Knit just any old festival returns to market town

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Who knew that when Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966, that he and the team were wearing stockings made of wool woven in Keighley?

Or that for nearly a century the Australian Cricket Team were literally batting for the other side with their sartorial choice of blazers - made with wool woven at Matthew & Sons in Eastburn?

To say that the woollen industry in Yorkshire was once prolific and of the highest pedigree is an understatement. Yorkshire worsted had the reputation of being the best woven cloth in the world; the first choice for royalty and politicians, as well as ordinary discerning folk.

Nevertheless many factors have affected the fortunes and value of wool over the last 50 years or so, from cheaper imports to synthetic wool replacement fibres. Indeed as many farmers will testify, the price of fleeces fell to being worth less than nothing a few years ago - once the cost of shearing and transportation to the Wool Marketing Board had been factored in. Thankfully however, changes in values, shopping habits and hobbies means that wool is once again back in vogue, and importantly – for certain breeds at least – back in demand.

“I’ve always been passionate about knitting and crocheting,” reveals Emma Sandoe, one of the organisers of this year’s Yarndale Festival. “Over the last few years or so my fellow knit and natter friends and I had started to realise that it wasn’t just us who were mad for all things woolly – there are a huge amount of people out there who share our passion. By the same token however, there aren’t many festivals celebrating wool and its associated crafts within the UK, so we began to realise that there was a gap in the market that we could fill - and Skipton with its long standing links to the woollen industry, felt like the perfect place to start such a festival.”

Yarndale, which is billed as “a creative festival celebrating all things woolly and wonderful”, returns for a second year to Skipton Auction Mart on September 27-28. Nearly 7,000 people visited last year’s event.

“Lots of things are the same as last year, but lots of things are even better,” says Emma. “We’re taking over the whole of the Auction Mart which means lots more space, more exhibitors, many more workshops, a bigger café, and thankfully, more toilets.

“Exhibitors will be bringing an inspiring mix of natural yarns, fibres, haberdashery, kits, books, handmade garments and even animals. This year there will be some alpacas, angora rabbits and rare breed sheep for visitors to meet. Some exhibitors will be demonstrating spinning and weaving too. There’s also a full timetable of workshops taking place in the Mart Theatre covering everything from knitting for beginners, to dry felting, to making silk paper.”

The ‘yarn walk’ which sees decorations on the route through Skipton’s Aireville Park from the railway station will be bigger and brighter, featuring a ‘woolly bike trail’, created by local primary school children. The Auction Mart too will be decorated with over 6,000 triangles of colourful woolly bunting and thousands of crocheted mandalas donated by fans of the festival from all over the world.

Sarah Paul, from Arncliffe, is one of a ‘new breed’ of yarn manufacturers in the Yorkshire Dales, who will be exhibiting at the festival this year. Sarah has about 100 angora rabbits on her farm.

“I started my angora business several years ago but it never took off, however over the last five years pastimes such as knitting and crocheting have become hugely popular again because people enjoy the creative and individual aspect, as well as it being a little bit thrifty. Without a doubt, wool is back in fashion.

With exhibitors from Wharfedale, Littondale, Dentdale, Wensleydale and Ribblesdale attending the festival, it is comforting to know that once again wool has become an important part of our local economy.

Yarndale Festival is held at Skipton Auction Mart on September 27-28. For full details, see www.yarndale.co.uk

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