Working with Herdwick

If you keep Herdwick sheep you have access to lots of fleece. What to do with it all? Well in recent times the fleece has sometimes been buried or burned as it’s had such a small commercial value. Some spin it and a few learn to felt with it Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching a small group how to turn it into felt.

We weren’t working with raw fleece. Halifax Spinning Mill near Selby is able to process small numbers of fleeces so we were working with Rose’s carded batts . I think Herdwick are quite pretty looking sheep but the fibre has a poor reputation with some feltmakers and many are frightened to have a go with it. It has quite a coarse fibre so it’s not suitable for clothing but no reason why it can’t be used for pictures, bags, rugs and other items that don’t go against the skin.

This one would make a lovely wallhanging I think. As with other fibres, it will grab and hold onto yarns, silk fibres and Teeswater curls as you see above and it has a nice mottled grey colour.

I don’t know why two look brown because I promise you they are grey. The pictures don’t show that some pieces also have angelina fibres included. At least one has successfully added synthetic yarn and another has embroidery thread in it.

In my experience, you get a shrinkage rate of around 30% with Herdwick fibres, less than with breeds like Merino and Blue Faced Leicester. You need to use more soap than you would with Merino and to be gentle in the early wet and set stage to avoid spreading the fibres. So yes, it does take more patience to felt with Herdwick but it is possible and not nearly as difficult as some believe. I’d like to leave you with the photo below. This guinea fowl has found the warmest place on the farm for cold feet and the Herdwick sheep doesn’t seem to mind! Thanks to Rita for the picture.