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Posted | by The Knitting Magpie

Christmas in Yarningale Wood

Do you believe in Magic? Because here at KnitIQ HQ we are great believers in magic! As yarny crafters don't we turn sticks and string into things of beauty made with love?

In the spirit of all things filled with seasonal magic we have collaborated with our friend The Knitting Magpie to bring you a seasonal tale featuring her home & friends in Yarningale Wood, plus a little insight into yarn alchemy. We prescribe ten minutes uninterrupted you time, a large mug of hot chocolate and a suspension of thoughts of troubles and strife...

Zelda looked down from her favourite branch in Yarningale Wood where she sat perched with some of her pals. "I just don't understand what they are talking about" she mused to Tita the Red Squirrel who was currently sat next to her. "I've never fitted in with them but since they came back from Fairy Business College all they talk about is profit margins and who is going to win this years Fairy's Have Talent competition"! The Christmas fayre is only two weeks away and we have so much to do if we are going to be ready.

"You're not going to fit in" replied Tita, "we've talked about this. You are a Sprite therefore you have a different perception to them. You also remain dedicated to the traditional ways of our yarn alchemy despite being closer to them in age".

Zelda hopped down, her dark hair tinged with red. She looked down at herself. She favoured flippy wool dresses with chunky boots and hand-knitted long socks. The fairy crew drifted about in gauzy knit frocks and lacework wraps. Even now, in December when the wind bit, they dressed as if for midsummer. She sighed, waved goodbye to Tita and calling to Lila, her ever present fox companion, while wandering down to the riverside.

Lila wrinkled her nose as they arrived down by the water. Like all foxes her sense of smell was very acute, being an albino it was even more sensitive and something didn't smell quite right. She kept quiet although resolving to investigate later when Zelda was asleep.

If she mentioned it now there would be no peace as Zelda went off investigating. Zelda always meant well but she rarely considered the consequences of her actions in advance.

Meanwhile Zelda continued to ponder why she was so different. They were all part of the woodland family after all. She always got on better with the elders and the woodland creatures than those of her own age. She shrugged and resolved to make a bit more effort with the cool fairy crew.'Note to self' she thought with an impish grin, 'must stop rolling eyes'.

Continuing on her way with Lila they waved at two of the river otters in the shallows. Lila noticed the twitch of their whiskers and answered in kind, promising to return later.

Entering a clearing, Zelda stopped and inhaled deeply. Looking around her she took in the flowers and herbs as far as her eyes could see. This was where the magic, or alchemy, happened and she never ever tired of visiting.

The Alchemists were special, a mix of woodland folk and creatures who spoke the language of flora and fauna. They would mix the dyes for the yarn that those of Yarningale and their favoured mill spun and dyed for sale. Each mix was carefully selected, even for those yarns not yet with a home in mind. There was no point in mixing flowers with totally opposing power no matter how beautiful the resulting colour.

Rika's Gift

Zelda remembered when she was a little younger. She had begged Wol to teach her the basics. She was always eager to learn and Wol the Owl, who lead the Alchemists, liked to teach. They had talked about the meaning of the flowers and herbs and Wol stressed their power.

As well as dyes the Alchemists mixed tinctures and where appropriate a tiny drop could be added to the yarn dye, but only where its final home was known. Usually, however, more generic mixes were added to yarns depending on what was happening in the world. Mixes to promote happiness or peace were staples.

Zelda had always been fascinated by Wol’s passion and knowledge, and he promised to teach her some mixes if she agreed to study hard and respect the power of the plants. She agreed immediately and eagerly began reading all the books and watched Wol as he worked. She had a very good memory, but also a tendency to skim over things she deemed unimportant.

One afternoon she had taken herself off to a quiet spot and begun to experiment. She had picked yellow wild rose and red salvia to blend the perfect cheerful orange, adding some lemon balm and rosemary. She had spent the afternoon extracting their precious oils and putting them carefully into a carrier base to dilute them as she'd been shown.

Sniffing gently, she could almost taste the blend and it worked beautifully. Taking the flower heads from the drying racks, she went to visit Mia & Zorro. This brother and sister were exotic wildcats and known throughout the woods as the ones to visit if you wanted delicate yarn beautifully dyed by hand - or in this case paw. Mia was delicate of feature with fine silver fur and emerald green eyes. Zorro was muscular and handsome, his fur was the colour of caramel, his topaz yellow eyes framed by a black fur mask hence his given name.

