Woolfest 2016

I promised myself I’d write a blog about Woolfest; so here it is! It’s good to share and I hope you enjoy reading it, but I wanted to write it as a reminder to myself of what a fabulous time I had. When I’m having a confidence slump it will be good to read.

I had a wonderful support network of people to look after me. My partner Gareth came over to Cockermouth and helped me to setup along with my parents. My parents input was invaluable,  as craftspeople themselves they used to do events and can rustle up some magic tricks with a few metres of hessian. Fast forward 5 hours and I was really happy with the results.

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Friday morning soon came around and a speedy breakfast at the B&B had me chomping at the bit to get over to Cockermouth and make sure I was organised.  Soon people were flooding through the door and I was in my element chatting away. My first sale wasn’t long coming and it was a huge confident boost.  There were times when I had a small queue forming with people buying my folk: I hadn’t expected that! By the end of Friday I had almost sold out of some size folk, so I had to rearrange my stand to fill the gaps.

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I had customers who bought one figure and then came back later to buy another.  One lady e-mailed me overnight to secure a chap she had her eye on. She was back first thing Saturday morning to buy him and to take her children to see the Shepherd’s Life puppets.

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Highlights – in no particular order!

  • My first ever Credit Card sale – that felt like a milestone!
  • The amazing comments I received and the genuine surprise when people realised my folk are made from a few washed up bits of driftwood!
  • Friends, new and old popping by to show me their support
  • Meeting Carolyn Rawlinson’s daughter – such a lovely surprise.
  • The lady in her beautiful hand-knitted red dress who came back on Saturday modelling a hand-knitted cream dress!
  • The lady with the yarn-bombed walking stick who made a point to speak to my Mum. She said she couldn’t afford to buy one of my folk, but wanted to tell someone they were marvellous.
  • The lovely lady from the hospice stand who kept coming back to have a look. She bought one for her husband for his birthday but secretly told me it was a present to herself!
  • All the fellow beachcombers who shared their favourite beachcombing spots.
  • The textile student who asked if she could use my work as a source of inspiration.
  • The IT Analyst who was keen to hear my journey from working in IT to setting up my creative business. Something she was keen to do too.FullSizeRender 4

And a few thank yous – in no particular order!

  • A special mention for Ellie Langley for introducing me to the woolly business community, putting opportunities my way, and just becoming a great friend.
  • To all those in the woolly business community who have followed my journey and were so pleased to see me doing well.
  • My lovely friends at The Hearth Wool Group for being a fabulous bunch and being so supportive.
  • The friends who weren’t able to come but sent me messages before, during and after to wish me luck, check how it was going and see if it had gone well.
  • The Wool Clip team for selecting me for the Carolyn Rawlinson Memorial stand and were so supportive during the event.
  • My partner Gareth for letting me live and breathe my Woolfest preparations and being happy to live in general chaos!
  • And last of all, a big thank you to my Mum and Dad, for coming along and keeping me fed and watered and just being there for me.

I really hope I’ll be back in 2017!

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Beachcombing in Industrial Teesside

If people are prepared to listen, I’ll talk endlessly about collecting random pieces of driftwood. So when you meet someone who shares your passion, it’s great to hear about their favourite beaches and even better if they know somewhere you don’t!  This is what happened when I was talking to Jackie Stonehouse at the Pod gallery in Bishop Auckland. I don’t always remember the finer details, and on this day I came away with the information Blue Lagoon and Hartlepool.  The detail I was actually given was far better than that.

A few weeks later, Gareth and I found ourselves with a free Sunday so we headed in the direction of Hartlepool. I’d done very little research to where the beach actually was, we parked a little south of Hartlepool at Seaton Carew and headed North along the beach. It was a lovely day and I found the odd bit of driftwood but somehow I knew I wasn’t in the right spot.  We headed up to the marina at Hartlepool to find somewhere for a bit of lunch and had a look at the map.  We decided we needed to be a little further south at Teesmouth. Blue Lagoon is actually the name locals use to refer to North Gare sands, so that’s where we headed.

On this occasion I have to admit I didn’t take too much notice of the surroundings. I’d just returned from a week in Northumberland in glorious sunshine, this definitely wasn’t Northumberland. However, the amount of driftwood amongst the tide line was incredible, I filled my bag and we headed home.

