Kendal Wool Gathering and My First Drop Spindle

Hello to anyone reading this! Welcome to my blog about crochet, yarn and anything else I feel the need to write about. I’m Ceri (pronounced like Kerry) and I am obsessed with yarn.

A couple of weeks ago I convinced my husband, Daz, to drive us both up to Kendal Wool Gathering with the promise of buying him lunch. Kendal Wool Gathering is a small wool festival held in and around the K Village outlet mall in Kendal, a lovely little town in Cumbria. Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera, and I don’t have a smart phone, so I didn’t take any photos. It took us less than an hour to get there (but two hours to get back due to traffic jams). As soon as we arrived I became an overstimulated, hand-flapping, giddy whirlwind of excitement, not least because there were three alpacas casually munching hay in the middle of the shopping centre. I am dangerously obsessed with alpacas, to the point where every time I see one I threaten to kidnap it and have to be dragged away by my husband while he reminds me that we live in a small, upstairs flat and house-trained alpacas are not a thing (I could make them a thing if only I had the chance!).

Anyway, once I’d stroked the alpacas and told them how much I loved them, we wandered around the rooms filled with stalls selling everything woolly. Sheepskin rugs, rare-breed wool sweaters, toy alpacas made of actual alpaca, hand-dyed yarns, spinning wheels, looms, raw fleece, braided wool tops, ornate niddy-noddies, knitting themed jewellery… The wool gathering was well attended, but not crowded, which was a relief. I get very anxious and panicky in busy environments, which is one of the reasons I have never been to any of the larger wool festivals like Yarndale. After forty minutes of looking at woolly stuff I was as overexcited as a toddler on Christmas morning, so we decided that I needed to get away from all the wool for a while to calm down and have something to eat.

On the way out of the shopping centre, we walked through a tent full of pens containing various breeds of sheep (and some chickens) being proudly shown off by their farmers. This is where I discovered the Ouessant breed of sheep and peak excitement occurred. They are miniature sheep that when fully grown are just slightly bigger than corgis. I… just… eeeeeek! There was a black one with curly horns who was bullying one of the others, and the farmer just scooped it up with one hand and told it off, then he said, “There’s hardly anything to them. They are mainly just wool.” Tiny, adorable, living puffs of wool!

After a fried-breakfast-for-lunch and a big mug of tea in the centre of Kendal, I had calmed down enough to make some sensible decisions about what to spend my money on, and, according to Daz, this does not include Ouessant sheep.

My main purchases were due to my husband being wonderful, and an enabler. He had become deeply enamoured by the wool top, or fluff as he called it, that a lot of the stalls were selling. He doesn’t spin, or knit, or crochet, he just loved the feel of the stuff and even contemplated buying a ball of ‘fluff’ just so he could stroke it like a kitten.  When he saw a lady using some of this ‘fluff’ with a drop spindle, he was fascinated and encouraged me to buy a drop spindle of my own, mainly so he’d have an excuse to spend time perusing the ‘fluff’ stalls. I ended up coming away with a hand-turned top-whorl spindle from the Woodland Turnery stall, 100g of undyed Corriedale top and four 25g balls of dyed Corriedale top in plum, midnight purple, chartreuse green and bright turquoise. So much fluff!

My first attempt at drop spindling was frustrating. I dropped the spindle a lot and ended up making something that was almost yarn, but alternated erratically between sock weight and super chunky.

My first, very lumpy, attempt at handspun yarn.
My first very lumpy attempt at handspun yarn.

The lady who was spinning in Kendal had made it look so easy. I joked to my mum that it would probably take me a year to spin enough yarn for one sock. I hadn’t counted on how addictive drop spindling can be though. After an hour of practice, suddenly the technique clicked and I started producing fairly consistent thin yarn. At 5am I was still awake, still spinning and listening to podcasts about drop spindling with an almost full spindle of yarn.

The next day I woke up and drop spindled from breakfast onwards. Every mug of tea I made went cold before I remembered to drink it. I spun pretty much all day.  Less than two days after I first picked up, and dropped, my spindle, I had plied together two spindles full of hand-spun singles, wound it into my first skein.  I was ridiculously proud of it, and kept showing it to Daz as though I was showing off a prize vegetable, although I think he preferred it when it was fluff. After a week of drop spindling every evening in front of the telly, I had spun enough yarn to make a shawl. My handspun varied in thickness between sock weight and aran, but the unevenness adds to its charm. I chose to make the shawl using a 5mm hook and a simple, open stitch pattern so the yarn would go further and the focus would be the yarn rather than the pattern. I forgot to measure or weigh all of the balls of yarn I spun, but if I estimate based on the skeins I did remember to measure, the shawl took about 175g of wool, which was about 350 metres.

My drop spindle and some of my hanks of hand spun yarn.
My drop spindle and some of my hanks of hand spun yarn (there was about twice this amount by the time I started crocheting).
The finished shawl pinned out on a towel to dry..
The finished shawl pinned out on an old towel to dry. Can you spot the mistake in the stitch pattern that it’s too late to re-do?
Finished shawl draped over the back of the sofa.
Finished shawl draped over the back of the sofa.

I had planned to take the shawl out into the countryside around our home and take some nice arty, rural shots of it, but it hasn’t stopped raining all week. Instead I’ve photographed it on our red sofa, which really doesn’t show the colours of the shawl well at all. I did put too much twist in some of the yarn during the learning process, so there are areas of the shawl that feel quite rough and rope-like, but this has improved after a wash with mild shampoo and hair conditioner (I had no wool wash or fabric conditioner!) and some aggressive wet blocking. I am really pleased with how the shawl turned out, and I will definitely be wearing it now that the weather is getting cold.

Now I keep finding myself window shopping on the internet for different types of drop spindles, colourful fibres, and even spinning wheels. Just think of all the money I could save on yarn if I spin it all myself… especially if I get some tiny, adorable sheep and an alpaca or two. Surely the neighbours couldn’t object to me grazing them on the communal grassy area in front of the flats…

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