fibres and yarns from Afghanistan; artisan products from the Ukraine; tribal textiles from China; clothing made with textiles from Africa; textiles and clothes from Asia and recycled yarns from India and Nepal.
Liz Beasley, from añañuca led two Woolschool workshops teaching the art of Mapuche weaving and other Woolschools included Bee Weir showing how to spin yarn using a traditional Mayan technique. There were more topics, too, from perfect plying to beautiful beading and daring design. For felting enthusiasts, there was talented needle felt artist, illustrator and sculptor Jenny Barnett showing Woolschool participants how to sculpt wool fleece into a charming little spring lamb. Pat Johnson led a Woolschool teaching a quick and easy way to make 3D wet felt pods and the seeds to fit into the pod.
Community collaboration was a real feature of this year’s show. In Hall 3, decorated by metres of yarn graffiti created by more than 140 knitters and crochet and craft enthusiasts, there was the chance to take part in the show’s latest community textile project. Visitors were invited to make a poppy to contribute to the total of 887,858 needed for a ‘Curtain of Poppies’, an installation at Wonderwool Wales 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of the Great War and to commemorate each person from the UK who died serving their country.
By the end of the show, the poppy count stood at just under a thousand but thousands more are needed! Individuals and textile groups are being
encouraged to crochet, knit and create lengths of poppies. Instructions and details are available on the show website and contributions are needed by the end of December.
The emphasis on the ways fibre fans from far and wide are getting involved, or can get involved, in a range of inspiring community projects didn’t stop there. Fascinating textile exhibitions included The Llandysul Map, a 10ft x 6ft knitted map produced by a small group of Llandysul knitters, who were encouraging others to get together to ‘Knit Your Town’. A model of Llareggub Village, made from felt and other materials by members of Swansea-based Itchy Fingers Textiles was a much-admired and inspiring example of a group project. Meanwhile The Centenary Textiles Exhibition explored the role and development of handmade textiles during World War 1 and included Centenary Stitches, which showed how a modern-day international army of knitters was created almost by accident to help to costume the WW1 film ‘Tell Them of Us.’
Since The Blyth Tall Ship Williams Gansey Project was given its first outing at Wonderwool Wales in 2016, more than 100 experienced knitters have been selected from almost 600 offers to knit. Whilst they are mainly from Northumberland, where the project is based, the initiative has also attracted knitters from across the UK and from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and many European countries. Each volunteer is knitting a Gansey designed for the project by joint project leaders, Janice Snowball and Astrid Adams from Blyth in Northumberland. The Ganseys will form the ‘uniform’ of the crews sailing on the Williams II in an expedition to Antarctica in 2019/20, recreating the voyage of William Smith from Blyth who discovered Antarctica in 1819.
Stalls showcased other examples of collaborative textile projects. Needle felter Lydia Needle of Blackdogandgingercat.co.uk was exhibiting a collection of near-life size woollen bees, the start of a project to create tiny representations of 50 of the 262 species left in the UK, for which she has invited 50 artists to create companion pieces.
Alongside this hive of community activity, the show was buzzing with creativity and ideas, with exhibitors selling trendy upcycled garments, fabulous designer fashions and up-to-the minute home furnishings as well as everything for the fibre enthusiast. There was raw and hand dyed fibres; yarn in a rainbow of colours; embellishments, equipment, dyes, books and patterns and more. Demonstrations on the exhibitor stands included machine knitting, hooking, blending, weaving using the rigid heddle loom, weaving on nails, rag rug making and creative textile recycling. There were also demonstrations by the Welsh Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.
Live animals bred for their quality fleeces featured, with exhibitors at this year’s show including A Crafty Goat Club with their Angora goats, who won the show prize for best livestock exhibit. Other winning stallholders were Janie Crow with her innovative hand knit and crochet designs for the home; feltmaker and mixed media artist Jenny Pepper and Ashford UK with their spinning and weaving equipment.
The quirky fashion show, the Sheepwalk, enables exhibitors to show off their creations and to commemorate the Great War and remind the audience about the poppy-making appeal, it included re-enactors wearing authentic reproduction clothing from 100 years ago. A sing-along led by Wool Zone’s John Macrae, to the tune of “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor” encouraged visitors to “Knit, Knit, Knit A Gansey” for the Blyth Tall Ship Williams Gansey Project. As always, the Sheepwalk was fabulous fun and it is all part of what makes Wonderwool Wales a much-anticipated date in the calendar. So, make a note of next year’s dates now – April 28 and 29, 2018.
For more details visit www.wonderwoolwales.co.uk Like Wonderwool Wales Ltd on Facebook or follow on Twitter @wonderwoolwales