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I’ve been itching to return since then, more because of the volume of driftwood I’d managed to collect in a short space of time, rather than the beauty of the place.  I prefer to tie my beachcombing with something else, so I had to wait until I had a reason to head in the Teesside direction. This opportunity came up last week, and during a period of torrid weather, there was a window of opportunity, the weather forecast looked kind. You drive down a well surfaced road which takes you across the salt marshes to the car park. The road was full of bird watchers, I passed a curlew, a bird even I can recognise, and it seemed incredible that I was in the middle of industrial Teesside.

I parked the car, took my bag and bucket from the boot and headed along the track through the sand dunes and down to the beach.

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It was a lovely morning and the beach looked stunning against the industrial backdrop. The tide was out so I had a vast expanse of beach to explore.

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One of the first things I found was a little green car, I had Ned in my pocket….it seemed like a good photo opportunity!

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I headed south along the beach, there wasn’t such a distinct tide line this time so I had to walk further to find a good amount of driftwood.  I didn’t mind, it was just a pleasant place to be. There were a few dog walkers around but I mostly I had the whole beach to myself.

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And the best news of all, I found a good selection of legs and feet for making more folk!

Sourcing Suppliers

I have recently been invited to take part in a wool fair at the Hearth at Horsley in Northumberland. I have been a bit reluctant to go down the route of participating in craft fairs and it’s hard to explain why. I suppose I still feel like I’m finding my feet with how I want my little business to progress. However, this invitation from Ellie Langley seemed like an opportunity too good to miss, a small event, local location alongside quality stall holders and the talented artists who have their studios at The Hearth. A chance for me to get feedback from the public about what they really think of my folk….watch this space!

There was however one snag, I had to ensure my folk were clothed in British Wool, after all, this is an event that celebrates British Wool. I had to check, I didn’t want to be making any false claims but I had been using quality British brand yarn. Sadly the answer was no, most of the wool I had been using didn’t come from British Sheep’s fleece. Still keen to participate in the event and slightly ashamed I had never considered the provenance of the wool I was using, I set about to find alternative supplies.

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Balancing in his jumper made from Hebridean and Mule yarn!

I mentioned to Ellie my predicament and that I would be looking for something around a 4 ply weight yarn. Ellie happened to have some 4 ply wool herself that came via the North Pennine Wool Group, I purchased some. It’s a beautiful shade of deep grey, a mix of Hebridean and Mule and gorgeous to knit with.

I was also looking for a finer yarn to knit the jumpers for my MDFs  (Mini Driftwood Folk), it just so happened that Woolfest was around the corner, a woolly convention in Cockermouth.  I had never been to Woolfest before, I was due to head down to London that weekend, but managed to fit in a quick trip on the Friday, not exactly en route, but still worth the not insignificant diversion!  It was simply wonderful and worthy of a blog in its own right, I’ll leave that for next year when I plan to have more time to take it all in.

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Lace yarn from The Knitting Gift Shop.

I found some beautiful natural coloured lace yarn at The Knitting Gift Shop, Ellie again had pointed me in their direction. I hadn’t realised they were based in Crook, just a few miles from the little village that I live in. All of their wool is sourced and spun in the North of England, but this story gets better!  The wool is a mix of Shetland, Blue Faced Leicester and Alpaca and I was delighted to learn the Shetland sheep from which the fleece is taken live less than a mile from my home. It felt like the happy ending to my quest to find the perfect wool. I should also state the Blue Faced Leicester comes from Hamsterley, a mere 5 miles away and the Alpaca from Redcar.

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Mini Driftwood Folk – jumpers in mixed yarn from The Knitting Gift Shop.

I was itching to get started and decided the yarn was just a little too fine to use on its own, so I’ve been using a couple of balls together to mix the colours. It’s perfect and just lovely to see the different results from blending the 4 different colours together.  What I love the most is how the colours blend so perfectly with the driftwood I use to create my folk.

