A Night at the Museum

I’ve often stopped and thought about how many fabulous people I’ve met since starting Northern Yarn. And I love the many ways that it happens; a mother buying Bluefaced Leicester socks for her son because he keeps that breed – which in turn leads me to visiting his small holding and meeting those sheep and buying the fleeces. Or wandering around WoolFest and spotting Dodgson Wood’s beautiful Castlemilk Moorits and then talking to Maria about stocking their rare breed wool. Or a customer visiting the shop (Fay from Crochet Circle Podcast) and suggesting I contact the amazing Zoe (IG The Woolist) as she was just finishing her PhD researching the 72 breeds of British sheep. After meeting Zoe I started thinking about organising an evening so Zoe and other inspirational women could talk to as many people as possible and share an insight into their lives. So many people I have been honoured to meet – I love my job!



While I was trying to work out how to hold a woolly evening at the shop – the lovely Caffrina from Lancaster City Museum contacted me and asked whether I’d be interested in working together on an event for the Campaign for Wool’s ‘Wool Week.’ Yes! Yes and I’ve got an idea about what we can do! And the wheels were quickly put into motion. As well as inviting the fascinating speakers, I wanted to try and raise money for our museum, who had almost closed last year. The museum is such an interesting place – I love taking the kids on a quiet Saturday or during half term, it feels like such an escape from the busy life we’re used to. So many of our historic buildings have been under threat recently – I thought we could help in a small way by donating ticket money to the Friends of the Museum.

Thankfully – all our speakers agreed to come and be part of the night! Zoe Fletcher (the Woolist) has just completed a 4 year PhD researching our 72 breeds of sheep – coming from a fashion and textile background as a designer, Zoe has literally put our wool under the microscope to investigate the properties and characteristics of each breed and how they can be used in design. Zoe’s talk was jaw dropping; the depth of her research and they way she presented it was just inspirational. Fibres from each breed had been broken right down so we could see under the microscope how it’s scales lay – then a 1 ply strand of the fibre, raw fleece and a knitted swatch. Zoe has created a database that can be used to narrow down the right breed for the job – promoting British wool and the under valued resource we have all around us. Zoe has drawn illustrations of all the breeds and has the cutest range of cards, posters and decorations. (Zoe also designed our Night at the Museum poster - which was perfect!)


Maria Benjamin from Dodgson Wood talked to us about her life on the farm with her partner John Atkinson, whose family have been farming on the same land for six generations. They raise rare breed sheep and cattle using conservation grazing farming methods and (there are lots of ‘ands’ Maria and John manage to run so many things and do it all so well!) manage National Trust off grid ‘Parkamoor’ Cottage as well another two other eco holiday sites. My friend the very lovely Katherine (fiberandsustenance) and her partner Nick were married at Parkamoor earlier this year and she has just released a pattern for the socks she designed for Nick to wear on the day and has named them ‘Parkamoor’ – check them out!)  

Maria has a background in Fine Arts, Film making and producing and has been farming with John now for four years. Maria spoke to us about the breeds they keep; Castlemilk Moorits (beautiful, deer like sheep) Cheviots, Teeswater (with names like Athena they are just the most gorgeous creatures)  Bluefaced Leicester and I think most recently some Gotland! Maria explained how they have diversified and about the process of setting up The Soap Dairy using the excess milk from their Jersey cow Honeysuckle (heart melts) after she has fed her calves Buttercup and Syrup.

 (definitely melted) The soaps are like works of art themselves and smell beautiful – they make fantastic gifts. Maria has also developed a wool wash made with lanolin and Jersey Milk – I’ve been using it recently and love how it makes the fabric feel after blocking. The Shear Delightwool has always been very popular in the shop, this year’s blend of Castlemilk and BFL is lovely, darker in colour than last year’s clip and so bouncy. 

Maria put me in touch with our next speaker Andrea Meanwell, a shepherdess who runs a hill farm in Cumbria. She has written three books about starting and running a farm and Andrea read poems and excerpts from her books – which was the most perfect way to end the talks. Myself and the audience were captivated with the descriptions of the land, people and animals Andrea described and dealing with joy, sorrow and trauma on the farm. I think I actually stopped breathing when Andrea described being pinned down by a cow who was pounding her head against a rock while her son stood nearby – whose quick thinking helped Andrea get up and to safety. Andrea spoke with sincerity and humour – I could have listened for hours and immediately went and bought all three books! (Photo on right with credit to Amy Bateman)


Andrea's first book ‘A Native Breed’ is currently out of stock but if enough people make requests to the publishers they may print another run! I urge you all to send an email to books@hayloft.eu for interest as I know you’d love to read it. You can order In My Boots here and her latest book Lakelanders – Stories and Poems about living in a Lake District Valley (with a photo of Parkamoor on the cover as Andrea lived very close by) has just been published and mine arrived last week. I am definitely carving out time to sit in front of the fire with this in hand. I will now be able to hear Andrea’s voice as I read!


The event was a sell out and after the speakers had finished everyone milled around the museum. Each speaker had brought goods for us all to look at and buy and it was great to be able to chat to everyone. The museum organised a raffle and we finished off the welcome fizz and beautiful bakes friends had made. I loved organising the event and despite lots of nerves on the day – it couldn’t have gone better. Thank you to all that came, our amazing speakers and the museum for hosting.

We may just have to start planning another one!