I started a flock of 86 Jacob sheep in the 1980s, specialising in improving the wool quality and crossing with other rare breed sheep to achieve fine fleeces of superb quality whilst owning and running a wool shop in Tavistock Devon specialising in Rowan yarn.
When I gave up the shop in 2000 due to the then turndown in knitting I undertook a Textile Degree, as I had always been interested in anything to do with wool and stitch and so my current business has evolved; now I sell from craft fairs, the internet (my Etsy shop) and my workshop at home.
Since then I have built up a thriving cottage industry specialising in hand produced woollen garments in Jacob and other naturally coloured wools, a conservation hobby turned into a business.
My interest in learning to hand spin the fleeces as a hobby started here.
My prize winning sheep with their curly horns and multicoloured wools were well known at agricultural shows.
I have given up my own sheep due to time restraints but I am still able to buy fleeces from breeders I sold the sheep to, so am sure of the quality, and continue to hand-spin and knit yarn that I have commercially spun up for me in Wales and Yorkshire.
I see using natural fibres as a framework to build upon, a way of creating patterns, providing a palette of textures and colour. My hand-spun yarn develops from the natural shade of the fleece without sorting or blending the colours, every one unique.
Natural colours are very popular at the moment and my commercially spun wools come in a variety of shades, notably black, brown, dark and mid grey, and cream from British sheep in both Double knit and Aran weight yarn.
I am able to provide kits for individual knitters to complete themselves.
Soaring demand from fashion conscious jetsetters from America, Europe and Japan means I am to provide individual garments with the help of my team of dedicated hand knitters. My designs range from light lacy garments, to traditional Fair Isle, Aran and modular patterns which show off the natural colours of the fleeces, as well as using my naturally dyed wools.
When I am asked “ Where do you get the patience to spin wool into yarn or transform the spun fibres into a sweater”, I reply spinning makes you relax, it’s a time to be refilled with some of the wonder of life’s simplicity, to enjoy the beauty around us and not to tamper with the natural rhythms of life.
The time I spend spinning or simply watching sheep grazing in the field, the birth of a lamb, the smell of a newly shorn fleece, the sound of the spinning wheel, the pull of fibres between the fingers, the colours I produce from a natural dye-pot are what permit me to deal with a computerized society and pressure of life in the 21st century.
My work is not a question of patience, it is making time to appreciate what is left of the real world, it is very satisfying to say it’ my work creating a natural product from the raw materials, designing the garments, spinning and then knitting them means I am not a cog in a machine but carrying out a task to its natural conclusion.
My interest has also grown in experimenting with natural plant dyes, carrying on the research I did for my textile degree, and producing wool for textile workers and embroiderers, especially those doing conservation or heirloom work using traditional stitches and techniques. I feel there are always new things to learn, no two days are the same.
I pass on my textile knowledge through my classes at Kersbrook Training and my work with OCA.
ROSEMARIE SMITH B.A. HONS. TEXTILES.