Sheep to Chic
Sheep to Chic: from sheep-rearing to designer hats on a single Peak District small holding.
On frosty mornings the hay steams as I take it from the shed out to my sheep: tiny, rare-breed Soays, small, sure-footed and hardy and ideal for the upland pasture of my small holding high on the boundary of the Peak Park. Their fleece - deep brown “natural black”, honey, or creamy “natural white” is the raw ingredient of my felt-making. It is processed locally into smooth, washed and carded wool for felting, or to soft, spun yarn. I have a dyer’s garden too: the wool fleece and yarn are dyed with my own dye plants: Golden Rod, St John’s Wort, and Woad (so far: I hope to add others that can survive up here). This is a messy process, time-consuming and not always a success: it is possible to get a huge variety of light brown shades from almost any vegetation, but the rarer blues, greens and deep reds seem elusive… I shall keep trying.
The fleece and yarn, either in its natural colours or hand-dyed, is transformed into felt by the traditional technique of hand-rolled wet-felting. The soft local water is ideal for this, and I use my own hand-made soap produced from mutton fat from my own hogget meat combined with ash from wood fires (our own windfall timber, too!) to open up the wool fibres, an essential part of traditional felt-making. Then I shape hats, bags and scarves from the felt and finish many of them with crochet in the wool yarn also from my sheep. Stone, leather and antler horn fastenings complete the organic simplicity of these items.
There are some things I cannot produce-bits of bling and glitter to add a touch of sparkle, or strong colours for which I have to use acid dyes- but the silk linings of my hats and bags are remnants from the silk mills of Macclesfield, which specialize in tie fabrics and designer scarves for the London market. The contrast of colour and texture of these stunning designer linings and the gentle colours of my wool is always a surprise to purchasers as they turn the hats and bags to investigate the inside….so almost everything I use originates within or close to the Peak District, and (I hope) expresses its character.
I sell only within the Peak District, in galleries, and at curated exhibitions and events, and offer workshops in feltmaking locally. I want my work to keep its local character and distinctive feel: to create a genuinely regional product which epitomizes the nature of the Peak: rugged, elemental, natural and in the soft colours of our local landscape.