I bought my first sheep in 2011 determined to add value to their wool. Our wool industry struggles with the competition from cheap, synthetic fibres and I'd heard so many depressing stories of farmers burning or burying worthless fleeces. I was convinced that marrying the right wool to the right end product, whilst giving customers provenance, traceability and beautiful design could perhaps be a solution. I don’t come from a farming family, it is a passion I grew into, but I rarely feel more comfortable in my own skin than when I'm in the field with my flock. It wasn’t how my career started out, I spent many years working in the creative world, but when I started farming it felt like coming home.
My flock of rare breed, British sheep graze on Great Cotmarsh Farm in North Wiltshire. As well as the sheep, my husband and I run a herd of native breed cattle (www.greatcotmarshfarm.co.uk). We farm with a regenerative philosophy, which means we don’t just look after the environment, but we proactively try to encourage wildlife habitats and improve soil health.
There is no better way to assure the quality of your raw material than by growing it yourself. As the farmer, designer and garment producer for my knitwear, I take responsibility for each stage of production - from getting my hands dirty in the field, to fully fashioning each garment on my knitting machine. I use shepherding processes that honour soil and biodiversity to encourage a wholesome farmed environment, alongside careful attention to slow, hand-crafted production. My compassion for my sheep and care of the farmed environment, combined with an innovative commitment to regional, low-carbon processing enables me to work sustainability all along my supply chain and create an important connection between people, place and product.
After shearing, I take my flock's fleeces to the Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall, where it goes through the scouring, carding and spinning process to be made into a chunky knitting yarn. It is then 'hank dyed' organically, which ensures maximum softness and environmental credentials. Some is left undyed, which I use in my award winning, South West England Fibreshed certified collection (www.southwestenglandfibreshed.co.uk).
I create my garments using the no-waste knitting process of fully fashioning - whereby each piece of the garment is knitted separately and then sewn together by hand. Using a hand-powered knitting machine, means no electricity is used in their construction and I employ a complex technique called intarsia for my larger block patterns that requires careful hand-finishing.
Every piece is distinctive in design offering bold patterns and eye-catching colour. Authentic in origin, they are bound to the journey of my shepherding life - from delivering lambs and watching their fleeces grow throughout the season, to shearing time and handing over my wool clip to the mill. When I run the threads of yarn through my hands on the knitting machine, knowing I've spent the year caring for the animals that produced it, I feel a profound connection to my work.