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The Shepherdess

Part of the story from our Fell Garth Collection has been its deep roots in Cumbria, our current setting for The Fibre Co. From stylists to locations and photographers, Cumbria flowed through the collection in a way that spoke deeply to us as creatives. Collaborating to add more local flavour to each collection is a sheer joy and so featuring the beautiful tweeds produced by Alison of The Shepherdess felt like adding another layer to this collection’s local story.

shepherdessWe’ve invited Alison to share her story here today. Enjoy…..

Alison on the farm (image credit Ian Lawson and Alison O’Neill)
Alison on the farm (image credit Ian Lawson and Alison O’Neill)

“I am a Shepherdess, mother and mountain girl. I farm in the old way on a hill top farm in Cumbria, pretty much a dog and stick, shepherding and working with the land and not against it. I keep three breeds of sheep: Rough fell, Herdwick and Swaledale. These sheep are bred for meat which goes into exclusive hotels and restaurants and I grow wool for my Cumbrian Tweed collection. I am, as they say, a Wool Gatherer. My love of sheep, wool, tweed and design has been ingrained since I was a child growing up on our family farm.

I shepherd in traditional clothing wearing mostly wool ( tweeds and jumpers, socks, etc.) and guide on the mountain in the same attire. It is this practise which created an interest in me and a desire for me to create the brand ‘Shepherdess’. After an article in Country Living magazine and a flood of emails from ladies interested in my designs, Shepherdess was born on the kitchen table at Shacklabank Farm in Sedbergh. The early days saw me making the product on my own, then friends and family began helping. Nowadays I have a small team of ladies whom make for me. I started selling the product in the farmhouse and now have a design studio in Farfield Mill in Sedbergh, Cumbria.

The Tweeds are unique as they are all handwoven in the UK using 100% wool. The Harris Tweeds use wool from the Scottish wool clip and my Shepherdess range uses the wool from my own flock, washed in Yorkshire then back to Sedbergh to be woven at the mill. All the products are then bench made by hand by craftsmen and women in Cumbria. All products are 100% made in the UK.

Shepherdess produces its own Tweed from wool off my sheep and I design a range of Tweed Clothing and luggage. I use Harris Tweeds for amazing colours  which my friend Donald John Mackay of Luskentyre, The Isle Of Harris, weaves by hand. I use my own three tweeds for total provenance and heritage woven here in Sedbergh Cumbria at Farfied Mill where my studio is based.

(image credit Ian Lawson and Alison O’Neill)
(image credit Ian Lawson and Alison O’Neill)

Shepherdess is based at Shacklabank farm which is a traditional working hill farm overlooking The Howgilll fells in Sedbergh, Cumbria. My office is in the old pantry and meetings are held in front of an open fire on the kitchen table. My design studio is in an old woollen mill in Sedbergh. The localness is important to Shepherdess and each process (bar washing of the wool and spinning in Yorkshire), is within 30 miles of the farm. This is a true ‘Slow Wool’ product, from Fell top to fashion. Seeing my own wool turned into product is so exciting and rewarding.

I am so passionate about wool. I burnt mine for years as the price from The Wool Marketing Board was so low, and now I value every tiny fibre, even strands blowing on fences are placed in the wools sacks. It’s hard to think that once upon a time our wool was worth more than gold; Kendal my local town and Sedbergh my home town were built on wool. I love sheep so the wool obsession came naturally and closely followed by tweed. I have worked with HRH The Prince Charles Campaign for Wool and I hope to create more industry at Farfield Mill with these tweeds of Cumbria, a creation of wool suppliers locally, and tweed produced by Shepherdess. To me the possibilities are endless.”

Alison on the farm (image credit Ian Lawson and Alison O’Neill)
Alison on the farm (image credit Ian Lawson and Alison O’Neill)
Find Alison’s online spaces:
@woolismybread   (Twitter)

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