This past weekend I attended the sheep festival in Kil in Värmland, Sweden. It is an annual event that attracts thousands of visitors. This was the 14th festival. The aim of the festival is to spread knowledge, inspire and facilitate networking with the four legs of the sheep as a foundation – wool, skin, meat and the sheep as a landscape manager.
The sheep organization
The first festival was held in the local industry building in Kil in 2006, but after a few years it had to move to a larger venue. It has since then been held at a local school when the children had their annual sports holiday in the end of February. The festival has grown from just a few hundred visitors the first year to somewhere around 10000 from all over Sweden in 2020. The town of Kil has 12000 inhabitants.
Everyone in Kil is involved in the festival and the preparations run through the whole year. The most significant symbol of the festival is the “tussris” – a bundle of twigs with wads of coloured wool. Every sports team in town is assembling wad twig bundles to decorate the town and the festival. The Red Cross is in charge of the wardrobe, other organizations are handling the entry fee, other volunteers are helping out as hostesses, serving coffee, cooking, serving, building, promoting, housing and literally breathing the festival. In addition to all the volunteers, several families opened their homes to traveling visitors. I stayed with a lovely family who moved out of their bedrooms to accommodate me and three other festival visitors for three nights.
Here is a short clip from the Swedish news from the sheep festival. You can see me and my embroidered backpack around 13 seconds into the clip.
The Golden Ram award
Every year The Golden Ram is awarded someone who is active in some aspect of the sheep. This year the prize was awarded to Fia Söderberg who is the founder of the Swedish wool agency – a digital marketplace where you can buy and sell Swedish wool. She is also the founder and host of the Swedish wool podcast (in Swedish).
While spinning, I listened to Fia’s acceptance speech about how the Swedish wool agency came about. From a frustration over wasted Swedish wool to a flourishing wool market where crafters and sheep owners meet in the name of wool in just a few years. That is quite an achievement and the festival organization couldn’t have picked a more worthy person to receive the award.
Activities on the festival
Around 150 vendors come for the festival, selling yarn, wool, meat, skins, tools for crafting, hand made items and much, much more. Visitors can also take classes, workshops, watch shows and demos and listen to talks about different aspects of sheep and products from sheep.
I didn’t take many photos, but if I had, they still wouldn’t have made the festival justice. But if you wish, you can imagine pictures of yarn, wool, sheep, skins and textiles here.
A knit wizard
I came to the festival with Sara Wolf, who also goes by the alias A knit Wizard, and her husband. Sara is a writer who is working on a book called Knit (spin) Sweden and I assist her with some of the spinning parts. They flew from Boston, landed in Stockholm, rented a car and picked me up on the way. It was lovely to finally meet her. We have had so many conversations about Swedish wool via email and now we could continue that conversation in person. You can read Sara’s blog post about the sheep festival here.
Sara gave me a present that took my breath away. A Turkish spindle. A real Turkish spindle she bought from an antique dealer when she lived in Turkey. It was made around the end of the 19th century.
When I look at the Turkey page in the spindle typology it looks very much like the spindles called Kirman – crossed wings with a short shaft. I need to make myself a shaft for this pearl. It looks just like my modern Jenkins spindles, only a wee bit heavier – this one weighs 93 grams!
Sara had a talk at the festival where she discussed her findings and conclusions about the history of knitting in Sweden. She also described how and why she was looking for Swedish wool. It was a very interesting speech and I became even more proud of being a part of her book.
Eventhough there is a lot of wool to fondle and a beautiful focus on all the aspects of how sheep are so useful to us and to nature, one of the most rewarding things about these kinds of events is meeting people. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much an introvert who takes care not to go to fairs and events with lots of people, but meeting and talking to people one on one gives me so much.
The first person I ran into was the shepherdess Birgitta. Her Härjedal/Åsen crossbred gave me the multicoloured fleece I am currently working on. I had brought a couple of skeins to show her what I had done. After all, I had got Birgitta’s trust to buy the fleece because I would be able to make the fleece justice in a way that no spinning mill would. She was truly happy to see the skeins and cuddle with them.
I met Kari, another lovely shepherdess who is a crafter herself. She won eight medals in the 2019 fleece championships for her Rya, Gotland, Finull, Leicester and landrace crossbred fleeces. She pays close attention to the fleece quality when she decides which animals to pair up for breeding and she obviously gets successful results. I always try to connect with shepherdesses whose fleece buy at the championships auction. For me it is important to show them how I continue with spinning what they have started with the care of their sheep.
A person who has been very important to me when learning about wool is Kia. She has worked for many years as a wool classifier in Norway and she is the one I turn to with wool questions. Every now and then I text her with a wool conundrum and she can always give me a good reply and teach me new things. We haven’t met many times, but we made up for it in Kil as we sat for three hours just talking and having a lovely time in the quiet vendor’s lounge. I bought a loupe from her and I will write more about that in an upcoming post.
I also met lots of other friends of wool. Some who I had met before on other wool events and some who introduced themselves to me and told me how they appreciated my work. Encounters like these always warm my heart. It gives me a feeling of connection and context in this very small world of wool and spinning and lots of inspiration and empowerment to continue my work.
The last day of our visit was the day of the fleece market, and naturally I wanted to grab a good fleece or two. I ended up with four. Fortunately I had brought some vacuum bags for easier transport.
Sara had talked about how she was amazed by Rya wool. I got inspired by that so two half fleeces came home with me, one white and one in grey tones. I bought them from Kari as I knew she would provide really high quality fleeces.
I also found a shepherdess who had the loveliest traditional style Värmland fleeces. After all, we were in the county of Värmland so it would only natural to buy a Värmland fleece. I got two extremely soft fleeces – one in shades of grey and one in rosy brown tones. The ewes were four and six years old and I couldn’t believe how soft they were.
My last fleece was a lovely Åsen fleece in a very light grey with some black tips. Soft, airy and shiny. I had bought fleece from this shepherdess before and I knew I would get good quality from her.
All fleeces have now been washed. It is too cold outside for a fermented suint bath, so I have just washed them in warm water with three rinses, no chemicals added.
All in all it was a wonderful weekend with lots of new inspiration and ideas buzzing in my head. It did take a lot of energy, though, and this past week I have been very tired. When you read this post I have shut out the world and gone to a mini yoga retreat. Over and out.
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