A week ago the temperature dropped. The mercury didn’t gently slip down a few degrees, allowing my limbs to acclimatise to autumn; instead it tumbled off a sharp cliff. As it’s only early October, I refuse to put the central heating on. Instead I’ve resorted to my tried-and-tested cold busting method: jumpers, cardigans and socks.
Wool is my first (and second) line of defence against the cold and I suspect I’m not alone. In recent years, around about this time, the Campaign for Wool organises national Wool Week to highlight the numerous possibility of this traditional fibre. Events and exhibitions are organised in London and Edinburgh, but also as far afield as the Shetland Islands. There are workshops to pick up new skills and, of course, plenty of opportunity to buy wool, one of which presented itself to me.
Out of the blue I won a ticket to attend the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. I was in two minds about going. On the one hand, I dislike shopping and department stores so the thought of a venue with hundreds of stands and thousands of dawdling shoppers didn’t set my heart racing. On the other hand, I like to support small independent British wool producers and as many of these only sell via the Internet, knitting fairs are the only way to meet them and get a feel for their yarns. Also, I’ve always wanted to visit ‘Ally Pally’, the Victorian entertainment palace in North London and younger sister to the destroyed Crystal Palace south of the river.
So on Thursday I trained it to North London and marched up the hill to the People’s Palace. Despite the grey day the views to the City, Docklands and beyond to Shooters Hill in South London were superb.
I entered via the Palm Court and was ushered on towards the Great Hall. It was a vast space filled with stalls numbered in a way that was logical and baffling at the same time. Fortunately I had come prepared. Out came my list, well three short ones. The first listed names of half a dozen producers and their stall numbers; the second was a list of yarns I wanted to look at and note down colour codes for; and the third was a shortlist of yarns that I might treat myself to.
My first port of call was Eden Cottage Yarns’ colourful stand. This Yorkshire-based producer stocks wonderfully soft British yarns, including some she dyes herself at home. These hand-dyed fibres range from subtle oyster, pearl and celadon… shades through to stunning jewel-like garnets, amethysts and emeralds. I jotted down some colour codes for future reference and bought a couple of skeins of a warm grey 4-ply, spun from Bluefaced Leicester and silk, and a sock pattern.
I then strolled around the Toft Alpaca stall to check out the crocheted animals. I have wanted to make one for my niece for some time but was still toying between the pig, cat and donkey. Whilst trying to find my bearings, I happened upon the Purl Alpaca stand and admired the sample cardigans, tops and coats, fully realising that these garments are aspirational rather than practical.
Baa Ram Ewe was one of the main reasons for visiting the show and it didn’t disappoint. I had read a lot of good things about Titus 4-ply, the flagship yarn of this small Yorkshire company. Spun from Wensleydale, Bluefaced Leicester and Alpaca the yarn is not only incredibly soft and warm, it also has a wonderful lustre and drape thanks to the long curly fibres of the Wensleydale sheep. These characteristics were demonstrated beautifully by the sample knits that graced the stand. I settled on a single skein in a delicate blue-green colour for a pair winter socks, but shall definitely use this yarn when I knit myself a dark long-line cardigan to replace my dressy black one, which is on its last legs.
I swung by a couple more stands to note down colour codes and browse pattern books but by this stage, I’d had enough of the heat, bright lights, crowded space and excess choice, so I left. I suspect I didn’t enter into the true spirit of the show. Sticking to a list probably meant I missed out on some delightful discoveries but I’m totally fine with that.
Apart from being a relaxing pastime, knitting is a key tool in my quest for a lower-impact wardrobe. It allows me to re-stock based on my needs rather than to be dictated to by the fashion industry; it offers me a degree of control over the supply chain and labour conditions associated with my garments; and as hand-knitting takes time, it’s a great antidote to fast fashion. By limiting my choice to a handful of independent producers who believe in local products as well as a local supply chain and who take a real delight in designing timeless garments suited to the characteristics of local yarns, I can knit with joy and purpose rather than be sucked into yet another industry that aims to relegate us to mindless consumers.