Monday, 18 July 2011

Woolfest 11 the best ever. Solar pots and afterwards

This years Woolfest  at the end of June in Cockermouth Cumbria was the best ever both personally for me and I gather for the Woolfest itself with 5000 visitors .  On Friday they had  500 more than last year a truly impressive achievement I think.  ]
The Demo area next to my stallPhoto by Peter Davies

This was the first year I demonstrated and I had one of  the new official demonstration stalls-I scheduled for  3 demos  each day exhausting but worth it . FRiday was Solar Dyeing , Wild Carding and Natural Dye Inks, Saturday was Solar dyeing, Art Yarns and the Fructose and Lime vat.  I was helped by Anne Campbell who taught me to spin and who stepped in and demonstrated the Art Yarns on Saturday which was a not only  a huge help but actually she is better than I am anyway. ! All the Demonstrations were very popular but the one that drew the greatest interest were the Solar dyeing  Demos which I did on both days and on the back of those I  sold out of my new book Colours of the World Eco Dyeing and all my solar kits and I am still filling orders for these.  The stall was packed and I even had people peering over the side of the stall-they must have been standing on something  and I got a spontaneous round of applause. I loved it.
We finished setting up at 7.30 on the Friday   having started at 3pm and after the 4 hour drive were fairly exhausted so shot down into Cockermouth and were very pleased to find  the Tarantella open  again -last year it was till closed after the floods and we had a lovely relaxing meal with good service . ( You can read the review here).

The Woolfest was packed and thronged with people who did not seem to realise we were in recession.  The buzz coming form being in such a dynamic and exciting event was tremendous and The standards of the stalls is amazing. I have been doing the Woolfest since the start and the standard and the range have gone up enormously . Sadly I had even less time to get round but managed to buy a fabulous spindle from  IST Crafts and I have now ordered two more  . I also bought some smooth fine shaped holly   buttons form Tinker Tailor of the Woolclip which I dyed afterwards and I love them and will get some more. The downside was to get a cup of tea we had to walk the length of the Woolfest hall and queue and  I always use the portable loos, which I think are fine- as the queue for the other is always horrendous

Enys who brings the dye plants sold out and I have been nagging her for ages to bring things like Genista Tinctoria and the walnut trees that Peter her husband  lovingly nurtures.  He digs up the sapling  grown from nuts buried by the squirrels from a garden near a listed walnut tree with a preservation order on it and brings them on.  Enys  sold her Genista at Wonderwool within 15 minutes and the Walnut Tree  at the Woolfest in the first hour.  So now she has conceded that I have  point.  We are also looking at growing more native plants and she is planning  for example to have the European golden rod  as well as some  more varieties of  the Galiums .

 Photo by Peter Davies
View of the stall ( and Enys) form the Demo side.
My last demo was to have been  the new  Michel Garcia indigo vat with sugar and calcium hydroxide but  I was surprised to find that there was very little comment from people about it and wondered  if it is too new to have caught people's attention .  In any event with the crowding and crushing we began to feel that despite precautions it was too dangerous to be heating water and reverted instead to demonstrating my natural dye inks again.   As a result I sold a full pack of 12 inks which I was very pleased about but the customer asked me gently if I could write her instructions on how to use them particularly as fabric  paints so that is my next priority.

Me showing the colours you can get from inks and wearing one of my naturally dyed felted JacketPhoto by Peter Davies
This was the first  time I had a credit card machine at the Woolfest and that took a lot of money also as much again as cash.  The other thing I felt is that the people who come to the Woolfest are prepared to try things out and are looking for new and interesting things and as well as my solar kits other kits such one that  using prefelt and Debbie Bamfords naturally dyed linen threads sold  well too.  -and at one point we heard a cry of delight and heard someone say  " oh look! Slate  buttons" taking a photo on mobile and a friend arriving hot foot to get some.  Our slate buttons are not any old ordinary slate  buttons.  They are Welsh sea washed slate carefully hand picked by Anne where they bash against the sea wall and so have rounded smooth edged and then  my DH spends hours drilling holes to turn them into buttons. So they are very special buttons.

On the last night we went to the Spice Club in Cockermouth where we had the most appalling service . This came close to ruining what had  been a fantastic event and is without doubt the worst experience I have ever had in a restaurant and we eat out  a lot!  You can read my review here. 
After the Woolfest we relaxed at a  wonderful spot at Scales  Farm High Lorton  surrounded by the fells and Anne, who stayed with us, and I had a wonderful time spinning and dyeing with local  plants while  DH walked the dog off its paws.

This is what  Anne and I between had in our stash to dye with .The Kilner jars came from a kitchen shop in Cockermouth
Setting up solar pots with local dye plants such as meadowsweet, staghorn sumach, Birch , hawthorn and  some Persian berries Anne had bought at the Woolfest.In the  background are some lovely rusty objects picked up from the farm with the farmers permission. ( He had trouble keeping a straight face when we asked him if we could scavenge!)
In the foreground of the picture above you can see some spindle spun yarn dyed with indigo.  I had the stock solution for the MIchael Garcia Fructose  vat in the back of the car.  I warmed it up by standing it in in bucket of hot water stirred and there  it was. Fully active.  I started a vat off and it dyed all day and was still active the following morning without  anything being added. It dyed muslin , and then wool a d silk fabric to a lovely deep blue when cold


  1. Sounds like a very full and interesting event! Glad you did well!
    You have piqued my curiosity about solar dyeing & this indigo vat (sorry I cant remember the name..) I'm off to find out more

  2. The Michel Garcia vat is fab, isn't it? I wonder if I shall ever bother with anything different!

  3. Thanks for sharing this! I wish I could have been there to see your demos; they all sound so interesting. I've read lots about solar dying & made my own experiments, but haven't actually seen anyone else doing it. Isn't it encouraging to see so much support & interest in the fiber arts? Keep on with the good work.

  4. The Fructose and Lime Vat was developed by a French dyer called Micheal Garcia and I first saw it demonstrated at the International natural Dye Conference ISEND 2011 although I have developed my own method of doing it.
    It is in my new book
    Colours of the World Eco Dyeing by Helen Melvin . If you are interested email and I will send you a Pay Pal invoice for £10.50 + £1.95 P&P

  5. one of these days I just have to make it over to woolfest! it sounds brilliant - though I'd get into trouble with decisions about what to buy (you can only carry so much:)).
    if Enys would be interested, should I collect seeds from my lithospermum erythrorhizon? japanese gromwell, the japanese plant roots dye purple and for the first time I have a batch of seedlings to end up with enough roots to try dyeing.... it's been flowering for a time, and this year the seeds sprouted better than before....

  6. OOH! Bettina yes please. We would love it. Helen

  7. no problem, Helen, I put it on my list to collect!

  8. I think a lot of people are frightened of indigo dyeing, thinking it's very complicated, and switch off when they hear about it! I'm sure that's why you didn't have many takers.

    Still your natural inks demo bore fruit.

    Lovely blog post.