As sweltering summer weather arrives, it's time for sheep owners to have their flocks sheared to keep them comfortable. We're glad to report that fleeces from the flocks of two local smallholders will be going to good use on Bere Marsh Farm in Dorset. People taking part in our Wool Weaving Creative Workshop on 1st July will use them to create comfy seat pads.

Our preference for clothes made from cotton and synthetic fibres means that, sadly, wool holds little financial value nowadays. Some sheep owners struggle to find any use for the fleeces shorn from their livestock.

Those that keep small flocks or a breed with dark or mixed-colour fleece, which is less desirable for the wool trade as it can't be dyed, find it particularly difficult. This is the case for two smallholders who live in the village of Marnhull, near to Bere Marsh Farm.

Debbie Calcott, who keeps eleven Jacob and Jacob cross ewes, said she places some of their fleeces around her vegetable garden each year to keep slugs away, but the rest tend to be disposed of.

Nicola Denham, who has 13 Zwartbles ewes and one ram, uses some fleeces in her allotment and places them around the bottom of trees to help retain water, fertilise the soil and limit the growth of weeds.

“It’s constantly a battle to find a use for the fleeces,” said Nicola. “Previously we have sold some for use in loft insulation, but the price we got for them only just covered the cost of fuel to deliver them, so it wasn’t worth it.

“We don’t currently have somewhere nearby that the wool board (British Wool) will pick up fleeces, but they don’t tend to pay much for brown or mixed-colour wool anyway and they’re not keen on taking small quantities. We can’t find anywhere locally that will take just 10 or 20 fleeces to spin them into wool.

“I think it’s a great shame that wool often goes to waste nowadays. I grew up in Yorkshire and my dad worked as an engineer in the wool mills, so I’ve seen how it’s been used in the past.”

CRT Trustee William Cross, a Rutland sheep farmer who was on the British Wool Marketing Board (now known as British Wool) Central Region Advisory Committee for many years, said: "The price paid for coloured wools is limited because there is no ability to use dye. However, by blending the various coloured wools a number of shades of grey can be formed in a garment. Wool can be used in so many products from clothing to insulation to sail cloth and tree tubes!"

Vital for welfare

It is essential to shear most breeds of sheep at least once a year. Not only does it prevent them from overheating in warm weather, but it also stops flies from laying eggs in their fleece. Fly maggots can eat into a sheep’s skin (a condition known as 'fly strike'), causing them enormous discomfort and even killing them.

It costs Nicola more than £100 to have her 14 sheep sheared each year.

“I am delighted that ten of our fleeces will be used for the Wool Weaving Creative Workshop, and the payment from the CRT has helped towards the cost of this year’s shearing,” added Nicola.

Debbie said: “Our flock’s dark-coloured fleeces are really thick, so this will be such a wonderful use of this lovely wool. I am really pleased.”


Learn a soul-soothing traditional craft

The Wool Weaving Creative Workshop will be led by weaving expert Jo Nash, who runs Dorset Wool. Jo is preparing the fleeces from the local smallholders so that workshop participants can use them to create a beautiful natural tuffet (seat pad) to take home.

Jo said: “I unroll and sort the fleece to remove dirty or short fibres, which are used as a mulch on my garden. I then soak the fleece for at least 24 hours in a large container with eco-friendly detergent and rainwater. I rinse the fibre and all the washings are used to fertilise the plants I grow to create organic natural dyes. I put the fleece onto racks in the sun to dry. Then it is ready for peg loom weaving.

“During the workshop on Bere Marsh Farm, participants will learn how to create a seat pad using the fleece and natural linen. You can create patterns in the weaving using the different natural colours in the wool. This is a very mindful and relaxing process. 

“The seat pads are fully breathable, so great for both cold and warm weather. I use them on seats at home or in the car. They are also machine washable on a wool wash cycle.”

This workshop has a small capacity to allow Jo to give each participant maximum attention. Book Now

We have more Creative Workshops coming up on Bere Marsh Farm this summer, including nature writing and willow weaving. Find out more and book here

Pictured above:
Top right: The Denham family's Zwartbles sheep are sheared.
Middle left: Nicola Denham's granddaughters feeding orphan lambs.
Bottom right: An example of the kind of seat pad people will make during the Wool Weaving Creative Workshop.