Edinburgh Yarn Festival

I wrote this post a couple of months ago and let it percolate.

For the last few years, I’ve been rather enviously reading the accounts of people who have visited Edinburgh for the Yarn Festival. This year, I waited anxiously, my fingers hovering over the keyboard as the classes opened for booking. In a frenzy of clicking, I managed to score places on Woolly Wormhead’s Advanced Grafting class and Tom of Holland’s Darning class. After the adrenalin had calmed down, I realised that I had managed to book classes, neither of which involved knitting needles. Still, they were both subjects I was keen to master.

One advantage of booking classes is that you get early access to the marketplace. I would later discover quite how much of an advantage this is. I had three nights away on my own – a rare occurrence. After a recommendation from a friend, I booked into a Premier Inn Hub. Tiny room, barely more than a bed, loo and shower, but quite enough when all I needed was somewhere to sleep and store my knitting things.

I had originally been planning to go up for the Thursday marketplace, but work commitments meant I couldn’t leave until lunchtime so I got to Edinburgh early evening on Thursday. I hadn’t been able to get tickets for any of the evening stuff, so I headed out to find somewhere to eat, armed with a list of good places to eat from a local who was, sadly, away that weekend. An excellent Mexican meal within 5 minutes walk of my hotel suited me just fine. Eating alone in restaurants is not really something I’m used to, but I was armed with a good book on the kindle and also enjoyed a sneaky bout of people-watching.

The next day, I went out bright and early to find a bus. Living out in the sticks as I do, the buses are infrequent and very basic. I was somewhat charmed by the phone app that told me exactly where the next bus was and which bus-stop to head for. Getting on the bus and finding that there’s a screen saying which the next stop is was almost too futuristic. I got over it.

The closer we got to the Corn Exchange, the more people sporting scarves and shawls, hats, gloves and sweaters got onto the bus. I don’t know what the non-knitters thought, but I did see a few raised eyebrows. It was lovely to find myself among my tribe.

My previous experience of large yarn-based events is that there is always a great deal of queuing involved at the beginning of the day. This time was different. After only 5 minutes in the early access queue I was into the marketplace. The selection of vendors was amazing. A combination of well-known brands and yarns from lots of different areas. I only had an hour before my first class, so I did a quick recce round to see what was there and did a bit of shopping for someone who had asked for yarn.

Advanced grafting was my first class. I’ve followed Woolly’s patterns for years and did her hat design class about 6 years ago. A while back, she wrote that she was planning a book on grafting, but she moved in a different direction and decided not to. All this means that I was very pleased to see this as a topic on the class list.  Armed with a bag of swatches and some snacks I was ready to go. Inevitably, there were a couple of people who seemed not to have read the pre-requisites for the course, or done any prep. Must have been rather annoying for Woolly, but she was very understanding. We had been warned that the material was quite heavy going.  For me, as in many learning situations, the theory side of it was very clear and easy to grasp but implementing the practical proved more of a challenge. I did manage some passable grafts of some bottom to top ribbing during the class and have done some more since then. Woolly’s teaching was as excellent as expected and the take-home notes were really high quality. One challenge we were left with was finding a way to do a perfect graft on top to top ribbing. This is almost certainly mathematically impossible, but I think I’ve found a work-around for 1×1 ribbing that looks pretty good. More on this in a later post. After three hours, I was pretty exhausted.

Coming out of the class, I discovered that the event was now flooded with people and it was much more of a scrum to get to all the stalls. I picked up a couple of things I’d seen earlier and spent a very long time at Ysolda’s bookshop, including a nice sit-down and knit at a handy sofa. While I was installed in the window seat, in the other 5 seats were a constantly revolving selection of nationalities. EYF is a very international festival.

After a couple more hours I was peopled out so I headed back to the city and went for a wander round. It was bitterly cold, but it had been about 20 years since I was last in Edinburgh so I was determined to see some of the sights. I wandered up and down the Royal Mile, across to Princes Street and back again, making my Fitbit very pleased if nothing else. The downstairs area at the hotel was periodically occupied by groups of knitters, but my knitting time never seemed to coincide with theirs.

On Saturday I had no classes, but I did have an early access ticket so I went over to the festival to take advantage of that before it got too crowded. My aim for the morning was to buy yarn. I didn’t have anything specific in mind and didn’t want to spend too much, but wanted to get something I couldn’t normally find. I ended up with some Jill Draper yarn that matches my new handbag. I can’t give any more details as it has been spirited away ready for my birthday.

I got the bus back into town and looked for a non-chain restaurant to eat in. I found a delightful place described as a ‘Scottish Restaurant’. A starter of haggis, neeps and tatties was good, but weird that the food was served in quinelles – doesn’t quite fit the image of down-to-earth Scottish cooking. I spent a couple of hours at the National Museum of Scotland, which was awesome. I suspect we will be returning to Edinburgh with the kiddies before too long. One advantage of travelling without kids is that when I found something boring, I could move on and when I was fascinated by something no-one was nagging me to leave.  After the museum I found some second-hand bookshops in Old Town. It was St Patrick’s day, so the number of people out drinking was very high. At one point a rather drunk Irishman burst into the bookshop I was in. “I f-ing love Harry Potter and I need a copy right now”.  Marvellous! Fortunately there were plenty of copies to be had so he went away happy.

It snowed on and off all day on the Saturday, never laying, but very cold indeed. Sunday morning, I woke to discover that the snow had lain overnight and was about an inch deep. Now I’d accidentally booked a train home a couple of hours earlier than I’d originally intended so my plan for Sunday was quite precise. I also had only one pair of shoes with me (thus leaving more room in my case for yarn) and they weren’t shoes with grips. The day was looking quite interesting.

While I was out the previous day, I’d found an episcopal  church with an 8am service down the road from the hotel, so I went along. Probably a good thing I did as there were only four of us there ( and two of those were the priest and verger). Somewhat breathless after a service said at breakneck speed, I headed out for the bus, sliding my way along, towing my case and wondering why I had bought such heavy books. My class was at one of the other venues: The Water of Leith Centre. Tom of Holland was utterly charming and an excellent teacher. We learned two types of darning: swiss darning (aka duplicate stitch) and stocking darning. This is the first time I’ve really managed an accurate swiss darn. I have a big pile of socks needing mending (most of which belong to DH rather than me) so I will have plenty of opportunity to practise both sorts.

Despite the snow, the buses ran fine and (helped by my new favourite app) I was able to duck out of the class and jump straight onto a bus. I made it back to Waverley in time for lunch before my train home. At Durham a young woman got on the train carrying a kitten and sat at my table. The kitten was maybe 3 months old and not in a basket. It behaved impeccably, spending some time on the shoulders of its owner and some looking out of the window. Adorable: no cat I’ve ever had could have been trusted not to cause chaos on a train.

So, what did I get?

  • The Jill Draper yarn mentioned above
  • Bristol Ivy’s book: Knitting outside the box
  • The new book on cables from Jen Arnall-Culliford, along with some Socks Yeah DK and a project bag to go with it.
  • Some flexible blocking wires
  • Wooden buttons to go on my Catkin shawl
  • Wensleydale locks in all the shades of green I could find  in the pick and mix bin
  • Some recorder sheet music from the second-hand bookshop

If I get the chance I’ll definitely go again to EYF, although hopefully I’ll be able to persuade someone to go with me.