They greeted Zelda warmly and she explained she was learning from the Alchemists. She went on to say she had two precious skeins of British Gotland yarn that she had saved for and bought ready to give to Rika for her birthday.

Rika was the woodland elder. No one knew where she had initially come from or how old she was. She could speak many languages and her fine boned features were crowned by silver hair worn cropped. Her eyes too were a silver grey and she moved with lupine grace.

The cats helped Zelda seep the mix of petals and foliage and soon the orange she had envisaged appeared. Mia's green eyes regarded her steadily before asking for assurance that she had not mixed any oils unsupervised for this gift. Zelda crossed her fingers in the pocket of the ivy green wool dress and said not. She had been going to ask Wol, but he had been busy, and she knew that rosemary and lemon balm were used in cooking together, so would be fine. A few drops were reverently added to the mix and the yarn took on a beautiful orange hue.

The following day, and once the yarn had dried, she carefully wound it into skeins tying a sprig of rosemary into one and lemon balm into the other.

A little later, Zelda joined other woodland folk in a small clearing by the river where they usually gathered for celebrations. It was hidden from eyes of human folk walking their dogs or fishing. An ideal spot. She watched as Rika received gifts created in the main by the folk giving them.

Her friend Tita had made Rika a beautiful bracelet from intricately woven pieces of coloured leather. As well as making the bridles for the woodland ponies and horses she mixed her leatherwork skills with sewing to create wonderful yarn storage and project bags. Wol and the Alchemists presented her with a small glass carafe of a tincture that seemed to glow like perfect rose quartz. When they were asked, it was explained that the secret mix kept loved ones in your heart when they were no longer present.

One gift was not created by those gifting it, it was a wrap made from prettily coloured yarns. The fairy 'cool' girl group excitedly told Rika they had bought it from crafters they had met on their business course, as they were just starting out, they wanted to support them. Rika thanked them and praised their kindness. But Zelda noticed a slight frown on her face as she folded the gift.

Finally, it was Zelda’s turn. She explained how Wol and the others had helped her get the alchemy right to create this vibrant orange shade and that the wildcat siblings had aided her with the dye. Rika took the yarn from her and smiled as she noted the herbs wrapped with it. Her hands shook a little as she placed it gently by her side.

When the celebrations ended at dusk and everyone bade goodnight, Rika signalled to Zelda to wait while she was still in conversation with Wol. Zelda felt a warm glow as she saw Rika show Wol the yarn she has so carefully prepared.

After she had finished talking to Wol, she came over to Zelda and began walking with her. She asked what mix she had put into the dye, and Zelda enthused about the wild yellow roses, red salvia, and the essence from the herbs. Rika looked at her kindly but uncompromisingly:

"You told Mia & Zorro that one of the alchemists had supervised the mix. Wol tells me they wouldn’t have allowed this, because the yellow rose can symbolise jealousy. When mixed with the red of the salvia which means 'forever mine' plus the combined essences you used that mean sympathy and remembrance, the feeling from the yarn was one of darkness and yearning. Not, I imagine, what you were aiming for with such a cheerful colour".

Zelda gazed at her aghast. Rika went on to explain that the power came from the combination, not the individual components. Zelda promised that in the future she would take heed and ask for guidance.

The next day, Wol and the cats helped Zelda make a new mix. The orange was a little less vibrant, but switching the salvia for oak leaved red geranium - meaning true friendship - and the lemon balm for dill – meaning protection - the powers were balanced. Stroking the new yarn Rika smiled. The aura from the yarn was now one of warmth and safety.

A Mystery Unfolds

Since then, Zelda had kept her word and studied hard. And this year she had been entrusted to help mix some of the dyes to be used for Christmas. Wol and the seniors remained in charge of the custom blends, but she helped mixing some of the dyes with alchemy essence that would be placed for sale at the Yarningale Wood Christmas Fayre. She was brimming over with ideas and couldn't wait. She was even allowed to be manning her own stall.

But today Zelda felt tired. She had a tendency to introspection and thinking over her younger foolhardy escapades, which left her drained. She decided on an early night and snuggled down with her sketch pad under her woollen throws and a hot chocolate drink laced with red chilli on the nightstand.

Once Zelda was asleep, Lila slipped out of the cottage and went down to the river where she had seen the otters earlier. Her bright white coat and bushy tail were reflecting the moonlight. When she found the otters, they explained that the fish appeared drowsy and were too easy to catch. And even though they still ate them, the taste had changed. It was now somehow sweeter.

Lila asked how long this had been noticeable and they said it was since the new dyes had been in use up at the fairy glen. Lila was puzzled, she had heard nothing from the others about new dyes. She promised to see what she could find out and would report back. As she made her way up to the glen, a shiver ran up her spine as she remembered one of the beaver kits that had died just a few weeks ago. Nothing the Alchemists had prescribed could help save it.

Lila got to the glen a little before midnight when routinely the fairies retired leaving the woods to the nocturnals of the family. Slipping into the fairies dyeing room she stopped dead. She had been expecting to see the area filled with dried flowers and foliage ready for the Christmas colours to be used this week. Instead, there were large canisters alongside the yarn. On closer inspection, Lila could see it was also not the yarn they usually used. Their yarn was always spun in the traditional manner at a coastal mill. This yarn, however, had an uneven weave and did not look as if it would take dye uniformly.

Lila turned. She needed to talk to Wol and Rika. She didn't know yet what was happening, but she was fairly sure it wasn’t right. Looking up she found her way barred by two very large, very unfriendly looking weasels.

Lila stiffened, the fur around her neck creating a ruff as her hackles raised. One side of her lip involuntary curled as she took in the sight of the two weasels by the door. The larger of the two addressed her: "Good evening Miss, may I ask what your business is here?". Lila blinked in surprise at his cultured voice and polite manner.

She replied that she had come to check on the progress of the yarns being dyed that were due to be delivered in the morning and hadn't realised quite how late it was. As none of the fairy folk were still about, she would return the following day.

Lila held her breath as the weasels appraised her. Eventually, after a nod from the spokesman, the smaller of the two held the door open for her to leave. Lila slipped through but thought she noticed a slight narrowing of his eyes as she left.

The Christmas Fayre

Zelda awoke before dawn, full of excitement for the day ahead. Today everyone would work together to ensure the wood was ready for the first of the Fayres this evening. She remembered her awe when she was younger at how the energy from the visitors made everything just that little bit more special as Christmas drew closer. Zelda had been puzzled about the mix of visitors, humans from all over the world, woodland dwellers from far and wide and some visitors who appeared to come straight from other worlds completely.

Rika had explained that Yarningale had a special property to it and as such granted access to its annual Fayres to anyone who truly believed in the magic of craft. Because of this, the wood could be entered from local habitat and no visible distinction would be apparent between visitors. When Zelda still looked confused Rika smiled and further explained that no person or being would be expected to comprehend something they could not explain to themselves. Therefore, a Sprite may well see a human in their usual form and accept it without question, a less fey human though may see a fairy in 'human' form instead of their true image. Zelda thought she understood but did ask why everyone couldn’t just accept that not all were the same and celebrate their individuality? Rika smiled at her naivety and said it would indeed be wonderful if this were to happen.

Shaking off her thoughts Zelda dressed quickly in one of her favoured dresses and added jewel coloured long stripy socks, one of two pairs knitted for her last birthday by Mia. Zorro had dyed the yarns with a secret mix of dye and a tincture prepared by the Alchemists. Despite her repeatedly asking, they smilingly refused to give up their secrets. But Zelda knew that whenever she wore these socks she felt loved and as if she could achieve anything. She saved the second pair with a scarlet berry intarsia trim for the upcoming evening.

Noticing the door unlocked and that Lila was missing she surmised that she had left early to start preparations for the grand opening. On reaching the clearing, she smiled at seeing the nocturnals had set up the stalls ready for stocking, and Wol’s owl family had strung tiny garlands of evergreen and berries between branches which gave off a wonderful scent. Zelda knew that once the first visitors began to arrive, fireflies would dance among the branches adding to the magic.

Zelda’s yarns had been carefully stored at home for the last week and she was very proud of them. She had been allowed to choose some of her favourite wool from individual farmers to dye. Zelda had made a point over the last year of getting to know these farmers and their flocks. She always thanked the sheep for their fleeces and promised to let them know in the coming weeks how the yarns were received by the visitors.

As far as she and the traditionalists were concerned, this was an important step in the process of yarn alchemy. You had to start with raw ingredients that had come from a place of love and respect, or the finished product would be tainted. In some ways it was like cooking she mused, her late grandmother had taught her - along with passing on a love of all things yarny - that cooking in anger or haste would taint the finished dish. Also, the ingredients should be the best you can afford as three well thought out and cared for ingredients would produce a far tastier dish than six ingredients developed without care.

Shaking herself out of her reverie she noticed Lila huddled with Wol, Rika and the wildcat siblings. She danced over to them excitedly, not noticing their strained expressions. By tacit consent, they did not voice their worries to Zelda. Because later this morning they were to meet with Belle who was the self-appointed leader of the new fairy enterprise. Belle and the other fairies had asked that they be allowed to launch their special yarns at the Fayre of Christmas. Their yarns had been developed after they had graduated business school and they were proud of how they had brought new ways of working to Yarningale.

Lila had spoken with Belle after her nocturnal encounter with the weasels. Belle had earnestly explained that there was nothing untoward but rather just 'good business sense' to protect the new venture’s secrets until the launch today. Lila remained uneasy and had been talking to the others about this when Zelda bounced into view. As Belle and her group were bringing their new yarn down ready to display, it had been agreed that Rika, Wol and the wildcats would reserve judgement until they had seen it and spoken with Belle. They trusted Lila’s instincts and could not shake off the feeling of unease. In the meantime, Lila had dispatched some of her mouse friends to see what they could find out, there were few places that mice could not gain access to unnoticed.

Wol suggested that Zelda and Lila started setting up her stall. Zelda was delighted to see she had been placed next to her red squirrel friend Tita. Her stall was already laid out with beautiful leatherwork trimmed bags and Tita planned to show visitors how they could make small bags for projects at home using scraps of fabric that held special significance. Like all crafters, anything that could feasibly be put to creative use was never thrown away.

Zelda had carefully knitted garlands of holly, ivy and mistletoe and draped these around the edges of her stand. She wanted the effect to be enticing and tactile. The bed of the stall was covered in moss from the woodland floor which Zelda hoped would display her small collection of yarn beautifully. After her earlier mistakes she had been careful to heed advice this time round.

Zelda knew she was a long way from being able to assess what someone needed from their yarn, THAT was true alchemy. Rika’s stand, on the other hand, would not display finished yarns but hanks of the finest wool ready for dyeing. Rika would talk to each person allowing them to feel the yarns and run various dried flowers and herbs through their fingers. Paying particular attention to how they responded she would then gently guide them to a yarn and colour that would feed their soul as they worked. In some instances, where appropriate she would ask Wol to prepare a tincture to help restore a feeling of peace as they worked. Things like Heartsore for those who had lost someone close or essence of comfrey for those who found it hard to craft due to joint pain.

Zelda set off for her cottage with Lila, ready to bring her yarn down to her waiting stand. The day was fine and cold. Frost glistened on greenery and berries alike, adding to the festive spirit. When she got back and had her stall set up, Zelda stood back and surveyed her finished handiwork.

She had dyed her yarn in three shades only and for her they were calming shades. There was a smoky pink quartz shade that the wildcats had dyed using a mix of lavender, damson and peat moss. A slight essence, barely distinguishable from the lavender, promoted a feeling of calm whilst working with the yarn.

Her second was a shade that could appear grey or green depending on the light. This had been dyed using a mix of greenery from the woodland plants that only grew to a maximum of twelve cm. A little silver lamb’s tongue plant was added to the final dye which gave the almost ethereal silver shading effect. Only using low growing plants ensured the crafter remained grounded when working this yarn, it was a perfect foil for more excitable shades such as canary yellow.

Her final choice was barely a colour at all and would be one of a kind. Zorro had instructed her to pick three dried seed heads. She had done so and the end result was a warm white, hardly colouring the most prized of her fleeces. Wol had added a special tincture to this, one of his closely guarded family secret recipes. Zelda felt honoured. This yarn when stoked was fine and so very soft. On closing her eyes, she felt a feeling of warmth and safety surround her. This was special indeed.

Whilst Zelda was completing her preparations, Rika, Wol and the wildcats met with Belle. She presented them with four balls of yarn, ready wound and tied with festive ribbon. At first glance, they had a certain gayety to them, and they seemed different from the usual items the fayre displayed which showcased the natural elements from the woodland.

There was a rich crimson, a holly green which on close inspection had a hint of gold, a very bright white with noticeable flecks of silver, and a vibrant gingerbread shade. Belle explained that she and the others had been working with the people from the course, the ones who had dyed the wool for Rika’s birthday gift. Rika ran her hands over the yarn then passed it to Mia and Zorro. The wildcats examined it closely, then it was Wol’s turn.

