Friday, 21 December 2018

Midwinterwol - A Dutch Festival of Fibre

As BG and I approached the first stall at Midwinterwol, I wished I had made the effort to learn at least a few words of Dutch. Not that we had any blank or reproachful looks, time and again, exhibitors, traders and other visitors smiled away my apologies and greeted us in English.
Many were surprised we even knew about their fibre festival and curious as to why we had travelled all the way from Wales to the north of Holland. In truth, the trip was inspired by our friend Jill Shepherd, aka Wrigglefingers, who is the small spinning teacher pictured here attempting to hide behind a silk handkerchief. Jill has been leading workshops at Midwinterwol for some years and earlier in 2018, tried to explain to us why she keeps returning to the town of Winschoten, how lovely the Dutch people are and what great fun this national event is, though it isn't run on the epic scale of Wonderwool Wales. Recklessly abandoning our Christmas preparations, BG and I decided to pack our bags, leave home and find out for ourselves.

The journey looked daunting, but the Dutch rail system was very easy to navigate. Arriving late on Friday night, the comfortable and exceptionally friendly Hotel Royal York was immediately opposite the station with a vintage bus service laid on to take visitors to the Manege de Dollard, a complex of stables which has one big ring given over to the Midwinterwol festival. As we hovered in the entrance, though the show didn't look huge, it turned out to be packed with interest and the Saturday proved barely long enough for us to see everything.
There were raw fleeces and washed, carded batts of wool from Dutch breeds of sheep. Zwartbles and Texel were familiar, as there are flocks living in the UK, others were completely strange. Happily, the traders were small farm producers keen to share their understanding of the breeds, well informed about handspinning the fleece and generous with their knowledge.
As well as several stalls selling raw, carded, handspun and millspun Dutch alpaca yarn, I met three of the most charming and sympathetic alpacas who ever toured a showground. Despite the miserable state of sterling, prices in euros were very reasonable and it would have been rude to go home without buying some deliciously fluffy alpaca in at least a couple of natural colours.
There were weavers and felters aplenty, showing and selling looms, bags, hats and braidwork. 
I bought considerable quantities of indie dyed silk and wool tops with a view to making more wet felted soaps and needlefelted fairies. Maria was busy demonstrating weaving yet still made time in her break to explain how she had felted her fabulous boots.
It was cold enough in the stables to make her layers of woollen footwear very wise, so cold in fact, that BG and I had to pop in for regular cups of coffee by the fire. Then eat chips with mayonnaise for lunch. Back into the fray of the show ring, I shopped for three skeins of Pelsuld yarn, spun from the summer wool of lustrous Gotland sheep.
The natural, multi-toned grey Gotland base made these purple and green skeins sing out to me. Hand painted porcelain stitch markers from Spolletjes were obviously the perfect souvenir of our trip to Holland. Chatting away about life in the UK while I tried to decide whether to choose a design of windmills or tulips, the maker let me buy one packet, then gave me the other as a gift.
Such extraordinary generosity of spirit did not end with the show. On Sunday, new friends and fellow wool enthusiasts Joop and Riet drove us out to see a Dickensian Christmas Market in the nearby town of Beerte. Snow had fallen as if on cue, a choir sang carols, we ate hot apple doughnuts and shopped for round Oldampt cheeses and smoked eels.
On Monday, BG and I just about managed to drag our bulging suitcases on and off the trains back to Amsterdam Centraal Station, taking a quick look at the Christmas lights before the last leg of our journey home. I have now learned a few words of Dutch, ready for Midwinterwol 2019 - dank je veel.


  1. Hans van Ee & Gerrie de Gans21 December 2018 at 20:31

    We knew that Jill would bring some friends, but unfortunately we didn't met. It's great to hear you enjoined our Midwinterwol wool show. Hope to see you at our 10th Midwinterwol anniversary! Hans & Gerrie (Midwinterwol organizers).

    1. We loved it - dank je veel and hope to meet you next year :)

  2. Nice to read that your liked and bought some of our yarns from Gotlandsheep

    1. They are already being knitted - I lost track of where I had bought them, thanks for writing - I will look out for your stand next year.

  3. You're most welcome!