I love my sheep. Really love them. They're the reason I do what I do. I will never make my fortune. I will never be a business-woman. But making things from wool - this glorious and infinitely varied fibre - and, hopefully, from time to time selling one or two of these things means that I can offer lifelong homes to a few of these wonderful creatures.
On that note, it's time to disappear into my workshop to get on with making some of these things.
Here are a few beautiful photos of Neil, Jacob, Minkie and Kester taken by Gabriel Langley
I really should use this space to tell you more about the adventures of my sheep.
Yesterday evening, after years of getting away with it, I learnt a valuable lesson. It is this: don't wear a dress when feeding the sheep.
I was busily preparing their food when suddenly the whole flock burst through the hurdles, which they were able to do because the field gate had been left open........
Anyway, my huge sheep (and some of them really are enormous!) surrounded me, crushing my legs, but despite this, somehow Minkie managed to force her head between my legs and get it stuck up my skirt! I don't know who was more surprised!
Needless to say, I was completely immobilised, until the seething mass of 100 kilo animals subsided, and I am now battered and bruised, but wiser.
This is my first skirt-related injury!
⬇️And this is Minkie! ⬇️
Well, OK, not my favourite things in the entire world, but my favourite things that I have made - as well as my hats, of course!
The first is Somme Survivor, made for an Arts Council exhibition, and inspired by my great grandfather, Sylvester Sherriff, who saw action at The Somme and later served in a tunnelling regiment for the remainder of the war.
The second is my chess set, made purely for fun and as an excuse to make sheep pawn armies.
Both pieces will be on display in my studio at The Hearth (NE15 0NT) for the Open Studios and Contemporary Ceramics Fair on 29th and 30th April. Why not come along?
I'll be leaving The Hearth at the end of May and will, once again, be based entirely at my smallholding workshop. Visits will be possible, but only by appointment.
So, I'm off to Woolfest tomorrow, to get ready for the woolly hordes due to arrive on the 24th and 25th. It's been a stressful and busy few months, so I have very little to take with me, however I do have a few hats!
And I'll have three beautiful sheep from my feltmakers flock there with me. Come to say hello to us - we'll be on stand G143/4.
This year I'll be out and about at a few woolly events. I'll be missing being at home, so do come to say hello if you spot me.
7th & 8th May
Home & Gardens Fair & Open Studios, The Hearth Arts Centre, Horsley NE15 0NT
24th & 25th June
Woolfest, Cockermouth, Cumbria (with sheep!)
Wool on the Wall, Greenhead
30th & 31st July
Fibre East, Ampthill, Bedfordshire
24th & 25th September
22nd & 23rd October
Bakewell Wool Gathering
I was lucky enough to be one of fourteen artists selected for an Arts Council England funded exhibition, at POD, a new gallery in Bishop Auckland, which, for those of you unfamiliar with the name, is an extremely deprived market town in the North East of England currently undergoing massive regeneration thanks to the Auckland Castle Trust.
The theme of the exhibition is The Somme: Remembrance and Expression, and I literally jumped at the chance to take part. My immediate inspiration was my great grandfather, Sylvester Sherriff, from whom I have inherited a wealth of photographs and documentation covering the period of the First World War, so I felt (no pun intended) a strong connection to the theme.
Sylvester joined the York and Lancaster regiment in December 1914, shortly before his 34th birthday. After initial training he was posted to Egypt and then to France. He saw action at Serre on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and, unlike many of his friends, was fortunate enough to survive. For those unfamiliar with the history of the Battle of the Somme, the 1st of July 1916 saw the greatest loss of life in any single day in British military history, with 60,000 casualties, 20.000 of which died. By the time the Battle of the Somme ended in November 1916 the collective casualties of the British, French and German armies stood at 1,265,000.
Most of Sylvester’s battalion was wiped out in the first days of the Battle of the Somme so, from August 2016 Sylvester was attached to the 257 Tunnelling Company. I discovered this fact during my research prior to making the piece. In the above photograph, the three soldiers are wearing tunneller’s uniforms, which I only discovered when I joined a WW1 forum asking for information about a piece of kit. Sylvester Sherriff is in the centre of the photograph.
Prior to joining the Tunnelling Company Sylvester had worn a standard private's tunic (see first image). This seemed a more immediately recognisable piece of uniform, so I decided to make my exhibition piece based on this using the wool from my own flock of sheep. Since Sylvester was a Yorkshire man I selected wool from my Wensleydale sheep, a Yorkshire breed, as the most appropriate. The piece is made from flat felt, which has then been cut and tailored to fit. Although I hadn’t anticipated any problems in this area, despite an extensive search I was unable to find a pattern for a private's uniform. I found plenty of patterns for officer's tunics, German infantry tunics etc, but nothing resembling what I needed. However, I was lucky enough to gain access to the Durham Light Infantry Museum and, once there, was able to measure, sketch and photograph uniforms. From these unpromising beginnings I was able to construct a pattern, testing my tailoring skills to the limit!
The finished piece hangs on a cast modelled on one of my teenage sons, a great, great grandson of Sylvester. In order to incorporate more of my great grandfather's history into the piece I decided to make a half tunic, leaving the other half of the cast to be decorated with calico bandages printed with images taken from original photographs and documents from my great grandfather. These include his Small Book (a book he carried with him throughout the war), his identity papers, demobilisation account and travel ticket home at the end of the war. I sourced the buttons and belt hooks from original WW1 uniforms, though sadly Sylvester's own uniform was burnt by relatives following his death in 1962 at the age of 81.
The title of the finished piece is ‘Somme Survivor’. The exhibition The Somme: Remembrance and Expression runs from 8th February to 26th March 2016, 10am - 5pm daily (except Sundays) at POD, Market Place, Bishop Auckland DL14 7PB.
I'm busy developing a new range of hats and wondering whether what I'm doing is the work of a hatter or a milliner. I'd always thought that someone who made hats was a milliner, but apparently this term is really reserved for those making fancy hats for women. An alternative term seems to be "hat-maker".
Anyway, whatever the correct term, my hats are designed to be unisex.
What's special about my hats is that I make the felt crown from the wool from my flock. This particular crown is Hebridean wool. The brims are tweed. At the moment I'm sourcing Harris Tweed, but longer term I'm hoping to weave my own cloth from my own sheep. Currently I only have a large quantity of one shade of yarn, so exciting cloth isn't yet possible!
The hats are lined with 100% organic cotton poplin.
The sheep in the photograph is not the donor of the wool for the hat. He's Neil, and, apart from being adorable, he's a Bluefaced Leicester X Wensleydale.
Thank you to Gabriel Langley Photography for the photograph and my new brim blocks were made by Owen at Guy Morse Brown.
Woolly-minded shepherdess treading softly through the world.