Shepherding the lost sheep

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Chrissy and one of her many spinning wheels

Unlike Little Bo Peep’s sheep, which would, apparently, return home of their own accord ‘wagging their tails behind them’, most sheep need a shepherd – someone to guide then, nurture them, heft them and ensure their well-being. Sadly, it appears that many farmers and shepherds could, themselves, also do with such care and attention… and so, I’d like to introduce you to Chrissy Smith, an amazing woman doing her bit to help the sheep farmers of Wales.

Interested in Welsh sheep breeds and discovering a few years ago that their wool was not really being understood and effectively marketed by the farmers who produced it, Chrissy decided to take action. So, she established The Lost Sheep Company. By understanding the properties of the wool of different Welsh sheep breeds, farmers can appreciate the value of what they produce and consumers can select wool that will do the job they want. So Chrissy is on a mission to get everyone (producers and users) to appreciate the value of wool, especially wool from the traditional Welsh breeds: Balwen, Beulah Speckled Face, Black Welsh Mountain, Jacob, Kerry Hill, Llanwenog, Lleyn, Ryeland and Welsh Mule.

On her web site, Chrissy provides a wealth of information, from how to roll a fleece, to the characteristics of wool from the different breeds. In her shop (well, heritage craft centre really) in Colwyn Bay she sells fleeces, hand spun yarn and equipment, restores old spinning wheels and runs and hosts classes. She buys fleeces from local farmers for ten times the price that the wool marketing board pays (which is often just pennies per kilo), processes them in a couple of old twin tub washing machines and works her magic with natural dyes.

In 2017 Chrissy was involved in reviving the tradition of the Conwy Wool Fair and she’s hoping to make this an annual event.  In fact, what she’s seeking to do is to re-introduce the traditional Wool Charter Market in Conwy – the right, granted by royal charter, to close off the streets and hold a market to trade wool once a year. Apparently, she’s got Prince Charles on the case trying to track down the original charter. Now wouldn’t that be an event worth going to?

We met Chrissy during the Knit for Peace Wool Hunt weekend and, for me, visiting her shop and hearing about her work was one of the highlights. I am always inspired by people who see a problem and take action, and you don’t get more active than this. If you are ever in north Wales, The Lost Sheep Company is really worth a visit.

ScrapHappy February 2019

This month’s ScrapHappy is very much a work in progress. Once I got used to the new/old sewing machine, I gave some thought to what I would like to make and the answer (as you have seen here and here) was bags. As a complete beginner with bags, I started off by buying a couple of kits, but now those are finished, I want to progress on to using up some of my old fabric, much of it left over from long-completed projects. However, I was also interested in working with charity shop finds. When I was trawling Aberystwyth, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for old handbags to cannibalise, I came across a very large vinyl-coated cotton tablecloth and thought that it might be a cheap and useful source of waterproof fabric. A bit of research later and I settled on using some of it to make a satchel (designed specifically with this sort of fabric in mind). However, I wanted this to be a scrappy project, so I found a nightdress that I made but hated and had only worn a couple of times, to use for the lining and some left-overs from my gardening apron for the strap and handle. Not only that, but I also found some very tatty, but salvageable interfacing to use, as well as part of a fleece blanket that my mum gave me after she had used some of it to make soft toys, but then decided that it wasn’t ideal.

So, all the main bits and bobs are scraps (or scrapped!):

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Old tablecloth (hearts), old nighty (spots), fleece blanket scraps (cream) and scraps left over from my gardening apron (dark)

I have had to buy some hardware, but I don’t mind a few new things in such a scrappy project:

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the new bits

So, now it’s all cut out, I’m ready to sew… wish me luck!

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate, who provides links to other (mostly sewing) ScrapHappy bloggers at Tall Tales from Chiconia on the fifteenth of every month… do check them out.

Fleeced

I have an increasing number of friends who keep sheep and, therefore, they have lots of fleeces around at this time of year. This means that, because of my interest in things woolly, I get plenty of offers of fleece. In general, I turn them down because my real loves are knitting and crochet (and a bit of felt-making on the side) and I really don’t want to have to go through all the rigmarole to get to yarn (or wool tops for the felt). However, when one of my Twitter friends said that she wanted to have a go at making felted fleece rugs from her collection of fleeces, I asked if I could join in (just in case I loved the activity and would have found a reason to accept all those fleecy offers).

So, last Sunday, another friend and I trundled down to Carmarthenshire, and rolled up our sleeves, to get felting.

The idea is to use a whole fleece and felt the underside of it (using wool from a different sheep) whilst keeping the top unfelted. You do this (according to the instructions we were following) by working on a mesh, so that what will be the top of the final rug hangs down through the gaps and doesn’t get involved in the felting process.

You start my making lots of fluff from a tatty fleece, pulling it gently apart and separating the fibres, then you spread these out over the underside of the fleece. First in one direction, then in the other. After that, it’s simply a case of using soap and water to work the wool into felt. I say ‘simply’, but it’s actually really hard work to persuade raw (although washed) wool, in large quantities, to become felt. We made some progress with three of us working together, but we didn’t complete the rug.

It was an interesting experiment and, despite not ending up with a finished rug, we learned a lot:

  • It turned out that the gaps in the mesh of the fence panel we were working on were a bit too big – not providing enough support to felt successfully without moving the fleece around periodically.
  • The panel was a bit too bouncy as well, so a bit more support would have been helpful.
  • Our instructions suggested using washing-up liquid as the soap, but it’s harsh on the hands after a whole day and I would use olive oil soap in future, as I do for other felting.
  • There was no mention of covering the work with net (as I usually do when felting) to stop the fibres lifting up. It’s absence made the work much more difficult and I would employ a net cover next time.
  • The process could have been speeded up by using a rolled bamboo mat as a sort of rolling pin to give extra friction a bit later in the process.
  • A whole fleece was a rather ambitious first project – it would have been better to make some mats to begin with.

Nevertheless, we had a lovely sociable day, a fabulous lunch which we all contributed to, and an audience with a special interest in the project:

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Ken and Dave

I’m sure there’s going to be a next time! I might even remember to photograph the finished item second time round.

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