Wonderwool Wales makes a triumphant return after pandemic

“It’s great to be back” was the comment that best summed up the feelings of exhibitors and visitors after more than 5,000 people flocked to Wonderwool Wales.

Following a pandemic-enforced absence of two years, the two-day show that celebrates all that’s great about Welsh wool and natural fibres made a triumphant return to the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells.

More than 190 exhibitors packed three halls, with many reporting a virtual sell out of their goods, which ranged from hand dyed yarns and fibre to equipment and quality finished products.

Developed to promote the market for Welsh wool and natural fibres, Wonderwool Wales was first held in 2006 and has grown in scale and popularity alongside a knitting, crochet, felting and textile craft making boom.

A series of Woolschool workshops was well attended and Sheepwalk fashion shows, where exhibitors showed off their wonderful creations, were packed over the weekend.

The wow factor was supplied by a special, eight-metre long exhibition entitled Alice in Wonderwool. The eye-catching, hand crafted interpretation of Alice in Wonderland installation featured an array of captivating characters, all crafted from felt and fibre.

Show regulars, Alex Johnstone and Kathy Smart, joined forces with felting and fibre art friends, including prolific knitter and crochet enthusiast Terry Moncion, to recreate Alice’s dreamland journey and her marvellously wacky tea party. Janna Turner from Flock2Felts was project lead and felting advisor.

The installation was originally made for Wonderwool Wales in 2020, which was postponed due to the pandemic. Alex, Kathy and Janna used the lockdowns to add extra features to the exhibition which was assembled for the first time at this year’s show and what an impression it made.

“We have been working on Alice in Wonderwool on and off for three years and it’s lovely to see the smiling faces of people when they see it,” said Kathy. “They come up and say ‘Wow’. That makes it all worthwhile.”

Janna added: “It’s a first time an installation of this size and type has been delivered and we are all very proud of it. We have been invited to other craft exhibitions and clubs, but nothing has been confirmed yet.”

Alex said: “It was quite emotional and overwhelming when we assembled it for the first time.”

The exhibition and various other fundraising ventures at the show raised £706 for the Wales Air Ambulance and £1,000 for NGO Molotok, a Ukrainian project established 13 years ago by Nataliya Cummings near the border with Belarus, to support young people from disadvantaged rural communities.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the project has become a shelter for more than 100 young people and families fleeing the war.

Nataliya, who now runs Experience Ukraine & Beyond based in Pontrilas, near Hereford, had a stand at the show selling posters and bags printed with the Ukrainian flag for NGO Molotok. She also donated 20% of her profits from hand-spun and handwoven wool rugs and Ukrainian textiles which she sells.

“The response from people has been brilliant,” said Nataliya. “They are donating money, talking to me about Ukraine and supporting in any way they can

“It is wonderful to be raising money for this project that I founded and people are really supportive. I set up a JustGiving page and raised £65,000 in the first week which was overwhelming.”

Another feature of the show was a special exhibition of work created by textiles students and graduates at Coleg Sir Gâr’s Carmarthen School of Art throughout the pandemic.

This exhibition gave visitors an insight into their design process as well as beautiful textile outcomes in knit, weave and mixed media. “People have loved finding out how the exhibits were made,” said Lindsay Williams from the college.

For those seeking creative inspiration, there were demonstrations and have-a-go sessions hosted by exhibitors.

The continuing impact of Covid-19 variants caused the late withdrawal of some exhibitors, as newcomers accounted for about a third of the stands at the show, which was supported by the Wales Cultural Recovery Fund.

The show is organised by an industrious group of five people, including three directors. The main organiser Chrissie Menzies, said: “!t was lovely to be back to some kind of normality.

“We had some amazing feedback from exhibitors and visitors, including an American tour group. They absolutely loved Wonderwool Wales, saying it was the best wool show they had ever been to and they would like to come again. Everything went really well.”

It was first time at the show for Hayley and Nick Dunn from Ducky Darlings, Hognaston, who make hand-dyed yarns inspired by the Derbyshire Dales. “This show puts others to shame,” said Nick. “Everybody is commenting on how good it is. Customers have time and want to listen to what you have to say. We have loved the show.”

Chrissie Crook, from Woolyknit at Diggle, Saddleworth, who sell Warth Mill yarn and 100% wool socks, said: “The show is fabulous, so well organised. We have been really busy and, like many exhibitors I have spoken to, we have nearly sold out.”

Picture captions:

The Alice in Wonderwool exhibition and creators Janna Turner, Kathy Smart and Alex Johnstone.