Meet the Producer focuses this time on Ed and Laura Sutcliffe who keep rare breed Lonk and Whitefaced Woodland sheep at Heptonstall, near Hebdon Bridge in West Yorkshire. On Saturday we had the rare treat of visiting the farm during lambing and seeing the fleece as it entered the world!
Last year they joined Nic Corrigan of Whitehall Studio, a designer and machine knitter and Dr Zoe Fletcher from the Woolist and ran a Kickstarter campaign to have their fleece processed and spun into knitting yarn within a 30 mile radius.
It has been well documented that the price of fleece has plummeted over recent years and many farmers have resorted to burning their fleeces. Ed, Laura, Nic and Zoe wanted to see if there was any way to add value to these fleeces, offering an alternative to what has been the status quo. Just to give an example - the farm sent 800kg of fleece and received £800. This barely covered their processing costs
The campaign was a huge success and the Kickstarter, set at £6,700 raised over £25,000 which shows how many people care about this subject and want to support the farmers who are taking a risk and trying to offer an alternative
Ed and Laura would love to continue with the project, expanding the amount of fleeces they send to the mill and getting other local farmers on board. With that in mind they will be launching a new campaign in the next few months which offers different ways to support them in their goal.
They will also be at Yarndale so if you're planning to visit you'll be able to chat to them in person, ask about their plans and see the yarn on offer. You'll also be able to sign up to support them and pre order some of their 4ply and DK yarn. Pre orders will be available in September so if you're not able to visit Yarndale you will still have a chance to back the project and bag yourself some lovely traceable yarn.
From the first campaign we were able to buy some top. This is the combed fleece from the sheep, top is what we use on our spinning workshops. We love using top because we have found it is easier for beginners to get to grips with. Yarn spun from top has good stitch definition in a knitted garment and is less likely to pill.
It's relatively easy to buy carded fibre from farmers or small producers, top less so and so when we learnt we could buy top to spin and have complete traceability we jumped at the chance. We purchased a kilo and have spun it into a fine plied yarn measuring approx 19wpi so a typical sock yarn weight.
It was fascinating to be able to watch the newly born lambs and see the journey from the very beginning. Also, to be able to chat with Ed and Laura and see their passion for these animals and what they are trying to achieve with the yarn was quite something.
Ed is working with the Wool Marketing Board who have been extremely supportive of the scheme and so they hope to continue working together so that this scheme can be rolled out to more and more farmers, offering them a chance to have a fairer price for their fleeces. But also, spinners, weavers and knitters are usually caring sorts who are interested in the story of where their yarn or fibre comes from and as we've seen from the success of the first Kickstarter campaign there is a huge appetite for traceable yarn.
Find out more about the last campaign here
Follow Ed and Laura's Instagram Wild Wooly Farm
Follow Nic at Whitehall Studio
Follow Zoe at The Woolist