Woolfest June 2019 Cockermouth Cumbria, UK.

Caucasian Shirvan ‘banded’ kilim. Wool. 3.50m x 1.60m

My first experience of Woolfest in the Lake District was overwhelmingly positive.
As a first-time trader I was initially apprehensive even though I had visited Cockermouth a couple of years previously, more about that bizarre experience later…
I stopped en route at a pleasant campsite that afforded tranquil evening views across the shores of Morecambe Bay.
Morcambe Bay Camping

Early the next morning I headed up the coast via Barrow-in –Furness. A short detour into the hills brought me to picturesque Loweswater Lake and village where I stopped and made a roadside brew. A walker appeared, an athletic young fellow busy bagging peaks who happily recounted his route that morning before tearing off to scale a few more. As I sipped my tea I realised my expedition was only just beginning. Today I would set up, tomorrow I would trade.
The venue was at Mitchell’s modern cattle market, a huge covered area on the edge of the town, with metal stalls opening to the elements at the back.
Setting up was frenetic, the dusty car park at the rear full of ant-like teams of people desperately carrying in all manner of goods, display paraphernalia and even live animals that would be bedded down overnight. I would be exhibiting beside handmade wool-related merchandise and countless displays showing artisans spinning, weaving and trading wool ranging from the raw material, different yarns and lovingly crafted artefacts such as clothing and all manner of visual art.
When I finally pitched my tent next to the van at the back of the car park I was more than ready for a long sleep.
Trading at Woolfest is not difficult because most people, traders and visitors alike, are enthusiasts. They are keen to learn about animals and wool-related crafts

Alpaca Woolfest

The event celebrates animals, those who care for them and products derived from their wool.

Lakai Felt suzani robe
Vintage Central Asian ‘Lakai’ Felted Saddle rug and antique ‘suzani’ silk needlework up-cycled woman’s robe

Stallholders share their passions with each other and visitors.
Live music comes from fiddle and harp in the background blending with a general hubbub emanating from human and animal throats all around. Close your eyes and imagine that you have gone back in time to a different century… or even millennia!
I was taught to spin with a drop-spindle, using some Alpaca wool that I had been given by a client previously.
drop spindle

This was the highlight of the event for me because I use hand spun wool made in this way to restore the old tribal weavings that have been made by nomadic cultures for centuries. Shepherds spin with drop spindles as they walk tending their flocks. It was fascinating to be able to physically and emotionally examine the process ‘hands-on’!
The show was a moderate financial success for me, which was what I’d hoped for as a new trader, and I recommend a visit to anyone who wants a thoroughly inspiring day out. I hope to attend next year if only to meet more shaggy South American quadrupeds.

alpacas Woolfest 2019

Finally, I first visited Cockermouth a few years ago to attend Mitchell’s Antique Auction House in the centre of the town. Unaware of the true nature of the sale that was about to take place I managed to grab an early breakfast in The Trout Hotel dining room at the end of the main street, attended by what I assumed to be the great and the good of the local area. In fact these other diners appeared at the auction later that morning having rested in 4 Star beds overnight whilst I had been driving through the night, from London via Plymouth, to get to the auction.
The place was crammed with people excited at what was clearly quite an exceptional collection of artefacts, mostly originating from one deceased estate. All manner of exquisite objects were sold that day including modern studio pottery made by Dame Lucy Rie, woollen felted textiles made by Mary Burkett and also some obscure tribal textiles including one in particular which I was lucky enough to purchase that day:

Saryk Kejebe torba
This Saryk Torba, circa 1800. 43cm x 123cm, with wool, cotton and silk on a goat hair foundation, exhibits a ‘kejebe’ design: an anthropomorphous figure within an arch. This symbolism is closely linked to the wedding ceremony ( the decorative hanging being used to adorn the new bride’s camel on the day of the wedding procession), but its exact significance is still a mystery. Early Saryk kejebe trappings such as this choice example are some of the rarest pieces among Turkmen collector’s rugs. Essential design elements have been picked out in white cotton while lustrous ruby silk provides highlights in the pile. The colours only develop their full glow in bright sunlight. – This Saryk trapping is from the estate of the British textile scholar and passionate collector, Mary Burkett, a world authority on Central Asian feltwork. The Director of the Abbot Hall art gallery in Kendal, Cumbria, for many years, she brought back the trapping from one of her adventurous journeys in Iran.

The reason why this particular weaving attracted me is quite simple, it looked just like one that I’d seen in one of my first reference books on antique rugs from around the world that I was given by my father. There is a picture of an almost identical Saryk torba that was part of a famous collection. I was lucky enough to remember this fact when I saw a rather blurred image of Mary Burkett’s torba online. She went to Turkey and Iran with a fellow female traveller by Land Rover (These adventures were published: The Beckoning East. 2006) and subsequently held an exhibition of Turkoman weavings at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendall in 1971.

Mary Burkett’s deceased estate was a testament to an extraordinary life working within and supporting the Arts.


I was unaware of Mary’s legacy when I initially walked through the auction house door. Needless to say, that day was seminal in my progress as an enthusiastic collector and dealer of tribal weavings.
Woolfest has also fed my appetite to learn more about how such wonderful things are created by talented folk across the fertile lands of our very special but fragile planet.

My next event: