The Woolly Nanas have been weaving wellbeing with wool since 2021. Now they’re joining the Share Shed and Network of Wellbeing (NOW) to host the WoolFest – a celebration of all things woollen. NOW’s Communications Officer, Robyn O’Mahoney talks to Woolly Nana, Noni MacKenzie to find out more.

The Woolly Nanas came together at the beginning of 2021 after each spent years running ad hoc craft workshops across South Devon. Two years later, after a successful bid to the National Lottery Community Fund, they are offering more activities and looking to build a creative woolly nest for their activities. They aim to promote wool and its many uses and explore its long history in Buckfastleigh and beyond.

The Nanas comprise three experienced creatives:

  • Ruth Chadwick has kept a few sheep as part of a small holding menagerie for many years. She learnt about yurts and yurt felts in the 1990’s and made a yurt and a few large felts. She worked in Steiner kindergartens where the importance of craft for children is embedded in the curriculum and now enables people to explore the wonders of wool, transforming sheep fleece to spun yarn and felt.
  • Noni Mackenzie is a handloom weaver, knitter and natural dyer with over 40 years’ experience of producing woven and knitted goods for sale. She also teaches adults and children, including adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems. Her classes feature handweaving, knitting and natural dyeing and welcomes people of all ages.
  • Rita Pearson has been teaching felting skills to children and adults and selling her products worldwide. She is a passionate about children’s development and promotes traditional craft activities citing their positive effects on the brain. She teaches wet felting and needle felting to adults and children.

Together, the Woolly Nanas have over 80 years’ experience in making and teaching craft and textile activities to people of all ages and with differing abilities. They now offer spinning, knitting, felt making, weaving and natural dyeing classes in Buckfastleigh town centre. They hope to revive interest in the town’s past and collect stories from local people who worked at its woollen mill or who know about the impact wool had on the town.

Noni says:

“It is such a joy to bring people together to create something from wool and other natural fibres. Working with your hands and exploring the possibilities of different colours, textures and techniques is good for us on so many levels. It is a great way to be together, to build community, to foster mental health and to give a sense of agency and achievement.

“Working with natural materials enables connection, understanding, respect, wonder and reverence for the world around us. Exploring the properties of wool from different sheep breeds – strength; coarseness from some, softness or length of staple from others; or the ability of one fleece to felt, another fleece not to felt, but to retain bounce and springiness – may awaken interest and curiosity about the world around us.

“Craft work promotes capacities for thinking and judging, develops patience and perseverance, builds confidence and encourages creativity. As Renate Hiller has written ‘When we twist fibres into yarn, we are creating a spiral. We find spirals throughout the galaxy and in our natural world. So spinning is an activity that brings us closer to the cosmos… but at the same time we create something that is useful and beautiful.’

“Wool has been alongside people for thousands of years and still has a future as a sustainable material. Alongside encouraging people to explore wool as a craft material, it is our hope to promote it and be part of the story of wool… past, present and future.

“The joy of expressing yourself and exploring in a non-judgemental atmosphere creates something wonderful. Happy, purposeful engagement – where has the time gone! Is it time to finish already? New bookmarks, bags, table mats are created, friendships are forged”.

You can contact the Woolly Nanas on

Woolfest runs from 2:00-5:00 pm at Orchard Millenium Green, Buckfastleigh, Devon on Sunday, 9th July 2023.