The four of them exchanged glances and Rika took Belle’s hands in hers. "You have worked hard on these" she told her, "we can see you have bought new ideas to the fayre and Yarningale, which is good if we are to keep ideas fresh and encourage new and young blood to craft. Can you tell us about the people you have been working with? Where they source their fleeces? How they make and store their dyes? How they finish these balls that have metallic or glitter finishes?"

Belle looked at her and then glanced away. "Well" she began, "I told them before we agreed our contract that we only use fleeces from animals where they are well looked after and that our dyes come from natural sources. I didn't mention Wol and the Alchemists as we wouldn't be able to do that on a larger scale".

Wol let out a long breath. He had been worried that damaging mixes could have been added. Belle continued "They dry the plants for dyes in advance and store them in powder form as they can dye more yarn at once in the big vats. That's ok isn't it?" she asked the wildcats.

Zorro was chuntering crossly away under his breath. Mia threw him an exasperated glance and answered Belle carefully: "Of course you can dry the flowers and grind them to powder form in advance. We don't, because we still paw dye. However, Belle, I don't think these are pure dyes and I can detect an essence that may be harmful. I'm not sure what it is, but I would worry if adhesive has been added without proper control to set the dye, it could be harmful to wildlife".

Suddenly Stripe the mouse appeared, out of breath. "Sorry to interrupt", he gasped. "We got into the factory that Belle and the fairies had the contract with. They were using ends of fleeces woven together to turn into balls but they won't be even all the way through. Even worse was that they had Hoggi Hedgehog and his family working there. They were making them roll up and pierce glitter bits with their spines then they were adding glue to the wool and Hoggi had to roll the glitter into the wool"

They all went silent. Hoggi and a lot of hedgehog families had moved away from Yarningale talking of new opportunities. This must have been those they spoke of. Stripe carried on: "The only way they could clean their spines afterwards was to roll in the river shallows. All the glue and bits of glitter was washing downstream." Wol thought of the Beaver kit they had not been able to cure, he must have been poisoned by the contaminated water.

Belle let out a frightened sob "We didn't know”, she cried. “They were so nice when we met them and said they would help us make more money". "Don't you know yet" said Rika, "crafters don't do this for money. As long as we have enough to live on and pay our suppliers in a fair way, we are happy. This work is a labour of love".

Lila appeared trotting silently around the trees. "They've gone." she said, "The factory is abandoned." She told them the red foxes had gone up to clean the factory properly. "I've told them the Alchemists will dilute anything harmful left" she told Wol. "I hope that was alright?". Wol nodded and with a beat of his wings and an angry screech set off to oversee the clean-up.

The wildcats told Belle they would need to dispose of the yarn, it couldn't be sold. Kindly they added that they would help her with her more vibrant colours after Christmas, but that they would need to use traditional dyes.

Rika stood up: "Come with me" she said to Belle, "we need to talk to the Beaver family".

Some time later, Rika and Belle joined the others just before the Fayre opened. The space was magical indeed. A light frost coated the area which made the greenery sparkle. As promised, the fireflies danced among the branches like Christmas lights. Stalls selling cinnamon and saffron buns along with warm mulled punch scented the air. Zelda had changed into her favourite dress and over the knee socks and looked very festive. "Where have you been?" she asked Belle noticing her red eyes with suspicion. "Your stall isn't ready and we're about to open". Rika cleared her throat looking at both girls. "We won't have the fairy stall" said Belle, "there was a problem with the wool".

Zelda opened her mouth to question Belle further but the sadness on the fairy's face stopped her. Instead, Zelda said: "Why don't you and the others put the hats and scarf sets I've made on your stall?" Tita said that she had a few extra bags they could use to fill the spaces too. "We can have a chat tomorrow about what happened to your wonderful wool" said Zelda slightly ominously. Rika raised the eyes heavenwards. She supposed the girl was trying.

Everyone pulled together and soon the empty stall looked suitably festive with various donated goods. With broad Cheshire Cat style grins Mia and Zorro rang the Cat Bells that declared the first Christmas Fayre open. As humans, woodland folk and magical creatures excitedly entered the Fayre, the residents of Yarningale looked at each other with joy. Lessons had been learnt and there would be more to come. But for now, all that was left was to match everyone with the crafty supplies they needed - even if they didn't know it yet - and to wish everyone a Very Happy Yarningale Christmas.