Last year I bumped into James Rebanks at Westmorland County Show. I’d met James a few times and am a big fan of his first book, The Shepherd’s Life. I started rabbiting on about how he should be doing something with his Herdwick fleece as I was sure his many fans would like to buy something relevant to his farm. He nodded away and then said, “You take the wool, do something with it and just pay me for it when you’ve made some money”. We shook hands on it and I though, “Oh no, I really don’t need this extra work!” However, John and I picked up about 300kg of Herdwick and Swaledale wool from his farm in the north of the county and it sat in our barn while I thought long and hard about what to do with it. I contacted a wool buyer in Japan and she bought a small amount of fleece but paid pretty much what the British Wool Board would have paid James for his whole wool clip! Finally I came up with the idea of making shepherd’s bags and John found this film of the BFI website, O’er Hill and Dale. I based our bag on this one seen in the film but with a longer strap and nicer material.
I had never had tweed made before so calling up spinning companies and weaving companies who are used to dealing with people who know what they’re talking about, left me feeling like such an amateur! However, I persevered and one late afternoon I called a small company called Woven in the Bone and all my anxiety about the mass of wool sitting in our barn melted away. Although Sam normally makes tweed for Saville Row tailors, she wasn’t put off by my complete inexperience and she talked me though the whole process. I didn’t have all of James’ wool spun as the cost of making tweed is eye wateringly expensive! I sent 80kg of raw Herdwick and Swaledale to The Natural Fibre Company for spinning which yielded 40kg of spun wool. A small portion is being dyed the red colour used on Herdwicks when showing them (see James doing this below) and when it’s ready, I will take it up to Sam, who is based in Scotland, for weaving. Sam sent me a sample of how it will weave up and it’s just gorgeous. And I can’t wait to see how it will look with the red in the pattern.
The Rebanks tweed won’t be ready until September, and eager to get into production, I bought some tweed from our friend Charlotte Chaplin. She lives only a few miles from us and makes wonderful tweed from her flock of Herdwick sheep. This is beautiful natural coloured tweed and is very hard wearing so perfect for our bags.
As I said, making tweed is an expensive process, especially as ours will be hand woven. I wanted to make bags that everyone could afford so using the same pattern, we will have The Shepherd’s Bag available in denim and oilskin, both great, hardwearing utility fabrics.
These are Forever Bags. So comfortable and comforting to use. You can buy them here. I hope you like them!
We have a small website, just for The Shepherd’s Bag, so it’s easy for people to find. Within this page, I have started a podcast series. There are two episodes uploaded so far, where I talk to other women in farming and their experiences. You can listen here.