The wool fair takes place on Saturday 22nd August, it would be lovely to see you there.
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Seaham Beach Clean May 2015

It would be impossible for me to collect driftwood and not notice the amount of litter on the beach. The best driftwood tends to sit amongst the piles of rubbish and sifting through it to find my ‘treasure’ really makes me want to do something.

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The beach I visit most regularly is Seaham. I managed to track down a group of beach cleaners that were brought together by Nicola Beldham, keen to do their bit for marine conservation and making the beach a better place for everyone. Yes, of course I could take some litter home with me every time I visit, but carrying it and disposing of it would be a problem as I’m generally on my own. So teaming up with others seemed to be the best solution.

It was a grey morning and when I arrived at the marina carpark, I was greeted by Nicola and around 20 other helpers. We set off with black bags and litter picker sticks to work some magic. Plastic bottles, rusty tin cans, bits of indistinguishable rubber, wet wipes, fishing line and a ridiculous amount of shoe insoles! I tried my hardest not to look at the driftwood but I must confess the odd piece did slip in my pocket! Our presence on the beach didn’t go unnoticed and it was lovely to see people who were just there for a day out, picking up bits and pieces and popping them in my bag.
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2 hours later and I’d filled 2 bin liners, we gathered back at the car park and the scale of our haul became apparent, 52 black bags and 2 shopping trolleys that the council would be along to collect.
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Clearly it would be better if the rubbish wasn’t there in the first place, but what a difference a group of people and a couple of hours can make.

A quick chat, a photoshoot and goodbyes.

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Then I popped back down to look for ‘treasure’ on a gloriously clean beach ☺

Fred and the Teapot

The lovely thing about making things is that sometimes you find another maker who loves your stuff and you love their’s This presents an opportunity for a SWAP! I happen to be a tea addict and was in need of a teapot to replace my aged and cracked one.  I had seen a very special teapot from a well known ceramic artist and was waiting for a birthday or Christmas to arrive so I could justify the purchase.  However, I then came across an even more lovely teapot at a friend’s house and it just so happened her sister was the maker.  Negotiations opened and we agreed that a teapot would be made in exchange for one of my characters.  Unfortunately I can’t just create my little people on a whim, I have to find the right piece of driftwood for the body and then find appropriate arms and legs. It can be a long drawn out process before a fully limbed person is created! In this case it was a few months.

The ceramic artist is Alison Hanvey, she’s based in Northern Ireland and I absolutely love her work.  Alison sent me a photo of my teapot and a week or so later I sent her photos of a couple of chaps for her to choose between.  She chose Fred, I miss him dearly but I love my teapot and I know he’s very happy in his new home.

Fred enjoying the herb garden before he left for Northern Ireland

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My beautiful teapot and matching mug

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Collecting Driftwood – My Process

The lovely thing about creating my characters is there are so many elements to them that I can decide what to do based on the weather.  I’m not saying that I head to the beach on every glorious day, but I certainly have the option to ensure that I don’t go when the weather is wet and gloomy.  The photos I’m going to use on this post are from a visit to Seaham beach in April 2015. The weather forecast was promising, so i left home early with Gareth, dropped him at work and headed to Seaham in torrential rain, oh dear, maybe I had misheard the forecast.  By the time I arrived, the rain had stopped but I couldn’t see any sign of the sunshine I’d been promised.

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I headed down to the beach with my bucket and bag and walked up to the far end. Experience has told me not to go near any possible driftwood hotspots on the way along the beach, I simply can’t resist picking up any pieces that catch my eye and I end up carrying it twice as far.  I’m generally looking for body parts, something I think has the potential to make a good head, curvy arms and legs with feet hanging off the end of them. I do also get distracted by anything I believe to be useful, could I make it into shelf? Is it potential material for a box? Or can I make little podiums to sit my characters on?  The unpleasant thing about collecting driftwood is it tends to gather at the same point as all the rubbish, I’m usually the only one sifting through it all but it doesn’t make sense for me to collect rubbish and driftwood at the same time, I need to concentrate on my task in hand.  I have however signed up to join the team of beach cleaners that sweep the beach as I want to give something back to the place I get my materials from and leave it a better place for others to enjoy.

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After a couple of hours on the beach, I’ve collected about as much as I can carry and the weather is beginning to brighten up, must be time for an ice cream!

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